Self-care … how can you find the time to take care of yourself when you often feel pressed for time to take care of your family as well as you’d like? In order to be the best parent possible, though, caring for yourself needs to be a priority. Only when you feel whole can you be completely present and available for your children.
Going to a spa, getting massages, and taking yoga classes are luxurious ways to care for yourself. While valuable, these can be costly and take time that you may not feel is available.
The following ideas are free and can be worked into your existing schedule. All promote greater health, centeredness, a sense of well-being, and greater joy in everyday life. With practice these suggestions can become second nature:
Breathe. Approximately 95% of our breathing is shallow … we don’t fill our lungs to capacity. Shallow breathing stresses the body. Imagine that most of your breathing fills your lungs to the size of a lemon. Now consciously breathe so that you fill your lungs to the size of a big, round watermelon. At the end of each breath, empty your lungs fully by pulling the stomach in and up on the outbreath. Taking a few deep breaths during the day relaxes your body and helps clear your mind. With practice, you will be breathing deeply more regularly.
- Stretch. Simple stretches relax your body and rejuvenate your mind. Stretching can be done standing, sitting, or lying down. Many books and Internet sites describe easy-to-do, healthful stretches. Taking a few minutes throughout the day to stretch relieves tension and enhances your spirits.
- Drink water. Keep a water bottle handy and take several sips each hour. Most of us are dehydrated much of the time. Drinking plenty of water keeps your circulation flowing freely, energizes your body, and keeps your mind alert.
- Dump perfectionism. It is impossible to be a supermom or dad, a star employee, the world’s best friend, and be in topnotch physical condition all at the same time. Something has to go. While not easy, changing your priorities and lowering your standards of perfection lowers stress and creates more time for self-care. Evaluate the way you spend your time and how well you feel you need to do each task. Then take the courageous leap of determining what you can let go of or do less perfectly.
- Prioritize. Once you have dumped perfectionism and have realized that you cannot do it all, take time to list your priorities for the day. Stick to the list. If you don’t accomplish everything, acknowledge yourself for completing what you determined was most important. Create a new list each day, again prioritizing what you want to accomplish; don’t just add on to your list from the previous day – that pretty much assures that you will not finish all the tasks you think need to be done. Remember, no one can do it all!
- Delegate. Share household responsibilities. Determine what tasks each family member can do based on age and skill. Whenever possible switch tasks regularly so that enthusiasm remains high.
- Plan ahead. Consolidate trips so that you only do errands once or twice a week. Pay bills once a month or use auto pay. Cook several dinners at once and freeze them, or make a meal in a large quantity and freeze half for future use.
- Organize. Gather all necessary materials before beginning a project. This keeps you from running around looking for what you need between each step of the task. Keep a basket in a central location for things that need to go to another part of the house; deliver all items in the basket in one trip. Make a list before going to the grocery store … it helps you use both your time and money wisely.
- Combine tasks. Multi-tasking is exhausting and inefficient. Nonetheless, combining certain tasks makes sense. Open mail while your computer boots up. Participate in pretend play with your child while fixing dinner or washing the dishes. Use waiting time in queues or for appointments to read, breathe deeply, meditate, or check phone messages.
- Turn off electronics. Set a time at the end of the day to turn off your computer, cell phone and other electronic devices. Few of us need to be available 24/7.
- Develop a daily spiritual practice. This may or may not be religiously oriented. Read uplifting literature. Spend time in nature. Sit silently and focus on your breathing. Sing. Quiet your mind with a simple mantra. All bring you to greater present awareness, which allows you to enjoy life more fully.
- Go for walks: “One thing that keeps me grounded, particularly when life is hard or hectic (or both), is taking a walk with my husband or a friend. Getting out of the house, even for a quick walk in the beauty of a park, really snaps me out of a funk,” says working mom Tina McDermott, of Butte County.
- Exercise. Making exercise a part of your self-care routine can benefit more than your physical heath. “Exercise not only controls our weight, it uplifts our spirits, relieves anxiety and depression, boosts our energy levels, combats disease, helps us sleep better – it’s FUN,” says Laura Gilmore, owner and coach at Kaia FIT Chico.
- Give yourself a gift. Make every effort to schedule some alone time each day. Ten or fifteen minutes does wonders for reconnecting with yourself. Take a warm bath, a walk in nature, or read for a few minutes. Meditate, breathe, or gaze out the window at a tree. Balancing work and play with together and alone time is a key to healthy living.
Incorporate a few things from this list into your life or create your own self-care program. Whichever you choose, practice the skills until they become a habit. This usually takes about 21 consecutive days. Living from this state of centeredness enhances your life so that you have more energy, receive more joy from your family, and have greater enthusiasm for the tasks that everyday life requires.