Self-Care is Key to Good Parenting
There’s more pressure than ever to be super moms and super dads. That somehow sacrificing means loving. This notion is false. Parents who carve out time for themselves have increased patience and energy. They’re less stressed and more resilient. And they aren’t the only ones reaping rewards. Their children also absorb the resulting benefits.
But how can busy parents get away from their seemingly endless list of responsibilities at home and work? At times, taking even a moment to relax may seem like an impossible feat.
Give Yourself Permission to Step Away From Parenting
The first goal has to be parents giving themselves permission to step back. “Mothers and fathers must release the guilt and anxiety that fuels modern parenting,” explains Brigid Schulte, director of New America’s Better Life Lab and bestselling author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. The additional upside of recharging parental batteries is what it does for teens. “By creating downtime, parents also show their children it’s important to have a balanced and healthful life.” In fact, teaching teens positive self-care techniques is one of a parent’s most important responsibilities. Doing so sets them on the path of being more capable and resilient adults.
If you’d like a few ideas for going on a “mini vacation” without ever leaving home, read on. The below opportunities will make you feel refreshed in a matter of minutes. No need to get on a plane or even into a car.
Closing your eyes and imagining a place that brings you comfort relieves stress. My go-to spot is the beach. Thinking about the ocean, imagining the warm sand between my toes, and my family’s unrushed presence is soothing for me, especially when I’m tense and need a moment to “get away.”
There are numerous opportunities for showing children how to visualize. Maybe they’ll invent their own special place easily. If they need inspiration, consider visiting a tranquil, beautiful location together, or simply going outside one night to look at the stars. In the peace of this moment, ask your children to imagine their own distinctive place, and then encourage them to take a mental snapshot of it. The location doesn’t have to be extraordinary. It can be any place that stirs feelings of warmth and safety — a summer camp, a shady spot in the backyard, even Grandma’s kitchen. Begin this practice early in childhood. Your children will be able to pull this image out whenever they need a comforting escape through the teen years, and perhaps even into adulthood.
Our children will get the most out of visualization if you add one more component. As they’re deciding upon their unique retreat, remind them how much you love them. Tell them this spot will be there for them whenever they need calm and quiet. Their imagination will take them on an instant vacation wherever they are, whenever they need it most. And, as they take this vacation, they’ll be protected by the security that comes from your unconditional love.
The goal of meditation is to temporarily turn off mental activity, to calm thoughts racing through your mind. It feels good to carve out five, 10, even 30 minutes for yourself – just to pause a moment from everything you normally do. Meditation is a welcome retreat whenever you need it.
Besides being a mood-booster, individuals who meditate often experience a heightened ability to focus in times of stress. What this means is that if you’re multitasking under a lot of pressure, you can use meditation to concentrate on getting through tasks one-by-one without letting them overwhelm you with anxiety. This can be good for parents who juggle multiple responsibilities at home and work. And it’s great for tweens and teens who need to balance homework, family or work obligations, and extracurricular activities.
According to Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, a book co-authored by neuroscientist Richard Davidson, meditation also enables us pay better attention. This occurs because meditation helps us stop focusing on every new stimulus around us. We become more effective because we’re better able to tune out distractions.
Meditation works because it actually changes the functioning of the brain. It does this by dulling activity in our amygdala (the part of our brain that helps process emotions) and increasing connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (the portion that regulates decision-making, planning, and problem-solving).
If you’re interested in learning more about your teen’s brain and how it develops, check out this piece. And if you’d like more ideas for nurturing your child’s growing brain, this article will be helpful, too. Meditation is a powerful tool. It allows us to become less reactive to stressors and recover more easily from stress whenever we experience it.
If you’re ready to give meditation a shot, try this simple exercise:
First, get comfortable and close your eyes. Notice whatever comes to mind as you inhale. It could be a noise, feeling, or thought. Focus on this as you briefly hold your breath. As you release your breath, let whatever you noticed go. Do this again. Repeat until you experience a new sense of calm. I like to draw an imaginary square in my mind. When I breathe in, I work my way up one side of the square, briefly holding my breath when I get to the end. I take another breath as I move toward the next line.
Mindfulness, a type of meditation, allows us to be fully present in the here and now, using the power of breath to center us. We are not focused on the past fueling feelings of remorse or even depression. Nor do we anticipate the future driving our anxiety. We are here. Just here. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance physical and emotional well-being. The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time by Dr. Dzung X. Vo guides your teen to incorporate mindfulness into a wellness strategy.
One of the most helpful strategies for temporarily escaping everyday concerns is reading. Other pastimes, including watching videos on YouTube or going to a movie, offer a relaxing break – but reading is a full-immersion experience. When individuals read, they visualize scenes, hear dialogue, experience certain tastes, smells, sounds, and most importantly, feelings. TV shows hand you sound and visuals, making for a passively received experience — one more easily distracted by your thoughts. On the other hand, Reading activates your senses creating a fuller, more engaging diversion. There’s no room for anything else.
Reading has further been proven to boost happiness and help individuals live longer. This is because the kind of sustained mental engagement that stems from reading lifts self-esteem and protects readers from mental decline. Reading before bed also happens to be an effective way to unwind. Reading calms us. Screens activate us. Pick up a book and give it a try!
One Final and Important Note
A real mental vacation – one that decreases stress and stimulates joy — is much more than just seizing a moment to relax. Taking a mini holiday, whether through visualization, meditation, or reading, prevents intrusive thinking. Being able to block out negative feelings cracks open opportunities for experiencing less stress and greater happiness. And this is good news for ourselves, a key parenting strategy, and a crucial lesson to teach our children.
Top Tips to Eliminate Stress
Being the best parent you can be requires time, energy, and patience. To keep stamina up, it’s essential to take care of yourself. Click through to learn effective strategies for getting rid of stress.
Swimming, playing basketball, or going for a walk are great ways to manage stress. The list of physical activities is endless. Find something you enjoy and get active!
Put Thoughts on Paper
Keeping a journal is a proven stress reliever. Writing helps you slow down, think about problems with greater clarity, and develop solutions.
Meditation helps quiet thoughts, gives your mind a rest, and lets your body relax. You can meditate virtually anywhere. Think of meditation as a way to intensify your focus on relaxation.
Talk it Out
One of the best ways of relieving stress is sharing your feelings with someone else. It is healing to be heard.