People have LOTS of opinions on self-care, so let’s start by getting on the same page about what self-care is. Self-care is the basics – getting rest, eating nourishing food, and moving our bodies. At its core, self-care is just the basics. Although if I could add a higher-level function to this list, it would be talking to ourselves in a kind and compassionate way (more on this to come).
Self-care has also been associated with, or equated to, treating yourself, indulgence, and sometimes weakness. It’s almost as if, if you have to engage in self-care, there is something wrong with you or you’ve let something get out of hand (all unhelpful thought processes, by the way!)
Let’s take it back to the brain though.
Our brain works from the bottom to the top, meaning that the processes that are housed lower down in the brain are responsible for basic life sustaining activities (e.g., breathing and heart rate). Without these, the processes that work higher up in our brain (i.e., all of the processes that help us be productive and regulate ourselves on a daily basis) won’t work. Anything strike you about this? Unless you are taking care of the basics, you aren’t going to be able to fully take advantage of all of those great skills and strategies that make you a productive, focused, and centered human throughout the day.
Moreover, there’s tons of research on the benefits of these three things (sleep, nutrition, and movement). However, we probably have the largest amount of data on sleep. Sleep is important for nearly every bodily function, including learning, immunity, metabolism, memory, and general physical wellness. Moreover, there is some really cool research coming out about the effects of physical movement on attention, focus, and hyperactivity even!
So, if I haven’t already convinced you that self-care is important for you and your overall health and wellness, now is the part where I appeal to you as a parent. Many things that I would not do for myself prior to having a baby, I now see the importance of on a bigger scale. If I don’t take care of my basic needs, I’m not in the best space I can be to parent. I get frustrated more easily, I’m not as patient with my son, and I’m not as flexible with life’s curve balls. This really doesn’t benefit me or my family in the long run. Moreover, kids do as we do, not necessarily as we say. Modeling healthy eating, sleeping, and moving habits can make it easier for the next generation to understand how and why we need to do these things.
Sometimes we might consider a big event, like a weekend away or a day to ourselves, as self-care, and it very well can be. If all we do are these bigger events every once in a while though, without the daily practices, it is unlikely to create more lasting change. Moreover, when we model self-care as being all-or-nothing in this way (big events, but not a daily practice), our kids also pick up on that. Balance is often a more effective approach to teach our kids than an all-or-nothing approach.
Ideas for practically implementing more consistent care for yourself:
Whatever you decide to put in place, making it a routine part of your day will help you implement it consistently, and naming what you are doing for your self (e.g., “I’m taking 30 minutes to myself so that I can regain energy and recharge my battery”) will help it become a more intentional practice.
The main takeaway points about self-care: Take it back to the basics (sleep, nourishment, and movement), make it a consistent practice, and monitor the impact this has on you.
Dr. Danielle Mohr is a licensed psychologist at Wolff Child Psychology. She specializes in comprehensive evaluations for children, teens, and young adults, particularly when the referral question is Autism, and she conducts regular individual and family therapy sessions.
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