The idea of self-care has been around for a while. Magazines and commercials tell you to sign up for a gym membership, try acupuncture, visit a spa, go to a yoga class, or rely on other expensive strategies to avoid feeling stressed. These may work for some, but we are well-aware that most parents do not have the time, energy, or resources to do something as glamorous as get a massage. We advocate for a different kind of self-care: it’s free, it’s simple, and it’s important.
As a parent, on just about any day of the week you experience a whole range of emotions. You wake up after only three hours of sleep - tired. You fix breakfast for your three-year-old who won’t stop poking your five-year-old who won’t stop screaming about being poked - stressed. You watch your baby take his first steps - happy. You turn on the news - fearful. Your daughter has her first school performance - excited. You get your bills in the mail and have no idea how you will be able to pay them on time - overwhelmed.
The list goes on and on, because this thing called ‘parenting’ is not easy. Parenting means you are providing everything another human needs to survive and often doing so without any kind of recognition. One of the most Googled questions regarding parenting is, “How do I be a good parent?” At PCAT, we believe that taking good care of your child requires taking good care of yourself. So how do overworked, underappreciated, exhausted, loving parents take care of themselves?
Breathe. Some of the best self-care we talk about with the families we serve is breathing. When people experience stress or anxiety, they often experience rapid, shallow breathing. This is a result of the fight-or-flight chemicals that the brain releases to help the body when it senses an anxious environment. When parents are experiencing stress or crisis, the first thing we do is remind them to breathe long, slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This can help you slow your heart rate, decrease your chest pain, and lessen any dizziness you might be feeling.
Get moving! Physical activity helps the body release endorphins which are chemicals that can help reduce stress and lack of sleep. We know many parents don’t have the time or resources to go to the gym. Instead, we suggest putting your baby in a place where you know they will be safe for a few minutes like a crib or playpen, stepping into the hallway or across the room, and doing some jumping jacks, push-ups, or whatever you like to get yourself moving. You may feel silly or even embarrassed, but your baby will probably find it entertaining and without even thinking about it, you’ll be teaching your baby healthy ways to handle stress.
Wash it away. Shower or change at the end of every day. There is something powerful about being able to wash the day off. No matter what good or bad came your way, you can take it off, let it go, and step into something that you have control of, even if it is just your pajamas.
Talk it out. We have noticed that one of the best stress-relievers for our families is a social support system. The more you increase the strength of your social network, the more lifelines you can rely on. Don’t know where to start? Find a local faith community or a parent support group. Are you nervous about sharing your stress with a group of strangers? Try a local counseling resource where you can have a one-on-one experience. Sometimes it takes a while to find the circle of support that fits you best, but we have found that more than any other coping strategy, social support is what PCAT parents rely on.
You are not alone in your stress. We see it every day in the homes where we serve and just because we can talk about it, doesn’t mean we don’t experience our own stress too. That’s why self-care is one of the first things we talk about with families participating in our in-home support programs. We share strategies that are realistic and manageable for all parents, because we know that sometimes all you have time for is a long, slow breath. Whatever your self-care looks like, be proud to know you are trying to better take care of yourself so you can best take care of your baby.
Our support programs for parents meet you where you are, on your schedule, and we tailor our curriculum to meet your needs as a parent. Our trained providers guide you through a holistic approach to parenting, giving you guidance on raising children who:
· Feel loved and valued
· Are physically fit
· Are emotionally strong
· Have optimal brain development
· Are good communicators
· Have a love of learning & self-esteem
Interested in learning more? Fill out a referral form, and one of our local staff will contact you!