Ways to Make Self-Care a Priority During Stressful Times

Does taking time for you seem impossible? Here's how parents can and should fit self-care into their busy lives in order to be there fully for their families.

Woman at a spa with cucumbers on her eyes

Is life too hectic to make time for you? What many parents don’t realize is that self-care is an important piece of staying healthy — especially during stressful times like a tumultuous election season that falls smack in the middle of a global pandemic.

Self-care can be as simple as listening to music, meditating or simply taking a walk around the block and taking those few minutes for yourself can have great health benefits for both you and your kids.

We spoke to Aaron Corte O’Brien, LLMSW, a mental health therapist at Michigan Integrative Holistic Psychiatry to his tips on things you can establish in your daily routine to help with caring for yourself. 

1. Find a routine 

Since the pandemic hit, everyone has been trying to establish their new routines and some normalcy in their lives. This goes for parents, teenagers and children.

“Online schooling is a big issue, the lack of structure and the uncertainty with this year,” says O’Brien.

It’s especially important for kids to establish routines during uncertain times but O’Brien says that this goes for parents too.

“Your traditions (during the holidays, for example) may not look the same as they did in the past, due to COVID,” he explains. “You may want to scale back a bit on certain things and that’s OK. Find a new normal for you and your family, so that you’re not stressing.

2. Try something new

Having to adjust to a new normal can be a stressful thing in and of itself but it’s also a great chance to try a new hobby or activity that you haven’t tried before, something that O’Brien recommends.

“Particularly, if parents are working from home and kids are going to school at home, I think there’s opportunities for new hobbies and traditions like taking a walk or going to a park,” says O’Brien. “For myself, me and my father are going to pick up cross-country skiing.”

Self-care may be new to you and you’re just trying to focus on doing that right now. That’s totally fine.

“It can be the little things for yourself like getting a coffee in the middle of your busy day,” he says.

3. Journal it out 

If you can’t think of a hobby to try, consider writing about your day. Journaling can help you gather your thoughts, help you track things and put you in a great mindset.

Start by “asking yourself the question, ‘what can I control today?’ and ask that question every day,” O’Brien explains. “Spend a couple minutes going over what you’re in control of today (on paper) and you’ll find that you have a lot of answers.”

Your journal doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. In fact, you can write about something as simple as dusting the windowsills since you know it’s been a couple weeks. Any bit of writing helps.

“We need to feel like we are in control to a certain degree in our lives,” he says.

“Journaling is really good for the here and now (and) you can really learn a lot about yourself that way by being real and honest with yourself as you journal throughout the week.”

You can also use old journals to reflect on how far you’ve come or overcame something in your life.

“One of the great ways that I’ve learned about myself, is looking through my old journals,” he adds.

4. Take time to meditate

Mediation can by a great way to keep yourself grounded and care for your mental health.

“I have a daily meditation practice,” O’Brien says.

You can try to establish one for yourself by taking five, 10 or even 30 minutes in the morning. Look for apps, YouTube videos, websites and audio books to help get you started.

5. Get moving

Whether it be outside playing with your kids or inside streaming a workout, it’s important to get your body moving each day.

“Physical fitness is something I relied on heavily during COVID,” he says. “For me, it’s weightlifting, but a walk fits that category, too.”

If you’re able to do something physical safely, O’Brien suggests getting outdoors and going for a run, doing yoga or playing a sport with your friends.

“If you’re able to do something social and physical (safely of course),” says

6. Have people that hold you accountable

It is easier to do something if you have someone you talk to about it. O’Brien also believes that you should have people that you trust to talk to. Even though it’s not considered “self-care,” it is extremely important.

I actually have a group chat with a couple friends that I talk to about scheduling self-care and what we actually did for ourselves that day for self-care. It works great because the most difficult thing about taking care of yourself is actually setting aside the time and making yourself a priority.

O’Brien says that is a great idea along with picking mentors for you or your kids.

“Mentors, who can kind of share the responsibility—a family friend, aunt, uncle, or a therapist,” he says. “I think they can take a weight off of the parents because there’s just so much of that right now.”

7. Do what works best for you

Self-care will look different for everyone. There is no correct was to tell someone to take care of themselves because everyone’s needs are different. Some people need to slow down and others need to get more motivated to care for themselves.

A “slippery slope is Netflix and chilling, how far down that path do you go?” he says. “Some people really enjoy it and view it as self-care.” Others may get too engrossed in binging shows or movies that they aren’t taking care of themselves because of it.

“Double down on what’s important to you and pay attention to things we normally don’t pay attention to,” he says. “Schedule time to relax because you might have to.”

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