Self-care isn’t about being self-centered or selfish. If you’re a parent, taking time away from your usual schedule is one of the best ways to boost resilience and strengthen your capacity to nurture your children.
Too often parents are stressed by the demands of raising children—helping with homework, getting them to after-school activities, keeping track of doctor’s appointments. But being overwhelmed isn’t part of the job description. Give yourself permission to reduce stress and be happy—in whatever ways work for you. It will help you increase a mindset of resilience.
Feeling overwhelmed is avoidable. If you’d like to take a step back but don’t know what to do, read on. Consider these strategies as a roadmap for your well-being. No, they don’t involve spending lots of money. These opportunities focus on what you can do at home right now or right in your neighborhood.
1. Change your perspective
Let’s begin with an approach you can take anytime, anywhere. The tactic centers on gaining control when competing demands and concerns make you feel out of control.
People sometimes experience anxiety after letting their worries sink in and take over. Without making a conscious effort to soothe their emotions, people may release tensions in unhealthy ways, including skipping exercise, over- or under-eating, or substance abuse.
So how can parents escape stress, find a safe refuge, and re-energize? One answer is breaking down big problems into smaller, more manageable parts. This means tackling challenges, not hiding from them. It also means facing them head on, one part at a time. Another possibility is reaching out to others for guidance and help. Counselors, social workers, and other professionals can offer support and suggestions. A trusted pastor, rabbi, imam, or other religious figure may help you with some faith-based strategies to allow you a new viewpoint and the ability to positively manage your stress.
Learn to compartmentalize. A helpful way to explain this strategy is to think about how your family handles leftovers after dinner. It’s likely your household uses some type of plastic containers with lids that seal tightly. These containers work well because they’re transparent and the contents are easily visible inside. They’re also useful because you can lift the lid, take a little food out, and tightly reseal them.
Imagine putting every cause of your stress inside one of these containers. Name the issues that feel overpowering. Labeling your challenges promotes mental calmness. It also decreases stress because it stirs the realization that a problem can be wrestled with individually while the rest can be “stored” safely for another time.
In addition to changing your mindset about how you address your problems, it’s essential to consider how much power you give each stressor, to begin with. Sometimes stress comes from real danger, but in most cases, the amount of stress we feel has more to do with how we think about it.
Ask yourself these key questions. Whenever a challenge pops up, we can learn to ask ourselves three questions. These questions will help us see the problem through the appropriate lens and help build resilience.
- Is this a real tiger or paper tiger? It’s important to remember that humans are designed to be able to flee ferocious carnivores. Our internal stress response launches us into survival mode, a period during which it’s nearly impossible to think clearly. You’ll solve problems more effectively if you are able to recognize that most problems don’t represent imminent danger. Once you’ve established there is no immediate danger to yourself or a loved one, you’ll be able to more effectively calm your thinking and determine what you need to do.
- How will I feel about this problem tomorrow? Next week? Next year? One of my favorite musicals on the stage and in film is Annie. It would be too easy to assume it’s my favorite because, like the title character, I’m a redhead, too. But I’m actually moved by “Tomorrow,” its most famous song. This upbeat anthem reminds audiences that struggles nearly always ease with the passage of time. The advantages of positive thinking are echoed in scientific literature. In his book, The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman writes about the benefits of viewing problems as short-lived and resolvable.
- Is this good situation permanent? It may seem strange, but sometimes—without meaning to think self-defeating thoughts—we get nervous or think we’re unworthy when good things happen. In the worse cases, we sabotage ourselves out of fear that someone else will take away our gains. Don’t do this to yourself! Come to appreciate all the good that happens to you. Take it in. Relish it. It’s yours.
2. Keep a journal
Give yourself a safe space to express feelings. It is a powerful tool for lowering stress and developing a more resilient mindset. Journaling allows us to let go of emotions while simultaneously controlling them. Once they’re on the page, our thoughts and feelings no longer have to be at the forefront of our minds. We’re able to worry less by writing more. And this can be very good for our health.
Write about stressful experiences. It has been shown to improve the health of many different people. One of the primary reasons for these positive results is that writing alters memories of stressful events and likely improves how people cope with them. Reviewing old entries may also help us be more reflective. They may allow us to learn from the big and small events in our lives.
Keeping a diary shouldn’t add strain to your life. It’s not an obligation you need to fulfill every day. Writing can simply be a tool whenever you need to release tension or make sense of an emotion.
3. Give back
Carving out time to volunteer boosts well-being. For a moment, we put aside our own troubles and gain much-needed perspective. Perhaps we determine our troubles aren’t so bad after all. It often comes with the bonus of someone else reminding you how you are valued.
When you give back, you learn that it feels good to give. That realization can be lifesaving. The ultimate act of resilience is reaching out to another person when we need support. We reach out when we know the other person cares and gets something out of service. We will not reach out if we believe we are pitied. When we give, we learn that it feels good to lend a hand. This means that we will be better prepared to receive when it is our turn.
Volunteering is a great activity to do on your own. It can also be a meaningful way to spend time with your children. From local food pantries to religious institutions to your child’s school, the opportunities to volunteer are everywhere. Some people even manage to turn the act of volunteering into a family vacation.
So many of our self-defeating thoughts begin with words like “I never” or “I can’t.” There is no room for progress when we undermine hope in this way. Learn to add the transformative word “yet” to the end of your thoughts. “I can’t solve this problem” becomes “I can’t solve this problem YET.” Hope and possibility are restored.
Taking advantage of these techniques has a wonderful, unexpected upside: You model for your children how to develop new skills for withstanding challenges. And that will help them build a more resilient mindset, too.
This article was originally published on parentandteen.com, the website of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication (CPTC). CPTC is an organization dedicated to promoting effective communication between parents and teens. Read the original article.