Self Care Evaluation – How am I doing?
By Joanna Nicholson, MA, RCC
Most parents and caregivers have experienced a recent increase in stress. COVID-19 has impacted our world and our families as we have all had to make significant changes to our daily lives. In addition to increased stress, most people are experiencing a decrease in the activities which help them manage stress. Due to current social/physical distancing requirements, many of the things that we enjoy such as social gatherings, fitness opportunities or community involvement, are not available to us in the same way as before. Parenting with this imbalance between stress and coping is challenging.
That being said, parental burnout doesn’t happen immediately. Rather, it is inevitable if there is an imbalance between the stress we feel and our ability to take care of ourselves for too long. The good news is that when you take time daily to re-charge, you feel better and you pass along your sense of calm and wellbeing to the children in your care.
In light of recent events, here are some questions for parents and caregivers to ask themselves regarding their own balance between stress and coping, as well as some self-care practices:
How do I feel? Grief has been described as our emotional reaction to change, and we have all experienced a lot of change recently. Change can be difficult and it is important to recognize our feelings towards the changes we have experienced. Acknowledging how we feel helps us to move forward and figure out how to make the best of our current situation.
What helps you feel better? Identify what activities within your daily routine are the most enjoyable and help you feel calm. Do you like to read, run, communicate with a friend, or be outside in nature? Do you find peace when meditating, praying, journaling or practicing yoga? Figure out what helps you to let go of stress and find ways to incorporate it into each day. Setting a specific time, such as first thing in the morning or before bed, helps you make self-care a habit.
Much of our happiness depends on our daily habits, not our circumstances. To learn more about happiness and how to cultivate it, visit Sonja Lyubomirsky’s website (http://thehowofhappiness.com) where she shares her research on happiness.
What is driving you crazy? Evaluate what is causing you the most difficulty at home and try to problem solve. This moves us from being reactive to being proactive. For example, does watching the news lead to feelings of fear and worry? If so, consider limiting exposure to the news. Since we have endless information available to us at all times, it can consume us if we let it. To ensure balance, decide how often you want to access news media (i.e. once or twice per day) and then set a time (i.e. watch the evening news or check your phone for a news update in the morning and evening).
Is a messy and cluttered household causing you to be irritable? Find ways to incorporate a ‘cleaning blitz’ into your day where all family members clean for 10 minutes at set times throughout the day. Or if you are experiencing financial difficulty, can you review your expenses and get creative about ways to save on monthly bills or regular expenses?
What am I telling myself? Are you offering yourself the same amount of kindness and compassion that you would offer a friend or loved one in this situation? We have a tendency to be more critical of ourselves than we are of others. It is to be expected that we all may experience a few ‘parenting fails’ as we spend more time at home with our children and attempt to help them manage their own responses to COVID-19 while balancing our own reactions, roles and responsibilities.
Being compassionate to yourself is a mindset that often needs to be developed and has numerous mental health benefits. To learn more visit https://self-compassion.org.
Am I being mindful? Mindfulness is a non-judgemental awareness of what is happening in the present moment. We feel anxious when our mind wanders to the future and thinks about potential worst-case scenarios. We can also feel depressed when we spend a lot of time thinking about the past, for example: ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ Cultivating an awareness of the present moment gives us relief from future worry and past challenges. For a free 8-week course on mindfulness-based stress reduction visit https://palousemindfulness.com.
Am I being gracious? When stressed, everyone copes differently, so remember to be gracious with those around you. In the face of stress and uncertainty, some people withdraw and turn inward while others look outward for reassurance. Learning to balance different reactions within one household requires grace and creativity in terms of finding ways for everyone’s needs to be met.
What am I thankful for? As it is easy to focus on what is difficult right now, ask yourself what is good about today. Expressing gratitude helps change our mindset and gives relief from anxiety, as well as buffers against depression. Consider making a list each day of things you are grateful for, or share your appreciation for those around you by sending a text, email or card in the mail.
How am I helping others? When we are struggling it is easy to turn inward and try to figure out how we are feeling. However, when we take time to notice others and find ways to help or encourage them, we will feel good too. There are many opportunities to care for each other at this time. You could be the highlight of someone else’s day.
Instead of reacting to the global COVID-19 pandemic and feeling like a victim of current social restrictions, we have the opportunity to be proactive about our own mental and emotional wellbeing. As parents, one of the best things that we can do for our children is to take care of ourselves so that we can provide the best care possible to them.
Hear from Dr. Chuck as he provides some helpful coping mechanisms that can practically help you as the parent/caregiver during these stressful times of COVID-19.
This video is part 3 of a free 3-part series.