Self-care is “the activity of taking care of one’s own health, appearance, or wellbeing” (Oxford English Dictionary). According to Butler et al. (2019), self-care has two main aims: decreasing adverse outcomes and increasing positive outcomes that will enhance overall functioning. Self-care is essential for mothers, and we should proactively take steps to improve our wellbeing.
Why is Self-Care Important?
It is easy to forget about ourselves and put our needs last when caring for our children. If we continually do this, we can become tired and even fatigued. Fatigue is physical and mental exhaustion that rest cannot quickly cure. When we experience fatigue, our concentration, memory, and decision-making are affected. Fatigue also increases our risk of depression, anxiety, and stress. In addition, fatigue leads to poor sleep quality and poor diet choices. Both of these elements are essential for keeping us going at optimal levels.
Our patience and ability to manage our children decreases when we experience fatigue. This can cause high levels of parenting stress, making us more irritable when dealing with our children. This irritability may manifest as shouting at our children and easily losing our temper. Our parental self-efficacy is also affected negatively. Parental self-efficacy is a parent’s belief in their ability to parent successfully. When a parent believes they can parent well, they use better parenting and coping strategies. When a parent faces fatigue, they do not have the energy to meet their child’s demands. They also lack the mental clarity to problem-solve challenges they are facing with their child’s behavior.
Self-care is also vital in helping us maintain our social networks. We risk losing valuable relationship connections if we are too tired to socialize. Ultimately, we may begin to feel alone in our parenting journey, thus increasing negative feelings towards our children.
Self-care is essential and comprises various domains that can help us be our best selves.
Domains of Self-Care
Researchers have proposed six domains of self-care that we should focus on.
- Physical Self-Care
- Professional-Workplace Self-Care
- Relationship Self-Care
- Emotional Self-Care
- Psychological Self-Care
- Spiritual Self-Care
Butler et al. (2019) define physical self-care as “tending to the needs of the physical body in order to achieve or support optimal functioning and to avoid breakdowns or deterioration within systems”.
Sleep is the first aspect of physical self-care. It allows our body to rest and reset itself each day. Adults should sleep a minimum of seven hours per night. Not getting enough sleep puts us at risk for diabetes, obesity, and other diseases.
Nutrition is a part of physical self-care. We should ensure we eat nutrient-dense foods. Poor nutrition leads to obesity and other chronic diseases. The U.S. News and World Report has ranked the best diets for healthy eating. The top three are the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet, and the Flexitarian Diet.
Exercise is another part of physical self-care. It boosts our mood and improves our physical and cognitive functions. We should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, and our exercise program should include aerobic and strength training.
In addition, we must follow up with annual check-ups that can keep us on the right track physically.
This domain focuses on our ability to manage workplace stress and challenges. Workplace stress can be caused by poor time management, task prioritization, and insufficient time off from work. To combat workplace stress, we should apply positive coping strategies, advocate for ourselves, join professional support groups, and take time off as necessary. Positive coping strategies include taking a walk, reading a book, and participating in pleasurable hobbies.
This domain focuses on maintaining and enhancing our connections with others. We should work on intentional interactions with our social network in this domain. We can plan date nights with family or friends. Here’s a list of family date night ideas:
- Play a board game
- Bake cupcakes
- Go to the arcade
- Go to the movies
- Go stargazing
- Go to the zoo
- Go to the library
- Go to an ice cream shop
- Have a picnic at the beach or park
- Go to a sports game
We also need to connect with our circle of friends. Friendships give us emotional support and help relieve mental burdens. Here’s a list of dates with friends:
- Go out for a happy hour
- Take a road trip
- Go to brunch
- Go window shopping
- Watch your favorite TV show
- Go to Sip and Paint or any other art activity
- Pretend to be a tourist in your city
- Go to a workout class
- Create vision boards
- Host a game night
Butler et al. (2019) define emotional self-care as “practices that are engaged in to safeguard against or address negative emotional experience as well as those intended to create or enhance positive emotional experience and wellbeing.”
The first step in improving this domain is examining how you cope with difficult emotions. Do you watch TV? Do you overeat? Do you withdraw from family and friends? Once you have identified your coping methods, reflect on whether they are healthy and beneficial for you in the future. You should also examine what is triggering your emotional stress. Knowing your triggers can assist you in addressing what needs to be fixed at a foundational level.
You can also employ various mindfulness practices during your day.
You should be intentional about engaging in activities that make you happy once they do not harm you or others.
This domain focuses on intellectual needs. Activities that employ cognitive thinking include solving puzzles, debating, and reading. These activities give the mind a reprieve from daily stress and are also emotionally gratifying. Fun brain games and exercises you can do include:
- Cross Word Puzzles
- Brain Teasers
- Jigsaw Puzzles
This domain focuses on how we view ourselves within the universe and what gives our lives meaning. Spirituality comforts us in times of stress and gives us greater feelings of well-being. We also get support from other group members when we participate in organized religion. Studies have found that spiritual people have greater life expectancies.
Creating a Self-Care Plan
- Identify how you cope with stress and what changes need to be made to your current strategies.
- Assess how you are doing in each of the six self-care domains.
- Decide which domains you would like to improve and list the steps needed to reduce stress in that domain.
- Identify barriers that will hold you back from improving in your selected domain and list strategies to overcome those barriers.
- Schedule reflection time on how you are progressing in each domain.
- Commit to your plan by sharing with others who can support you.
Our lives are busy with work and children. Do not neglect yourself. Self-care is an essential part of physical and mental health. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
If you need more guidance on setting your goals check out the article ‘Effective Steps to Meet Your Goals Without a Meltdown‘.
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Butler, L. D., Mercer, K. A., McClain-Meeder, K., Horne, D. M., & Dudley, M. (2019). Six domains of self-care: Attending to the whole person. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 107-124
Giallo, R., Wood, C. E., Jellett, R., & Porter, R. (2013). Fatigue, wellbeing and parental self-efficacy in mothers of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 17(4), 465-480.
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