by Dr. Menije Boduryan, Psy.d.
When March 2020 hit our lives abruptly changed when the “Safer-at-home” order went into effect. It became difficult for many families to balance their personal and professional lives. Trying to work from home, while homeschooling, amplified the stress parents were already experiencing. Planning and catching up with the kids’ Zoom classes, play dates, and doctor’s visit all seemed surreal. Parents worried that their children were missing out on the social connection that we know is particularly important for their healthy development. While these worries are valid, it became the families’ number one priority, leaving more parents to neglect their own self-care. The needs of the children and the family came before the needs of self.
Even though the Safer at home order has lifted, the stress in the home has not. Now that the kids are on summer break, parents are still feeling the stresses of entertaining their kids and making sure their days are filled with meaningful activities. Even if the companies are encouraging their employees to work from home, adults are feeling the stress of being in confined small spaces. All these ongoing stressors feed into more anxiety, poor sleep, and unhealthy eating habits. Recently I heard the term, “Corona-coaster”, adaptation of the phrase “emotional rollercoaster” that applies to the emotional ups and downs families experienced during the pandemic. We know well by now that this period came with a lot of challenges for everyone.
In order to recover from the experiences of the past few months and set ourselves up for success during summer break, it is important to talk about self-care. When you put your families’ needs first and have your needs come last, it leads to more chaos than peace. I love sharing with my clients the Oxygen mask analogy to explain the importance of putting ourselves first. When traveling on a plane, the aircrew reviews the safety protocol and reminds passengers to always put the oxygen masks on themselves before helping anyone else. It reiterates that only after you secure your own oxygen can you attend to the one next to you, even if the one sitting next to you is a minor. The self-care routines are like these oxygen masks, but for your emotional wellbeing. You can’t take care of others unless you are well-rested.
Another example would be the quote, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” The fact is, if you are feeling depleted, then you are not really giving your best self to the ones you love. Only when you feel better and stronger, you are ready to be there for others.
Most often people live their lives by putting their kids and the needs of the family before themselves. But in order to have the healthiest and happiest families, here is how it needs to be prioritized: You come first, then comes your marriage, then comes the kids. I know this is hard, overwhelming, and even shocking for some parents to hear. The most common responses I get are “my kids are so young and can’t look after themselves” or “my teenager is missing her friends, I have to attend to her needs.” Even if the needs of the children are taking care of, then comes to the responsibilities of the house, “is the house clean enough? Is the laundry piling up? What’s for dinner?” I know these are fair concerns, but they are not good excuses to put you last.
The false ideas people have around self-care are another reason why they neglect it. I hear most people think that self-care is “lazy” or “unproductive.” These negative connotations are powerful enough to ignore or avoid self-care activities. After all, you can make time to nap or go for a walk, but if you have a lingering thought that says the nap or the walk is useless or selfish, then how well are you really going to enjoy the walk? We have to change our mindset around it and reframe the way we see self-care. Here is an example, instead of thinking “self-care activities are unproductive,” you can think, “taking care of myself is very productive.” As a therapist, it is important that we check in with our inner dialogue and make sure that we are not holding on to any limiting beliefs that are getting in our own way.
I also noticed people have a list of excuses as to why they cannot make self-care a priority. Here are some of those from working parents:
• “I can’t trust my husband (or wife) to look after the kids,”
• “The house will be a mess if I just take an hour to myself,”
• “I don’t have enough time,”
• “I don’t know where to start,” or
• “I know I won’t be able to keep it up, so what’s the point.”
I am not saying these are untrue or invalid concerns or worries. But I would like to ask that you challenge yourself and find ways to move past these barriers to create your self-care routine.
Once you feel ready to make more time for self-care, there are few steps to consider. It is important that we each reflect on our needs and feelings and create an inventory of pleasurable activities. The fact is what I find to be relaxing may not be someone else’s cup of tea. I also noticed that when we talk about self-care routines, we engage in comparison and feel the pressure to do what our neighbors like to do and share on social media. You have to give yourself permission that your idea of self-care does not have to look like your best friend’s self-care. There is no comparison and there is no “best” self-care activity. As long as it suits you and it aligns with you, then it is the best self-care activity for you.
The next step to consider is time and day. I always advise people that when you are considering changing your behaviors by adding a new activity, you have to pencil it in. Trying to wing it or wait until you feel like it will never work. You have to decide which days and what times you will take time away from your family for yourself. Because once you decide on the day and time, you will have to communicate it with your partner, so they know they are in solo parent-duty.
I know when talking about time, people often feel the pressure that they must spend an hour or two on their self-care for it to be effective. I think this is another excuse that stops you from getting started. You can start with 5-10 minutes if that’s all you’ve got. And before you say, “how is 10-minutes going to make a difference, what’s the point?” you have to remember that you will increase the duration as you get more comfortable making self-care a priority. Remember, “something” is better than “nothing”.
The final step to self-care is making sure you have what you need to get started. For example, if you chose gardening as your self-care activity and have allocated Saturday early afternoon, then you would want to make sure all your gears and tools are up to part. Same with other activities, such as reading, yoga, or exercise. You want to make sure that when the time comes, you are not discouraged or distracted by the excuse of, “oh I don’t have what I need.” So go ahead and order what you need.
Connect with Dr. Menije Boduryan, Psy.d. online via the links below: