Taking care of yourself is an important part of your mental health and well-being. Self-care can sometime feel like another thing on your to-do list, but often it starts with being aware of your own needs as you move through the day. It also helps you to show up in the way you want to for your child and family. You deserve to give yourself the love, care and attention you so often give to others.
Self-care can include recognizing and managing your emotions, setting boundaries and making a self-care plan. Self-care is important all the time, but is especially important during tough times, like when your child is in the hospital or you are experiencing burnout. Read on to learn more about ways to take care of yourself.
It is often hard for parents and caregivers to find time to take care of themselves. The goal of self-care is to make your own well-being a priority, even in a busy day. This doesn’t just mean taking a bubble bath or going on vacation. Self-care can include taking time for yourself or planning when and how you spend time with others.
Here are the seven elements of self-care (with examples):
- mental (learn something new or think about something in a different way)
- emotional (practice mindfulness or managing feelings)
- physical (exercise or movement)
- environmental (explore new places or change settings)
- spiritual (volunteer or pray)
- recreational or professional (learn a skill or adjust your current hobbies)
- social (talk to family and friends)
Recognizing and managing your own emotions
An important part of self-care is to recognize your feelings and find ways to cope that work for you. These may change depending on the situation or stressor. All feelings are important and valid, but some of them can overwhelm and affect your daily functioning.
Here are some mindful ways to learn more about your emotions:
- Check in daily with yourself. Pause and ask how you are feeling and how the day went.
- Notice situations that feel good or feel challenging. This may help you begin to see patterns in your emotions.
- Notice both your physical and mental state. When you are stressed, you may notice that your muscles feel tense or you feel tired. You may also find that you get stuck on certain thoughts or have difficulty starting a task.
When you notice your feelings, you have the chance to figure out what you need to do to manage in a situation. Think about what has worked well for you in the past and what is important to you and your family. For some people, coping might include being alone (listening to music, going for a walk). For others, it might involve connecting with others (talking to a friend on the phone, doing an activity as a family).
Recognizing your emotions, and learning ways to manage them, can help you care for yourself. It also benefits your child and family. Modeling different ways to cope with tough emotions can teach your child about their own emotions and how to regulate them.
When you understand what you are feeling, it also helps you set boundaries. Setting boundaries is figuring out what works for you and your family, and what doesn’t. We set boundaries because our thoughts, feelings, and experiences are important. It is a way to communicate our needs and how we want to be treated.
We may set boundaries about our physical space and privacy, time, emotional or mental capacity, or financial/material resources. It’s likely you’re already setting boundaries, maybe without even knowing it. Boundaries are not always just saying “no,” though sometimes that is needed.
Here are some examples:
- “Our family only eats at allergy-friendly restaurants.”
- “Before I make this decision, I need to take a walk by myself to clear my head.”
- “Our family doesn’t do play dates on school nights.”
Boundaries are a necessary part of life, but they can be difficult to set, especially with those closest to us. Parents and caregivers are often balancing many roles and expectations all at once. It can be helpful to remember why boundaries are important.
They can be:
- a form of self-care that supports you and your family’s well-being
- a way to make your relationships stronger
- a chance to show children what mindful communication looks like
It’s normal to worry about what others might think of us when we set a boundary. It may help to try the FAST method:
- Be Fair
- Don’t Over Apologize
- Stick to Your Values
- Be Truthful
Setting boundaries can empower you to live a meaningful life on your terms. When it comes to you and your family’s boundaries, you are the expert – trust yourself!
Creating a self-care plan
Boundaries are something to consider when you create a self-care plan. A self-care plan is a written plan of action to take care of your well-being. When we are stressed, our mind may only be able to focus on the task at hand. We may not be able to take a step back to think about what to do for ourselves. It may be helpful to refer to a self-care plan.
How to create a self-care plan:
- Review your current habits. Write down the ways you usually cope during a challenging time.
- Think about your self-care needs. Make a list of things that you would like to focus on. If you’re unsure, look at the 7 elements of self-care above.
- Write down new habits or activities that support your needs. Go back over the ways you currently cope and see if they help you deal with the needs you listed. Ask yourself: What helps me? What brings me joy? When do I feel at peace?
- Reflect on any barriers. Think about what may get in your way and what may help you move through barriers. Who could you go to for support? For example, if you don’t have time to set aside for self-care, how could you include it in your schedule? Can someone take over one of your tasks so you have some time for yourself?
You can find a self-care plan template
Taking care of yourself when your child is in hospital
A self-care plan can be even more important if your child is in the hospital. It can be hard to find the time or resources to take care of yourself, but doing so will support you through this difficult time. It will also help you to be there for your child.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Routines can be helpful. Hospitals can be very unpredictable, and that can make it harder to feel like yourself. Try your best to do some things at the same time each day, such as having meals or taking a walk.
- Updating loved ones. Ask a family member or friend to take on communicating medical updates to the rest of your loved ones.
- Support for your child. When you feel like your child is well cared for, you are more likely to feel okay about taking care of yourself. If your hospital has resources (For example: Child Life), find out how they can be involved early to support your child and family.
- Feeling your emotions. However you feel is important and valid during this difficult time. Give yourself the time and space to process any emotions that come up for you. Consider calling a loved one who can support you in these moments.
It is difficult to be in the hospital with your child, whether it is your first time or your tenth. Having compassion with yourself and finding the support you need can help you get through challenging times and be present with your child.
Coping with Caregiver Burnout
In spite of your best efforts, you may experience caregiver burnout from time to time. It can be tough to recognize it and hard to ask for support. Caregiver burnout is an emotional, mental and physical state of exhaustion. This happens when you take care of the needs of others without enough support or resources, and without your own needs being met.
You may be experiencing caregiver burnout if you:
- are emotionally exhausted: feel tired at odd times, such as right after you wake up
- feel disconnected as a parent or caregiver, for example:
- feel less enjoyment in your role as a caregiver
- become less involved in caregiving
- doubt your abilities
- limit the time you spend with your child or feel withdrawn
- feel fed up or frustrated
- have mood swings: increased feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, frustration, and irritability.
These symptoms may happen on their own or together.
Burnout is not always in your control, and that can make you feel helpless as a parent or caregiver. If you think you’re experiencing burnout or want to prevent burnout, take some time to think about your needs, emotions and past experiences.
These strategies may help:
- Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Giving yourself compassion can help you cope with difficult emotions or situations. This may involve asking yourself what you need or changing your expectations. It can also mean connecting with a loved one or taking small breaks.
- Focus on what is in your control. Think about a situation from a new perspective. Remind yourself that you are already doing your best in the situation you are in with the resources you have.
- Remember the meaningful parts of parenting. What has felt satisfying in the past? Make time to play or enjoy an activity with your child.
- Recognize your emotions and behaviours. Pay attention to any changes in the ways you’re feeling or acting. Notice how it may be affecting you and consider what it would be like to have no expectations. Are there any boundaries you could set to take care of yourself?
- Know that you are not alone. All parents and caregivers need someone in their corner. You are not failing if you seek support. Instead, you are doing what you can to take care of yourself and your child. If you need a listening ear, consider reaching out to a parent peer support worker. If changes in your emotions or behaviour affect your daily functioning or cause you distress, seek support from a health professional.
Burnout is more common than we think and is not always in our control. Be kind to yourself and remember that caring for yourself is caring for your child, too.