This is the era of self-care awareness. Everywhere you turn someone or something is reminding you to do more for yourself. It’s entering the overkill zone.
An opinion piece in the Washington Post illustrated this perfectly: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/opinions/spring-cleaning-2017/?utm_term=.e2232360ffa8. Journalist Amanda Erickson explained the term self-care came about in the 1960s “to help trauma therapists, social workers and activists avoid burnout by talking through their feelings and connecting with others in similar circumstances.” She wrote that in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was used almost as a form of protest, where many took care of themselves to spite the system they were fighting against.
Of course, the ‘80s also generated the “Me Generation.” Around that time self care started to morph into self-indulgence. Here we are in the 2010s and people feel like they deserve a spa weekend because they had a tough week at work. In many ways self-care can be interpreted as selfish.
None of this applies to us though. For parents and individuals affected by disability self-care is a necessity. We need to make time for ourselves now more than ever. These days we’re not just gearing up for battle in IEP meetings. We’re fighting to keep basic human rights that we already worked so hard to get. The assault on the disability community is in full swing and we need to stay strong to protect our children and ourselves.
To truly replenish ourselves, however, we need to do it right. When I posted an article about fast and affordable ways to do it (https://centerforfamilyinvolvementblog.org/2017/04/17/23-tips-for-self-care-when-youre-running-on-empty/ ), one person replied she’d “given up long ago.”
She’s not alone. Not only do we give up, many of us are actually harming ourselves through self-care without even realizing it. Here are some of the ways we’re doing it wrong and how to make it right.
EXERCISE – TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, OR THE WRONG KIND
THE GOOD: Exercise is nature’s anti-depressant. Studies show it can work as well or better than many medications for many people. (It should go without saying that you need to consult with your doctor and not a blog if you want to change your treatment.)
THE BAD: Leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, poor fitness, and, of course, there is no way to cash in on those feel good endorphins if you aren’t moving around to get them. But working out too long or too hard can be damaging too. It could lead to injury or burnout that could sideline you for weeks, even months.
THE FIX: Listen to your body. Even if an instructor is saying over and over again that you won’t see results if you’re not uncomfortable, who cares? Do what makes you feel good. If long distance running is your thing – do it. Yoga – great. Walking – strut away. Don’t buy into the hype or latest craze. Find a way to move that brings you joy and relief.
UNWIND WITH WINE
THE GOOD: A glass or two of wine or your favorite drink can put you on the fast track to letting loose.
THE BAD: Stop kidding yourself with the lies the alcohol marketing industry is feeding you, there is nothing healthy about a glass of wine or a drink or two in the evening.
Truth is – booze is a highly addictive legal drug that is just as dangerous, if not more than this opioid crisis our nation is in. Just because wine, beer, mojitos are accepted doesn’t make them innocuous. Consider this: an average bottle of wine contains 7.7 servings. Keep that in mind next time you fill your brand new “IEP Recovery” stemmed glass to the brim.
We need clear heads for our medically and complex kiddos. Besides, whatever you’re drinking to take the edge off of will still be there tomorrow … probably magnified by that hangover.
THE FIX: Proceed with great caution.
RELAX THE RIGHT WAY
THE GOOD: Our lives are stressful. Anything we can do to relax will help our mind, body, and soul calm down.
THE BAD: OK, OK. We never really get to relax. For some of us, “relaxing” is sitting in the chair next to our child during his latest hospitalization. For others it might be reading a magazine in the waiting room while our child is in therapy. Or perhaps we’re so close to cracking that we just sort of shut down when the day is over and zone out watching television. But when we snap out of it our to-do list has doubled.
THE FIX: Try to accomplish something nagging at you every day so when you have a chance to relax your mind isn’t consumed with what you should be doing. When you finally take a minute, do something you want to do instead of something you think you should do. Read that trashy book everyone is talking about. Watch a show that makes you laugh instead of the documentary on disability your friend insists you must see.
Create moments of zen whenever you can. Long drive to the doctor? Pick up a great cup of coffee and put on your favorite podcast. Your kids really need to run but you’re exhausted? Bring a blanket to a fenced in playground and let them frolic while you lounge.
Most importantly, breathe. A deep breath can do wonders for easing tension and we can do it anytime, anywhere.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
THE GOOD: Food is comfort. Food is nourishment. It’s an experience we can share with our kids to cheer them up after a bad day or to celebrate.
THE BAD: Using food as a reward or for comfort can lead to bad habits for you and your kids. Sugar is addictive. Processed foods are addictive. Considering that many of us are comforting our kids daily and dealing with more stress than most other families, we really need to be careful of using food as a form of self-care.
THE FIX: Find other ways to treat yourself and your child(ren). Head to a playground. Go to the library and get a new book for each of you. Blow bubbles. Play music.
When it comes to eating – turn to foods that bring you comfort but also focus on what makes you feel good. If you’ve had a hard day, order in but make it healthy. You can make some simple substitutions; if you want to make cookies with the kids, find a recipe that uses dates instead of sugar, almond flour instead of regular or something that makes it a bit more nutritious. You can tweak pretty much any recipe to make it healthier.
We can still go out for ice cream, but it doesn’t have to be every day or even every week.
THE PRICE OF PAMPERING
THE GOOD: There is nothing like a massage or pedicure to rejuvenate.
THE BAD: Finding time and money for even an hour at the spa can be next to impossible for many of us.
THE FIX: Do it yourself. Take a bath after the kids go to bed. Even if you’re exhausted, it can be super relaxing. Home facial masks are everywhere these days. Painting your own toenails isn’t that hard and fancy feet can certainly lift our spirits.
But let’s be honest here – DIY is not the same. So when gift giving times rolls around – drop some not so subtle hints that you need “me time” of the pampering kind. Remind loved ones that a gift certificate is nice, but you need some guilt free hours to sneak away in order to use it.
Or don’t say anything and just forward them this article. Wink, Wink.
PASS ON PERFECTION
THE GOOD: When our lives feel chaotic, trying to maintain a sense of order and control is so appealing.
THE BAD: It is impossible to achieve perfection in any aspect of our lives. Chasing it will drive you batty. Putting off other things until you attempt to achieve it means life will pass you by.
THE FIX: Remind yourself daily that it does NOT have to be all or nothing. Do what you can and move on. Call your legislators once this week and move on. Send an email to your child’s teacher and shut down. If you dream of having organized drawers but your kids are always in them, find something else to organize. If you’re eying a new outfit but waiting until you drop ten pounds – stop and buy it now in the size that fits.
Live in the now. Fix what you can. Do what makes you happy. Figure out what your “good enough” threshold is and aim for that. If we’re constantly chasing perfection we’ll never get a chance to slow down and savor the now.