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Simple, Inexpensive Self-Care for Parents

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OLGA STRELNIKOVA | DREAMSTIME.COM

Taking care of kids stretches us to our limits under any circumstance. During a global pandemic — when childcare, support systems and so much else is unstable — it's even more difficult. We have decision fatigue. We feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, it seems like there are no good choices.

I've come across countless advertisements and emails over the past few months for products promising to melt away tension if I just buy XYZ. Yes, please sell me a lotion that will help me make a decision about what to do about school in the fall!

If you're like me, you may not love the term "self-care," because it seems like it's only for people in movies who like bubble baths. Whatever you call it, we need to take care of ourselves the way we take care of our family. Even if we are tempted by marketers' promises, the truth is, we don't need to spend money or create lots of waste in order to carve out peaceful moments.

The first, and hardest, step is figuring out what will help calm your mind and body. Make a list on paper or in your head. While I'm sure we'd all like an all-expenses-paid vacation to a tropical beach, let's cross that off for now.

Sometimes it's hard to know where to begin. So here's a menu of self-care options. Don't set unrealistic expectations; you likely won't be fully transformed by any one of these stress-relieving activities. But picking a few and practicing them consistently can make a huge difference.

Pro tip: Eliminate as many barriers as you can. For example, drinking a glass of water plain or with lemon first thing in the morning seems easy enough. However, I try to keep a glass of water in the fridge or on the counter so that I don't even have to think about filling it up. 

If you have five minutes:

  • Give an extra-long hug to a loved one or a pet — just because.
  • Stand facing in the sun, with your eyes closed, for at least 60 seconds.
  • Use an app like Insight Timer to complete a short, guided meditation.
  • Make a list of to-dos or do a task dump, where you write down everything that's popping up in your brain and causing guilt or anxiety, regardless of the category (work, family, home).
  • Check one small thing off your daily to-do list, like putting in just one load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher.
  • Play an upbeat song and dance like nobody's watching. Jump up and down and vigorously shake out your hands, arms, legs and feet.

If you have 30+ minutes:

  • Go ahead, take that bubble bath or long shower. You conserve water on a daily basis, so it's OK to get a little indulgent on occasion. If you have some essential oil on hand, a drop in the water is a lovely way to engage the senses and distract a busy mind. I like lavender and bergamot. Take extra time when you get out to rub whatever oil you may have onto your arms and legs. No need to run to the store or order a magic elixir for two-day delivery. Olive oil, sweet almond oil and coconut oil are all good options.
  • Take a walk or hike by yourself. Try leaving your phone at home if you'll be close by. Listen to music or a podcast if you want, but only if it's helpful.
  • Move your body however you like. Run, do yoga, bike, jump on a trampoline or do a workout video. Notice if having a goal in mind — whether it's time, distance or another fitness milestone — is helping your focus or adding additional worry.
  • Sit by water without an agenda. Some of us are used to making the most of every moment, so this may not come easily. Bring a book if that helps. Or repeat a mantra like, "My only job right now is to sit here."
  • Get creative and make something. Build something with wood and nails, or pull out your kids' watercolor set. Plan to give the item as a gift if that feels empowering and motivating.
  • Put on relaxing or deep-sleep music, light a candle, and lie down with an eye mask or even a T-shirt over your eyes. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
  • Write in a journal — no special equipment necessary; any paper will do. I like writing with a pen, but a digital notebook may work for you. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started a journal, thinking it would be good to document this time in history. I quickly realized that was putting too much pressure on myself and, since then, I've been using it in the same way I would talk to a friend. It's been great to have another outlet to share the myriad of thoughts, feelings, ideas and news swirling around in my brain at any given time.

Ideas that may take more preparation:

  • Schedule rest and alone time daily or weekly. Make sure your partner or other adults in the home are aware of your plans.
  • Reduce screen time. Plug in your phone outside your bedroom at night. Commit to a screen-free week or one day a week to play a board game, read or complete other tasks without the television on.
  • Our mental health is being tested to an extreme level right now, so speak with your doctor if you feel like you need additional help.*
  • Book a telehealth appointment with a counselor or therapist.* If you don't need any more video-chatting in your life right now, ask to speak with them over the phone.

*If you don't have a therapist or primary-care doctor already, finding someone can be time-consuming and possibly frustrating. I know it was for me, but doing so was worth it. Reach out to friends and family to assist you in making calls and doing research to secure professional help.

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