Self care strategies for parents and caregivers Caring for a small child can be rewarding, exciting, surprising and frustrating. It can also sometimes be stressful, exhausting and worrying. Having young children can often bring up different emotions and challenges for parents and caregivers. It may seem like all of your energy is focused on your responsibilities as a parent, and you can forget to look after yourself. Even if you may not seem to have the time it’s important to take care of you. If you are happy and healthy you will be better equipped as a parent. We sometimes call this self care and there are many different strategies you can use to help you stay in good mental and physical health to support yourself, and your loved ones. You can engage in self care at any time – trying different strategies that include your child (or take advantage of those rare nap times!) can be fun. The important thing to remember is you’re more likely to stick to a healthy routine of taking care of yourself if it’s not a chore. We’ve adapted this list of self care ideas from Better Health Vic. Read more below, and try to think about how these ideas might fit into your routine. Getting enough sleep Whether you’re experiencing low quality sleep, or not enough sleep, here are some tips to improve your rest time: Go to bed at approximately the same time each day. Keeping a routine can help with anxiety, and also ‘train’ your body’s circadian rhythm. Avoid exercise before bed. Make the bedroom as restful an environment as possible. Avoid screen time or other stimulating activities just before bed. Avoid caffeine or other stimulants in the evening. Try a warm bath or shower two hours before bed to regulate your body temperature for sleep. Avoid a nap in the evening. If you cannot sleep, get up and do something quiet in another room. Short 20-minute naps can improve alertness and help you make better decisions. Move your glorious body any way that makes you feel good! Regular physical activity is important for your health and wellbeing. It improves our fitness, helps us maintain a healthy body, while reducing the risk for many chronic diseases. Getting started can be difficult, especially after having a baby, and it’s totally normal to fall off the wagon from time to time. You might need to try a few different activities before you find the exercise fit for you. Exercise is not about losing pregnancy weight, or getting back a pre-pregnancy body. Exercise is about respecting the body you have now, and tapping into those beautiful exercise endorphins. Set achievable goals. If you can’t afford to exercise for an hour a day, then you don’t need to promise yourself you will. If 15 minutes of exercise works for you and your family, then start there. Fresh air and sunshine can lift mood and boost vitamin D. It’s great to schedule a time of day that you know works for you to exercise. Being able to compromise can help you stick to your schedule – if you can’t go for your morning walk because it’s raining, can you use that time to do yoga in your living room, stretches on your bedroom floor or a workout routine on YouTube in the living room? Exercise can include gentler activities – such as breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. Work with what you’ve got, and find the comfort level that builds strength for your unique, amazing body. Allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, osteopaths or exercise physiologists can help with assessment, treatment and strengthening exercises. No, eating your toddler’s leftovers is not a diet we recommend: Many parents and caregivers of young children struggle to find the time to cook, stay hydrated and to eat healthy meals. Even for people who loved cooking prior to having their baby, preparing meals can be a huge drain both mentally and on your limited time. To make sure you’re fuelling your body you can try: Include protein-based snacks (yoghurt, nuts, eggs or protein balls are great ideas) Have small, protein-based snacks (such as yoghurt or nuts) in your shopping list to have available when you need a quick bite. A water bottle can make a great companion – having a bottle to sip where you feed your baby, by your bed or on hand to drink throughout the day is not only a great way to stay hydrated, but frequently drinking water can also create small moments throughout the day for you to stop, calm and carry on. If Toast (or Take Out) Tuesdays and/or Cereal Saturdays aren’t part of your ideal meal plan, relax: making a low labour meal during the week (or outsourcing completely!) is also self care. This is what friends are for! New and existing social networks can help new parents feel connected to other adults. Maintaining or building new friendship circles can help you redefine your identity post-baby, focus energy on activities or interests your baby might not be able to share with you. You could try: First-time parent groups, or social media groups for expectant parents (hint: Canberra’s groups are usually Canberra Mums Due or CMD and the month your baby is due, i.e. Canberra Mums Due July 2022 or CMD July 2022) Connecting with ACT Playgroups to find a playgroup in your area. Keep an eye out for local free activities like Giggle and Wiggle through ACT Libraries, or Paint and Play sessions (usually facilitated by local non government community organisations, groups or public schools). Using social media to connect with people who share your interests. As always, when you’re using social media make sure you’re doing so safely, and in a way that’s good for your mental health. Be kind to yourself It’s natural to expect a lot from yourself as a parent – we all have standards we would like to set for ourselves and for our families. Having goals is wonderful, but make sure they’re achievable and realistic. If you don’t meet the goals you set for yourself, don’t beat yourself up: speak to yourself in the voice you would use when giving a pep talk to your sister or your best friend. This is called self compassion, and while it’s a difficult skill to master, it can be life changing. Not only for you, but for your family. To fine tune your self compassion skills you could try: Talking to your partner or someone you trust about how you’re feeling Writing a note to yourself each day about how you succeeded, or helped someone else succeed. Take some time out Parents and caregivers need a break from caring from time to time. This also allows another person to have some one to one time with the baby, which is good for you and for your baby. Time out doesn’t have to mean spending money, or hiring a babysitter, it can be as simple as: Let go of the idea that you need to be productive all the time. It’s unrealistic, and unhelpful. Planning out your week to include specific times you can realistically be child-free. If you have a partner or you are co-parenting working together to make sure your baby’s carers get one to one time with your baby can mean sticking to the schedule is everyone’s responsibility. What hobbies did you enjoy before you became a parent? Can you pick those activities back up, or is there something new you’d like to try? If you’re sharing bedtime duties (or trying to), consider going for a walk around the block while your partner puts your baby down for the night. Reading a book or magazine. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, revisit an episode of your favourite show or pop the headphones in and listen to your favourite music. Catching up with friends. Whether it’s over coffee or over a video call, a friendly face goes a long way towards reminding you that you’re still yourself, even when you’re a parent. Most of all, remember that your baby might be the centre of your universe, but that universe doesn’t work without you in it! Take care of yourself, work with the people who love you to take care of each other, and you’ll be one step closer to getting through the tough times.