Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers, often find themselves in the routine of providing care for others, without taking opportunities to care for themselves. Over time, stress, fatigue, and being over worked can result in caregiver or parental burnout. Burnout is described as an intense exhaustion, both physical and psychological, that can lead to feelings of detachment from our children and uncertainty about our ability to parent (Mikoljczak, Gross, & Roskam, 2019).
Burnout or exhaustion can present itself in a variety of ways so being mindful of our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physiological experiences can help us recognize when we need a break. Some signs that can indicate that you may need to find more time for self-care include: fatigue, increased irritability or frustration, emotional detachment, feelings of anxiety or depression, guilt, feeling inadequate, sleep difficulties, forgetfulness, feelings of obligation, being unable to recall when you last did or had a conversation about something not child related, increased frequency of conflicts, and other health issues.
If left untreated, burnout can lead to serious consequences for both the caregiver and dependents and has been connected to higher rates of poor mental wellbeing, psychological, social, and emotional problems, neglect of children, and an increased risk for violence. Knowing this highlights just how important it is for us to ensure we take the time to build self-care practices into our daily life. Self-care is the process of identifying and then meeting your own needs.
Parenting is like driving a car and self-care is the maintenance needed for it to work properly. We need our vehicles to get us from point A to point B, but if we frequently let them run out of gas, don’t get oil changes, or let our tires get low, over time our cars stop working as efficiently, need repairs, and eventually break down. Without taking the time to regularly care for ourselves, we too can break down. Like vehicles, parents can’t be expected to run on an empty tank of gas. So take a read of some the self-care practices below, and find some time to fill your own gas tank today. Because, at the end of the day, taking care of yourself is apart of taking care of your kids.
Self-care practices fall within four main categories: physical, emotional, psychological (mental), and spiritual. Utilizing the Indigenous practice of the Medicine Wheel can be helpful for understanding and developing a self-care routine as it is broken into the four quadrants and provides us with a guide for exploring which area(s) may need more support.
Self Care Practices:
Physical: get regular medical care, eat in a way that supports a healthy lifestyle, practice good sleep habits, drink enough water, exercise, take breaks from work or stressors, spend time in nature, put away your cell phone, take a warm bath, stretching, use deep breathing
Emotional: be present in the moment, use emotion-based language (e.g., I feel sad when…”), cry, allow yourself time to heal, participate in counseling/treatment, tell others you love them, forgive, practice honesty, meditate, journal, list things you are grateful for, spend time with those who make you happy
Psychological: read/recite positive affirmations, engage in therapy, self-reflect, meditate, list to calming music, exercise, belly breathe, simplify your daily schedule, laugh, spend time with loved ones, organize/de clutter, monitor your thoughts, challenge negative thoughts, and change unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones
Spiritual: volunteer, practice gratitude, pray/meditate, garden, connect with a mentor, attend religious or spiritual ceremonies, self-reflect, do yoga, practice forgiveness, do deep breathing exercises, journal, cleanse your space, let go of negative past experiences
Self-care is giving the world the BEST of you, instead of what’s left of you. – Katie Reed
WRITTEN BY MEGAN ADAMS LEBELL, PSYCHOLOGIST WITH WILDFLOWERS