Most of us understand that self-care is important, but when parenting a child who is struggling with anxiety it can often end up really low on the priority list.
This, of course, is counter-productive thinking. It’s why when we fly we are reminded that in an emergency we need to put on our own oxygen mask before helping those around us. When we don’t take of ourselves, the level of help we can provide falls, and we may even contribute to the situation becoming more difficult.
I know it’s easier said than done. I’ve struggled with making myself a priority for years. I’ll get in a good habit of taking care of myself and then let it slip when the next crisis erupts.
The thing to remember is that you can always start again.
There is no limit to the number of times we can make self-care a priority, so go gentle on yourself when you realize that you are back to your old ways.
With that in mind, here some tips for taking care of yourself to ensure that you are functioning optimally as a parent and caregiver.
Tips for Self-Care When Parenting an Anxious Child
Schedule time to do things you enjoy:
A great way to encourage yourself to make something a priority is to schedule it. Without a schedule, too often you will do the things you have to do, and never get to the things you want to do.
I love to paint and it really helps me clear my mind, but I struggle to find time to do it. To fix this, I’ve begun scheduling in a minimum amount of time each day to sit down and paint. Admittedly, sometimes I use that time for some other activity I enjoy, but that’s a conscious choice I make, not an ‘oops, I forgot‘ by the end of the day. We all enjoy different activities, so there is no right or wrong here. It just needs to be something you enjoy.
Marie Forleo has a great answer to the “how do I make what I want to do a priority” question here.
Take Time For Yourself:
Find time to do something by yourself at least once a week. It might be a 10 minute walk or drive around town, a trip to the grocery store, or your exercise time. Anything that you enjoy that allows you to be out of your usual element of caregiving.
Exercise and physical activity release chemicals that help ease depression and improve mood (thanks to neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids.) You don’t have to join a gym or do crossfit. Activities such as gardening and walking will do, especially when it gets you outside and allows you to get some fresh air. If leaving your home is difficult, there are many free online resources for yoga, stretching, barre etc. It’s also a lot of fun to put on some of your favorite music and dance like nobody’s watching.
Anyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness, and one of the simplest ways to get focus on self-care is to start a practice of mindfulness. It gives you permission to take note of where you are without wishing it to be different, and to be in the present moment. (learn more about mindfulness here)
Watch your self-talk:
It’s easy to fall into negativity and blame yourself for how everything is going when you are watching your child struggle, but watch how you talk to yourself and the language you use. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself room to grow. Offer yourself forgiveness when you find yourself talking badly to and about yourself.
A gratefulness journal is one way to allow yourself to get out of a negativity loop by thinking on things that you are thankful for, no matter how small. A warm bed, your favorite slippers, a smile or kind word from a stranger might seem too small to be relevant, but taking the time to reflect on those moments can help us realize that not everything is how our mind is telling us it is.
Find ways to laugh:
Being chronically worn out and stressed out can make us wonder if we will ever laugh again. Sometimes it can even feel like we’ve forgotten how to laugh. But laughter really is good medicine. It release endorphins, and, get this, ‘it decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease’ (source). It really is good medicine!
Laughter can also help us feel connected to others. Find ways to laugh with friends and family members. See if you can find a way to laugh with your child. This will help strengthen bonds that will help you both when facing the next anxious moments together.
Get plenty of sleep:
Sleep helps your body restore itself and process the day. It can be very difficult to get plenty of sleep when you are struggling with anxiety and already feeling overwhelmed, but lack of sleep contributes to lack of focus, moodiness, and impairs our judgement.
If you are struggling to fall asleep, try listening to a meditation for sleep (the link for the meditation is difficult to locate in the post- you can access it directly here: Relax into Sleep Guided Meditation), or doing some bedtime yoga at bedtime.
If you are waking up during the night, talk with your doctor to make sure there isn’t something else going on. For example, cortisol levels rise during the night and, in conjunction with other things, can contribute to waking up around 3AM, especially during high-stress times or when the body has gotten used to being highly stressed.
Many people are chronically dehydrated and don’t realize it. Dehydration makes us feel tired and affects our mood. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. The 8-8oz-glasses-per-day rule is an average but is dependent on your activity levels, how much you sweat, and other factors. (Get a better sense of how much water you need per day from the Mayo Clinic.)
Fuel your body:
When you are stressed and worried you are more likely to grab whatever is quick and easy to get in your hands and into your body. That may be something that fuels your body well, or it may be a temporary fix that sets you up for a sugar crash later. Not eating enough or not getting enough nutrients can make us feel tired, affect our moods, and affect our ability to focus, so try to keep things on hand that you enjoy that are also nutritious and good for you.
When we were in the midst of issues that required us advocating for our children at school we felt very alone. We sought help online and in our local community. We joined networks of parents in similar situations and found so much support and advice to help us through many difficult days and months.
Seek help for yourself:
Just as there is no shame in seeking professional help for our anxious children, there is no shame in seeking professional help for ourselves. Talk to your primary doctor and find a therapist or counselor who can help you work through the feelings that you are having.
Self-Care is Not Selfish
When you don’t take care of yourself it’s difficult to take care of others.
Make taking care of yourself a priority. There is nothing wrong with doing so; it’s not selfish. In fact, it’s one of the most important steps you can take in helping your child.