By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW -October 1, 2020-
This time last year, no one dreamed 2020 would bring a worldwide pandemic. We were forced to adjust very quickly to quarantines, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, travel restrictions, working remotely and masks. Who knew a year ago we would be using terms like “social distancing” and “face masks” in our everyday conversations?
Anxiety, depression, and suicide have all been on the rise. Unemployment and economic numbers are worse than during the Great Depression. Everyone is on edge.
As adults the coronavirus pandemic is scary enough, but what if we are also parents? How do we take care of ourselves while also providing comfort and stability to our children?
As a parent of two young children myself, working from home at the start of the pandemic was a challenge. Parents have always struggled with work/home life balance, but stay-at-home orders and working remotely were something new. We also had the challenge of not only being a parent but also our child’s teacher. I think all of us now have a greater appreciation for teachers and the work they do.
Stay-at-home orders have ended, and many of us are gradually returning to work and school. As we adjust to a new normal, however, many parents are struggling to find time for their own self-care.
Self-care is the practice of intentionally taking care of your own needs. Self-care is important for everyone, especially parents and caregivers. Some may find that certain activities they used to enjoy as part of their own self-care, such as going to the gym, vacationing, going to the movies, and eating out may be more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions or closures.
Here are some practical self-care ideas for parents:
- Avoid overexposure to the news. I personally found that when I was watching the national news I was more anxious and worried. Spend time watching television that is enjoyable and gives you an escape from reality for a bit.
- Spend quiet time alone. It could be on your commute to work or after your children go to bed. It’s important to have time to process the day and enjoy calm.
- Spend time enjoying hobbies. Some pandemic-friendly ideas include listening to podcasts, reading, going for a drive, or talking to friends or family on the phone. I’ve recently discovered audio books and love being able to “read” while driving to work or taking a walk outside.
- Exercise. Maybe you still feel uncomfortable going to the gym, but fall is a beautiful time for the family to enjoy outdoor walks. Exercise is also a natural stress reliever.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation. There are several apps you can download for free mindfulness exercise, such as CALM, Stop Breathe and Think, and Headspace. Some of the apps have both a free and paid version with additional content. Research links meditation to increased levels of happiness.
- Find a babysitter for the night and enjoy some time with friends or your significant other. It is important to have adult time away from your children.
- Spend time planning upcoming experiences. Dr. Laura Santo from Yale University’s work on the secret of happiness has found that spending money on experiences is linked to increased levels of happiness versus spending money on material possessions. For many, this could be planning a trip. I was reading in a travel magazine that the act of planning a vacation can actually lead to more happiness than the vacation itself. If you had a trip cancelled this year, plan for something exciting in 2021. You don’t necessarily have to leave town; you could plan a local experience such as a trip to the zoo or a walk by the river.
- Enjoy time together as a family. Have a game night or order carry-out and have a backyard picnic.
- Socialize. I think one of the tragedies of COVID-19 is the loss of human connection. Isolation can lead to depression. People have been told to stay away from others and maintain distance, but this does not mean we have to isolate. Plan to FaceTime a friend or have an outdoor get-together with chairs spaced 6 feet apart.
- Order carry-out food (or dine in if you feel comfortable) and support a local business.
If you’re a parent or caregiver, be sure to make self-care a priority during the pandemic. Taking care of yourself ensures that you will be able to give your best when taking care of others.