As the parent of a child dealing with mental illness, you spend a lot of time and energy focusing on your child’s day-to-day well-being. Whether you are coordinating with your child’s teachers and mental health professionals, helping your child cope with classwork and extracurricular activities, or dealing with a full-blown meltdown, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to manage it all. Left unchecked, these stressors can take a toll on you and your child, ultimately harming your own physical and mental health.
The stressors of parenthood can lead to “negative, coercive and harsh parenting, and these can have a negative and direct effect on children’s behavior,” according to recent research published in the Journal of Family Medicine & Community Health. Another study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that having a child with a disability or mental health challenge can lead to long-term health consequences for the parents if stress is allowed to get out of control.
So, how do you keep the effects of stress at bay so you can be a better, healthier parent? One of the best ways to manage stress is to make self-care a priority.
The Four Categories of Self-Care … and Putting on Your Own ‘Oxygen Mask’ First
While self-care sometimes is derided as a selfish practice, it’s actually quite the opposite. Self-care is any practice or activity that promotes your overall sense of well-being. Far from self-indulgent practice, self-care often requires discipline and a commitment to healthier lifestyle habits. Self-care generally falls into four categories:
Taking care of your well-being in each of these four areas can help to minimize the effects that daily stress has on your physical and mental health.
Many parents struggle with prioritizing self-care, saying that they feel guilty taking time for themselves instead of spending time making headway on their ever-growing to-do list. It’s helpful to think about self-care using the oxygen-mask analogy: When the flight attendants are going over pre-flight safety procedures, they instruct passengers to put their oxygen masks on first before helping others.
This might seem counterintuitive. Wouldn’t you want to make sure your child is safe before taking care of your own safety? Of course! But when the cabin pressure is decreasing on the plane, you risk losing consciousness before being able to help your child. With your own mask on and working properly, you’ll be able to take care of your child. Self-care is a lot like putting your own oxygen mask on first. It enables you to manage stress so that you can be fully present in your role as parent.
Easy Ways to Practice Self-Care Every Day
So how do you begin to put your own oxygen mask on first and practice self-care as a busy parent? Start with the basics. Try these simple and effective self-care practices every day:
- Put away distractions before bed (TV, phone, etc.).
- Get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep so that you feel refreshed the next morning.
- Eat a healthy breakfast and lunch every day to help you stay energized throughout the day.
- Go for a walk around the block when you have a few minutes to help decompress from any stresses.
- Stay connected to friends and family throughout the week to take advantage of your social support system.
Simple practices like these can go a long way to minimize the effects of stress on your day-to-day life.
It’s helpful to have a few relaxation techniques in your self-care toolkit to help you manage stress throughout the day. For example, deep breathing is a research-backed method to battle stress, and it’s easy to use throughout the day no matter where you are. Use it before you start the day, on breaks, and after lunch to help reduce blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate.
Apps like Calm, Pacifica and Headspace are great options if you want an easy guide for relaxation techniques. And don’t underestimate the power of a quick walk around the block to de-stress. Even just a few minutes should help.
When you incorporate simple self-care practices like these into your daily life, you can spend more time doing what you love — taking care of your child and family — and less time feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to make time for self-care. The benefits are invaluable!