I started this series with Self-care for Parents, a post that defined parental self-care and suggested ideas for assessing how attentive you are to caring for your needs. In the second post, What difference does parental self-care make?, I wrote about how taking care of yourself benefits your children by giving them a calmer, more flexible, creative, and resourceful parent. Now I’d like to share strategies for incorporating more self-care into your life on a regular basis. If you haven’t done so already, visit the “assessment” area of self-care for parents and answer the questions listed there.

There are two primary ways to incorporate more self-care into your life: plan it and do it spontaneously. I recommend using both methods as they both tend to work for different reasons and different situations.

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~Jean Shinoda Bolen

Planning self-care ahead of time

I’m a planner by nature so this is what I prefer to do in my own life. Even if you’re more of a free-spirit, however, planning self-care is important for several reasons:

  • Putting self-care on your calendar demonstrates to the universe and the physical world around you (including the people in your life), that you’re serious about taking care of yourself. It’s difficult for others to honor your self-care if you aren’t willing to carve out time for yourself.
  • When you have a formal commitment, it’s generally true that you’re more likely to stick to it rather than forget, ignore, or abandon it.
  • It helps you prioritize because you have to actually take action (e.g., book an appointment for a massage, pay money for a gym membership, call a friend to make a date, etc.).

Many self-care activities work well if planned for. These include:

  • Exercise — especially if it involves scheduled exercise classes, exercise you do regularly with a friend or group, or exercise that requires someone to care for your child(ren) in your absence.
  • Eating well — it starts with grocery shopping and meal planning and then is supported by both planned and in-the-moment choices each day.
  • Proper rest — since you’re not the only one sleeping, this aspect of self-care requires coordination and planning so that it’s not a fly by the seat of your PJs improv each night.
  • Body work — while you can definitely call your chiropractor only when your back goes out, preventive self-care is what we’re aiming for. So whether it’s massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, rolfing, or something else, pick a frequency that your budget and schedule allow and schedule those appointments.
  • Other regularly-desired activities — whether it’s a bi-weekly date night with your spouse, a weekly spiritual/church service, or twice-weekly yoga, it helps to put these activities on your calendar and round up any support needed to make them happen.

The keys to planned self-care are:

  1. Know what self-care is crucial for you and how often or when you need it.
  2. Schedule/reserve or otherwise make it clear to all relevant people when you’ll be doing your self-care.
  3. Get whatever support is needed to keep your “date” with yourself.
  4. Follow through on your commitment.

Spontaneous self-care

There are times when we need to care for ourselves even if we hadn’t planned to do so. Spontaneous self-care acts like a booster shot of nourishment when we feel our fuel tank running low. Here are some examples of times when we’d do well to dose ourselves with extra or spur-of-the-moment self-care:

  • when we’re sick, injured, or physically compromised
  • when we’ve got a big, stressful, or unusual event taking place, such as:
    • illness and caretaking of a parent
    • holidays or travel
    • getting ready for a major transition like our child starting a new grade or our beginning a new job
    • a presentation at work
  • when our emotional state feels fragile or we have a sense of being on edge
  • when we’ve gotten off track with how we want to be with our family and we’re wanting to get back on track
  • when our beloveds are going through any rough period, are needing extra support from us, or are themselves in an emotionally prickly state

Examples of spontaneous self-care

Though your impromptu self-care activities can include those that you plan for, it can help if they’re easy to do without any advance planning. Below are some examples with which you might experiment.

  • Take a brief “breather” — slowly and deeply take 8 conscious breaths
  • Relax your body — consciously tense then relax your body one “section” at a time (e.g., face/head/neck/shoulders, arms/hands/torso/abdomen, butt/legs/feet)
  • Hydrate — slowly drink a cup of plain water
  • Feed — mindfully eat a healthy snack (e.g., eat without multi-tasking)
  • Shake it out — wiggle, jiggle, dance, run/step/stomp in place to release tension and reawaken your body
  • Zone out — close your eyes, sit or lie down, and take 2, 5, or 10 minutes to do nothing
  • Get away — change your environment by taking a walk, going into another room, visualizing a favorite place of leisure (e.g., the beach, a stream, park, etc.)
  • Get emotional — make space to be by yourself so you can have a cry, punch a pillow, growl and gripe, or make silly faces until your emotional constriction has loosened
  • Give yourself mantra first-aid — either silently or aloud, say words that help soothe or settle you (“It’s all going to be okay,” “There’s nothing I have to do right now,” “It’s okay to feel how I feel right now,” “Don’t worry ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be all right,” “All shall be well”)

The keys to spontaneous self-care are:

  1. Know your own “signals” that a self-care boost is needed. (More about this in the next post in the self-care series.)
  2. Have a mental list of extemporaneous self-care activities.
  3. As soon as possible after noticing that your self-care “check engine light” has come on, do one or more activities to put some gas back in your personal tank.

Remember, self-care is essential, not optional. Often when we’re feeling overwhelmed, are at wit’s end, or believe we’re limited in our options, part of the underlying issue is that we’re running low on personal fuel. The more nourished and cared for we are, the more resources we have to share with those around us. And the more easy, enjoyable, and effective life will be!

Also in Fundamentals of self-care

This series covers the topic of self-care for parents.

  1. Self-care for parents
  2. What difference does parental self-care make?
  3. Prioritizing your own self-care

View the entire series