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Got No Time or Money for Self-care? Here’s How Parents Can Put Their Needs First

“Wear your oxygen mask before helping your children put on theirs.”

That’s one of the safety instructions you’ll hear when you fly on an airplane. The phrase has also become a metaphor for self-care for parents: to be a capable parent, you must take care of yourself first. But what if you can’t find the time or money for self-care? That’s especially an issue now that everyone is trying to survive the impacts of the pandemic.

The good news is the right kind of self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. You might already be doing it without knowing it—you just have to be fully aware of it to maximize its potential.

Remember the true meaning of self-care

Self-care is often used by influencers or companies trying to sell you costly spa treatment or cosmetic products, but it only means looking after yourself. It should be about doing daily activities that promote better mental health and an overall sense of well-being. But one thing that keeps parents from determining such activities is guilt: a notion that putting your needs first is somehow selfish.

Unpack that guilt by reframing your perspective on the situation. It’s a proactive choice to say, “No, watching an episode of my favorite TV show before morning chores doesn’t make me selfish. No, I don’t have to feel guilty about it because taking care of my mental health is going to make me a better parent.”

Do simple activities that serve as boundaries between home and work-life

If you’re a parent working from home amid the pandemic, the line between home and work life will likely blur. After all, who else will cook the food, do the laundry, or supervise your child’s homeschooling? But there’s a simple way to keep the boundaries between your work or home life intact: a routine.

Try routines like having a set of clothes you only wear while working and changing into your “home clothes” when you check out from work. Going for a walk around your block at the start and end of each shift and lunch breaks can help mark going to and from work. Moving away from your work area or packing up your workspace at the end of your work hours can also reduce the impulse to keep working.

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Reach out for help

Share the load when you can. Seek your family and friends for emotional support and practical support like going online to supervise your kid doing school activities or ordering groceries for your family.

You might think you have to be in crisis before you can ask for help. But just as it’s better to see a dentist before cavities cause infection or going to an anorexia nervosa treatment facility before an eating disorder leads to other serious health issues, reaching out for help can keep you from ending up in a crisis.

Get enough sleep

Sleep affects your physical and mental health, but it can be the first thing you sacrifice when you get busy or stressed. And you may find it more difficult to sleep these days. After all, there’s this thing called “quarantine insomnia.” As we feel threatened by the risk of the virus, our body’s natural fight-or-flight response keeps us alert even at nights as if there’s a prowling tiger or bear nearby.

Aim for seven to nine hours a night. Things that can help you achieve that includes exercising during the day, reducing your screen hours at night, and doing that routine that separates work and home life.

When you’re in a good spot mentally, you’ll find it easier to carry out what is required of you. You can be a better caregiver—you can quickly help your children put on their oxygen mask and live through a crisis.

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