How to prioritize self-care when you feel exhausted?
I’m exhausted. Chances are you are too. I know I need to prioritize self-care, to feel well, be well and do well, but I’m exhausted – mentally, emotionally, physically. This year has sucked so much energy from me I’m ready for a really long nap. This burnout is real and has become the norm for most parents.
“You’re still managing the mental load of the household, while also making sure the masks are laundered, the Zoom schedules are followed, and trying to figure out how much kid screen time is too much and how much screen time is necessary to just get through your day,” Anne Helen Petersen writes in her article written for the NY Times.
You don’t ever allow the batteries on your phone and other devices to drain to zero; why do you allow your own energy to drain to the level of exhaustion?
Experts tell us that to provide the care and support our kids need, we must first take care of ourselves.
Yes, I used the word “first” intentionally. It’s like in an in-flight emergency putting your face mask on to start the flow of oxygen before assisting your child.
Several weeks ago, I hit a breaking point (one of many over the last few months). I typically take a long walk outside in the early evening. This particular morning, I was feeling very emotional and had zero motivation, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the list of things I had to do that day. My husband suggested I go for my walk (it was around noon). I told him I was going to take my walk in the evening, like I normally did. He said, “I think you’d feel better if you go now.” Again, I told him not to worry, I would take my walk later. He then said very firmly, “GO NOW.” I took an hour long walk and when I returned home was in a completely different state, with energy and motivation to tackle the items on my list. Without his very firm and very loving suggestion, I would have likely slipped into my blankets and gone into hibernation.
“Many believe parenting is about controlling children’s behavior and training them to act like adults. I believe that parenting is about controlling my own behavior and acting like an adult myself. Children learn what they live and live what they learn.”
–L.R. Knost, Author and Social Justice Activist
5 Steps for Self-Care When You Feel Exhausted
- Make a commitment to yourself to prioritize for self-care. You will need to tell yourself and believe that in addition to being a stronger parent, you deserve some time and attention to yourself.
- Visualize yourself feeling cared for. Close your eyes and imagine how you look, sound, and feel.
- Create a plan. If this is not already a regular practice for you or it isn’t right now, start small. Take inventory of the things (including your own excuses) that might get in the way of sticking to your plan. How can you create short-cuts and habits to minimize or eliminate those obstacles? Micro-habits and habit stacking are great ways to make lasting changes. Examples of micro-habits and habit stacking:
- While eating – a daily habit you already have, chew slowly and notice how the food smells, feels and tastes. (Habit Stacking)
- Get out of bed 15 minutes before your kids get up and sit by yourself. You might use this time to read, meditate, do a facial mask, listen to music, walk outside around your yard, or whatever creates positive energy for you. (Micro-Habit).
- Tell your family about your plan. Make sure they know what you are committing to, why it’s important to you, when you’ll do your self-care (or if the time changes from day to day, how you will let them know when to expect you’ll do your self-care for that day), and what you need from them to support you. Ask for their help to create loving ways for them to hold you accountable (like my husband did for me in the example above).
- Establish rewards for your effort, progress, and sustained commitment. When you create your plan, make sure you identify milestones that you will celebrate when you reach them. For example, after the first time you stick to you plan, have a little celebration to a great start. Then after 5 straight days, do another celebration. Make sure you’re rewarding effort and progress, not just success and certainly not perfection. Take time to notice changes in how you’re feeling and how you’re interacting with others.
Start small, plan well, do what you can.
Starting with one small step may be all you need to put your plan in motion and start to develop a habit of self-care. Once you’ve established a routine of self-care for yourself and have modeled this for your family, invite them to create their own self-care practices. Or maybe you’ll start together.
Feel Well, Be Well, Do Well.
For additional Parenting How-To’s, check out our I’m Okay, We’re Okay Parent Video Series.
Mindfulness – For you and for your kiddos, with Colette DeHarpporte, certified Mindfulness Instructor and founder of Laser Classroom
Want to watch all the videos? Access the Playlist or watch individually with the links below.
Other videos in the I’m Okay. We’re Okay. Parent Video Series include:
Developing Resilience for Now and for Life with Shannon Murphy Robinson, Owner and Co-Founder of BrainSkills@Work and mother to 3 great kids. Shannon also shares a printable resource with us: 10 Quick Tools to Keep the Higher (Thinking) Brain Online.
Partners in Coping (when experiencing stress) with Kate Wessel, a licensed social worker within schools and the community and mother to a “pandemic preschooler.”