Being “All In For Kids” can come at a heavy price … if you let it. At CIS Dallas, we focus a lot on student mental health, but what about the mental health of those supporting students? When you care for children, no matter your role (parent, teacher, coach, site coordinator, social worker, family member), you inevitably experience stress because it is a tough job. Yes, it can bring you great joy, but it can still be taxing on your physical and mental health. Burnout can occur in the caregiving relationship as a result of too much stress in the absence of resources and relationships to cope with it. Best friends of burnout are guilt and shame. If not careful, caregivers can allow the feeling of shame to push them into thinking that they are not good enough when in reality they are just exhausted. So what is one loving, exhausted caregiver to do!?
In a 2021 article published by the American Psychological Association, Ashley Abramson lists 7 ways to take care of yourself as a parent or caregiver:
- Talk about it- Find your community of support. Your group of other like-minded individuals that you can share your stories with without shame. This might also mean seeing a therapist if the stress of parenting is causing you emotional distress. In the words of Brene Brown, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable”.
- Reevaluate your stress– learn to practice mindfulness and self-compassion. Paying attention to the things that are going well in your life, the areas in parenting or caregiving where you are succeeding can shift your perspective and help you cope.
- Make small changes- Big stressors are usually the culmination of a lot of little stressors. Identify the small stressors and make adjustments where necessary focusing on what you can control.
- Grow your parenting skills- Get creative, learn new ways to connect with your child.
- Stop saying “should”- Give yourself grace. You are doing the best you can with what you have. When you start to think that you “should” have done something better, reframe that to state what you would like to do instead ( “I would like to spend more time with my children”, “I would like to spend more time caring for myself”). Then make small changes to bring those desires into reality.
- Take microbreaks- Small moments matter. Taking 5 minutes to take deep breaths, listen to your favorite song, or enjoy a warm cup of coffee can help buffer the stressors that will arise throughout the day.
- Find meaning- Take some time to think about what you like or love most about your children or students. Caregiving has its ups and downs, reminding ourselves of the up moments can connect us back to the joys of caregiving.
It is important to remember that as a caregiver, caring for yourself IS caring for your children or students. There will be days where you will want to throw in the towel, you’ll feel discouraged, and overwhelmed. There will also be days where you feel that you were created for this moment, where smiles and laughter erupt, and where you feel empowered. Both instances remind you that you are human and that in times of celebration, celebrate, and in times of exhaustion, rest. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes.