By Stephanie Seabrooke
When life inevitably throws stress and anxiety our way, it’s tempting to slide into destructive patterns that only provide temporary release from the pressures of work, school, and family obligations. Skipping lunch to finish a presentation may make you feel like you’re getting more tasks accomplished, until you can’t concentrate on anything because you’re hungry and cranky. Staying up all night to study for an exam can seem like a great way to ace the test, but your plan will backfire when you’re so exhausted the next morning you can barely lift your pencil. And agreeing to bring snacks to the school meeting for the fifth consecutive time won’t make you more popular with the other parents, but it will cause you to feel overburdened and resentful. Chasing short term relief from tense feelings or situations is a vicious cycle because it ultimately leaves us even more frazzled and depleted, without any real coping techniques for managing stress. That’s why it’s so important to take time out each day for practicing self-care.
What is self-care? Simply put, it’s any activity that purposefully restores our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It’s not a short-term indulgence like a spa day, vacation, or hot fudge sundae. Effective self-care is a continuing commitment to making choices that support balance, mindfulness, and self-acceptance. By creating habits that nurture our overall welfare, we can prepare ourselves for success throughout the ups and downs of life.
Practicing self-care isn’t limited to one specific demographic. Everyone experiences stress, and the best ways to manage it can vary depending on what life stage you’re in. By adopting some age specific self-care patterns, everyone can nourish all facets of their health and make the best of each day.
Self-Care for Kids
While children don’t experience the same daily stressors as teens and adults, they still encounter feelings of frustration and anxiety. Beginning some simple self-care steps at this early stage will help them learn how to work through intense emotions in a healthy way as they grow. Introduce a “creative corner” in your home that’s full of drawing, painting, and craft supplies, and encourage your child to go there whenever they’re getting overwhelmed so they can express their mood through an art project. Make sure that all screens are turned off for at least an hour each day so your kids can engage in spontaneous, imaginative play that fosters confidence and social skills. And have them do a few minutes of deep breathing exercises every night before bed to calm their minds and prepare for restful sleep. Making self-care a part of your kids’ life now teaches them to value their overall well-being.
Self-Care for Teens
With many young people today balancing an active social life, a demanding academic schedule, and a slew of extracurricular activities, it’s easy to see how teens can become anxious and exhausted managing the immense pressure of their high school years. Promote self-acceptance by encouraging your child to set their own personal goals instead of constantly measuring themselves against the success of their friends. Getting enough rest is immensely important during this critical stage of your teen’s brain development, so help them create effective time management techniques that allow for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Make sure your child knows they can come to you for guidance with serious issues like bullying, depression, and drug use, but be aware that they will often turn to their peers for support at this stage and permit them plenty of time for fun, safe activities with friends. By inspiring your teen to prioritize self-care as they approach adulthood, you’ll be sending them out into the world with healthy coping skills.
Self-Care for Parents
While raising children can be joyful and deeply rewarding, there are also days you’ll feel stressed and overwhelmed beyond your limit. And you may have other things going on in your life, like a demanding job or an aging parent, that only add to your tension. That’s why committing to self-care is so crucial at this stage. Only by ensuring sure your mental, physical, and emotional needs are met can you be an effective caregiver for others. Carve out some much-needed time for yourself by learning how to say “no” – no to social functions you don’t enjoy, no to volunteering at your child’s school for the third Saturday in a row, no to answering work phone calls and emails after hours if it’s not an emergency. Stop striving to be the perfect parent, employee, and partner and learn how to laugh at yourself while learning from your mistakes. And make sure to fuel yourself with good nutrition by eating real, balanced meals and not just picking from your child’s leftovers. Remember that by taking care of yourself first, you’ll have more to give to those around you.
Life will naturally bring us challenges at every age. That’s why practicing regular self-care during all phases of our developmental journey should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. From school aged children discovering their emotions, to teens coping with mounting stress and parents juggling a myriad of responsibilities, self-care is vital to maintaining our overall well-being and achieving success in all avenues of life.