The Importance of Self-Care for Parents and Caregivers
Self-care is not selfish.
Being a parent or caregiver is a rewarding job. It can also be a difficult job, especially when caring for someone with mental illness and/or special needs. Because of this, many parents and caregivers have a tendency to neglect or minimize their own needs. This leads to chronic stress and burnout, both of which can increase the risk of a number of physical, mental, and emotional problems, including:

Sleep disturbances
Trouble concentrating
Marital problems
Feelings of resentment, shame, or guilt
Substance use
Inability to function

In addition to the problems that burnout causes for the caregiver, research has shown that parents who are chronically stressed are more likely to abuse or neglect their kids, thereby increasing their risk of mental and emotional problems. Parental burnout has increasingly become a problem during the pandemic, as parents, particularly mothers, have had to navigate the demands of quarantine restrictions and limited childcare.

Even though caregiver burnout is common, it does not mean you have to suffer with it. Developing healthy coping strategies can help you deal more effectively with burnout. Read below to learn more about the barriers to self-care as well as ways to improve your mental, emotional, physical, and social self-care to combat burnout and reclaim your joy.

Barriers to Self-Care
  • Unrealistic self-expectations. Many parents tend to place unrealistic expectations on themselves, which are often reinforced by perfectly curated images and messages on social media. These days, it may seem like parents are expected to "do it all," and anything less than that can feel like a failure. Part of reducing burnout and increasing self-care involves recognizing and reframing this cognitive distortion and developing a more balanced interpretation of your role as a caregiver.

  • Guilt and shame. Caregivers often incorrectly believe that taking care of their own needs is somehow selfish or self-indulgent. On the contrary, taking care of your needs not only helps you be a better parent to your kids, but it also models healthy habits for your kids. You must fill your own cup before you can expect to fill others'.

  • Not recognizing the signs of burnout. The telltale signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness. Parents often accept these things as "part of the job," and fail to recognize how they may be negatively impacting their own health and wellbeing or their ability to parent effectively.

  • Not knowing where or how to get help. Sometimes asking for help may feel like one more thing on your to-do list that gets pushed to the bottom. Parents may avoid asking for help because they do not want to burden others or admit that they cannot handle everything on their own.
Mental and Emotional Self-Care
  • Prioritize time for yourself. This may seem like an impossible task when your time is already limited, but having time to rest and recharge gives you the strength and energy to be more efficient and productive.

  • Cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion, or the ability to love and accept ourselves despite our imperfections, is thought to be the antidote to burnout. Self-compassion allows us to recognize ourselves as human with inherent limitations, and makes it easier for us to cope with the challenges that arise during parenting.

  • Set healthy boundaries. Recognize your limits and stick to them. It is okay to say "no" sometimes.

  • Manage parenting expectations. You're not expected to do it all. Try not to compare yourself to other parents. Everyone is trying to figure out a path or system that works for themselves.

  • Develop a daily routine. Routines help us feel less overwhelmed and more in control of our time. They also make it easier to stick to self-care tasks, such as exercising or getting enough sleep.

  • Ask for help and/or accept it when it's offered. Rejecting help does not make you a better parent. The old adage that "it takes a village" is true, even though the concept is undervalued in our individualistic culture. It might help to be specific about what you need to ensure that your expectations are met (e.g., "Can you pick up the kids from school today so I can run an errand.").

  • Re-engage in hobbies and interests. Maybe you've forgotten what some of these things are, but engaging hobbies and things that you find enjoyable has a positive impact on mental health. It can also help remind you that you are more than your role as a parent or caregiver.

  • Consider seeking professional help. Working with a mental health professional may be warranted if your burnout is significantly affecting your ability to care for yourself or your children, or if it is negatively impacting your quality of life. If your symptoms are not improving with coping skills, it is best to seek professional help.
Physical Self-Care
  • Exercise and move your body. Regular physical activity can reduce the negative effects of chronic stress and exhaustion. Exercise can also boost emotional and mental health, and in some studies has shown to be as effective as therapy and medication management for certain conditions.

  • Develop a healthy sleep routine. Sleep is one the first things to get sacrificed when you become a parent. However, chronic sleep deprivation is harmful for the body and the brain. Make sure you are aiming to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night and are establishing healthy sleep behaviors.

  • Ensure you're hydrated and eating a balanced diet. Nutrition helps to fuel our bodies and plays a vital role in our body's ability to regulate certain hormones that can affect our moods. Try to limit the amount of processed foods you're eating and elect for whole, nutritious foods when possible.
Social Self-Care
  • Reach out to friends and loved ones for support. One of the most common statements that we hear from parents is that they feel alone in their struggles. When in fact, most people are struggling in silence. The more we talk about the challenges of parenting and caregiving, the more we are destigmatizing burnout and normalizing that it is okay to get help.

  • Plan regular date nights. Marital satisfaction decreases for the majority of couples once they have kids and find themselves consumed by the demands of parenting. Don't neglect your relationship with your partner. Cultivating time for yourselves helps improve communication and reduces the chances of splitting up.

  • Join a local support group. Whether a group for new parents, or a group designed to support parents of kids with a certain diagnosis, connecting with people who can empathize with your circumstances can be very beneficial and provide you with a space to process the challenges you are experiencing.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians, please contact us directly at (949) 891-0307.
Tips for parents