Build a Better Parent Through Self-Care: Exercise, Proper Nutrition, and Rest
Think taking time for self-care is harder for you than it was for your parents, even your grandparents? You’re not imagining it. Since 1965, mothers are spending nearly double the number of hours on childcare while fathers are spending almost four times the amount. These numbers highlight why it’s more important than ever for parents to prioritize taking better care of themselves.
The inability to manage stress can be a serious problem. Parents may feel nervous, insecure, and fail to think clearly. Some may lose sleep and grow irritable. Others may get headaches or stomach aches. Building a stronger, healthier body is key to overall emotional and physical well-being. Just like a house can’t be built on a weak foundation, parents can’t thrive at work and at home without nurturing and maintaining their inner selves.
Parents don’t have a lock on stress, however. Teens worry about grades and friends. They get anxious about their appearance and the future. Older teens may have concerns about terrorism, injustices and inequalities, even the economy. Above all, they worry about us. What often makes this so hard to manage is that they don’t have the benefit of having lived through these challenges before. The best way parents can help teens navigate life’s jagged terrain is to build their capacity for resilience, in other words, to help them cope with stress. And knowing that your teen is able to cope helps lower your own stress levels as a parent or caregiver. Simply put: Of all lessons parents teach their children, passing along positive ways to manage stress is among the most essential.
So, how can parents take better care of their bodies, counter stress, and drive their capacity for resilience? Below are three essential tips:
1) Exercise Regularly
Exercise is one of the world’s best medicines. It has the ability to transform anxiety and counter depression. Exercise is also known to heighten alertness and improve concentration. And you know what else? Working out may help us live longer, decreasing the risk of developing chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Working out is healthful because it releases endorphins and other calming chemicals in the brain. It’s this uptick that lifts our mood after we exercise. Ever heard of the expression, a “runner’s high”? Exercise is also beneficial because of what it takes away – a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The amount of cortisol in our body increases after a stressful event. The good news is that exercise brings these levels down.
Exercise shouldn’t be a source of stress in itself. What you choose to do isn’t as important as doing something. Exercise doesn’t have to be competitive. There’s no need to run a race or play a full tennis match. Exercise should just be fun! Think walking, going for a hike, doing yoga, or heading to a lake for a swim.
Getting outside is a particularly good idea. Individuals who spend time in natural spaces tend to focus less attention on the negative aspects of their lives. Gretchen Daily, coauthor of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, told me: “Never before have people been so detached from nature. At the same time, what we’re seeing is a pronounced increase in anxiety and mood disorders… There is growing evidence, however, that reintroducing nature to people who are deprived of it can improve mood. Many individuals feel better in a natural setting, perhaps because it helps them let go of pain.” And if you don’t live where there is much greenery, look up. See the sky and follow the clouds. Find a patch of green. Notice the teeming life in even the smallest patches of green.
It’s important to note that it’s never too late to begin exercising. Individuals who are the least fit experience the largest health gains when becoming physically active.
By starting to exercise now, you’ll be sure to reap the mental and physical rewards.
2) Eat Better
Proper nutrition is essential for good health. Eating right is also an important part of reducing stress. What we eat influences how we feel and how we behave. Sugary snacks cause energy levels to spike. If the goal is to maintain an even-keeled temperament and therefore be better prepared to handle stress, parents must maintain steady sources of energy. This means avoiding foods that produce quick peaks and crashes. Candy causes this. Soda is also a culprit.
Why do sweets cause energy fluctuations? The body absorbs simple sugar – the kind found in chocolate and soft drinks — very quickly. It delivers a jolt of energy, followed by an equally fast bottoming out. A better option is choosing foods rich in complex carbohydrates. These deliver a consistent supply of energy to the brain. Examples of complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The added upside of eating these kind of foods, including those high in fiber, is that they keep individuals full longer, allowing them to stay level-headed and maintain a good mood.
Parents can be exceptional role models when it comes to diet and nutrition. Keep healthy snacks and dessert at home. Avoid buying cookies and chips at the grocery store. If you do purchase them, be mindful of how much you eat in one sitting. If you enjoy a little at time, your tweens and teens will learn good habits just by observing yours. And if your child doesn’t love whole apples, for example, don’t despair. Federal dietary guidelines are flexible. For example, the recommended daily 2-cup serving of whole fruit includes fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. Learn more about these guidelines here.
Here’s what you need to remember: If you eat well, your children are more likely to eat well. And as a result, stress levels at home will plummet as family members become healthier and likely calmer.
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.
3) Rest More
Not getting enough rest has significant health consequences. Individuals are more likely to gain weight, develop hypertension, and suffer a stroke. Lack of sleep can be particularly hard on teens. It can make them irritable, more prone to mistakes, and their academic performance can suffer.
The National Sleep Foundation has taken a close look at how much sleep individuals need across their lifespan. Newborns require the most (14-17 hour per day) while people 65 and older need the least (7-8 hours). Teenagers should get 8 to 10 hours per night, and parents do best with 7-9 hours of sleep.
If it’s often hard for you (or your teen) to get enough rest, try these suggestions:
- Keep cellphones out of reach when it’s time for bed. You may even choose to place phones in another room.
- Change cell phones and other screens to nighttime brightness settings a few hours before going to sleep.
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages within 6-8 hours of bedtime. Choose water, herbal tea, or warm milk instead.
- Take a relaxing bath or shower an hour or so before lights out.
- Release your emotions and all of the to-do lists swirling around your mind before lying down. By the time your head hits the pillow, you want to be able to say, “I’m done.”
One more opportunity for getting more sleep is progressive relaxation, a technique anyone can do in bed to help wind down. Try closing your eyes and becoming more conscious of your body. Starting from the top of your head and working your way down to your toes, become aware of every muscle. Where your awareness goes, notice the tension . . . and then let it go. Stress decreases. Relaxation follows. Add in deep relaxed breathing to intensify the experience. The added upside of this strategy is that it’s super easy to teach. After getting the hang of it, pass the idea along to your teen whenever he or she may need it.
By incorporating these techniques into your parenting routine, you’ll feel better and your health will improve. Your children will also learn, simply by watching you, how to take better care of themselves. And that’s a win-win for your entire household.