SELF-CARE AND SELF-COMPASSION
The lead up to Christmas and the long school holidays can be stressful for parents. I speak to many parents daily, both in a personal and a professional capacity, and many of them are doing it tough, commenting that they are snapping more at their kids or loved ones, are struggling to sleep, feel ongoing low levels of anxiety or worse.
Things are harder at this time of year for many reasons. Some of us feel obligated to buy gifts for our kids that we can’t afford or pressured to spend ‘quality time’ with family members that we don’t connect with. Some of us find ourselves navigating our first Christmas post separation and I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who isn’t struggling with the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ there is to do.
And of course the school holidays are starting, and whilst many of us are looking forward to spending more quality time with our kids, the reality is that the holidays bring their own challenges – finding care for our kids when we need to work, managing bickering between siblings and keeping technology use under control to name a few.
It is always important to practice self-care, but it is particularly important to do so now. There are 3 reasons for this. We are role models for our kids so if we practice self-care our children are more likely to do learn this important skill. We’re also likely to be better parents if we practice self-care – we’re less prone to shouting at our kids and will have more patience. We’re also more likely to feel better – don’t we all want this?
So what does self-care look like?
It should not become another thing to add to your already overflowing to-do lists! It’s easy to think that self-care needs to be about going for a spa day or having a flower filled bath in a room surrounded by candles, but this isn’t the case
Reframe your expectations of the holiday period. If we can go into this period expecting that it might not be like it is in the movies, we might not feel so disappointed when things don’t go to plan
Set aside some time for yourself. This might be going for a walk out in nature first thing in the morning, continuing to go to a regular yoga class, booking in a coffee with a good friend or investing time in a relationship with a loved one
Try and keep the essentials ticking over, to the extent you can. This means inserting a few healthy meals in amongst the more indulgent ones, trying to keep to some form of exercise routine and maintaining good sleep patterns. Remember that overindulgence in rich food and alcohol can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety
Find ways that works for you of staying cool and calm in the moment when something flares up – whether it’s when your kids argue, or your brother says something that annoys you. For me, it’s taking 5-minutes out to breathe on the front porch
Take what you see on social media with a grain of salt – those perfect Christmas scenes you see on Facebook? They’re not real. People don’t share the negative stuff that happens and remember no-one’s life is perfect and every family has its challenges
Something that works particularly well for me is ticking one thing off my to do list that is bothering me. Maybe I’ve been meaning to fix a broken drawer for months or have a pile of hand-washing I’ve been neglecting for weeks. Doing one of these jobs can make me feel significantly better!
Take opportunities to teach these important skills to your kids. Are they exhausted from a big day at the beach? Encourage them to sit quietly and read a book. Do they need to wind down after a big term? Give them time and space to hang loose and get into the rhythm of waking up to an empty day with no structured activities
A huge part of self-care is self-compassion. If you do have some additional time these holidays, then read Kristin Neff’s excellent book on this critical skill. It involves us no longer judging and criticising ourselves, something many of us are experts in! There are 3 parts to self-compassion – being kind, gentle and understanding with ourselves, recognising that we’re all in this together and practising mindfulness
If things do get tricky for you then there is lots of support out there – please use it! Friends and family are a great starting point, or your GP. Alternatively, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978, Parentline Australia on 1300 301 300, Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
Pick one thing that you’re doing to do each day to practise self-care. Try and do this one activity each day
Read Dr. Kristin Neff’s book: Self-Compassion and check out her website: www.self-compassion.org