Your kids left their shoes in the middle of the hallway and your first reaction is to lose your cool and yell at them. You’re pulling away from your partner because you feel like they aren’t doing their fair share of household chores. Your mental, physical and emotional health is crumbling because you always feel stressed out.If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Parental burnout – the result of prolonged, consistent and intense parenting stress – has become increasingly common. A recent survey of more than 2,000 parents found they can experience burnout at home just as professionals do at work. And many of those surveyed suffered from similar symptoms: feeling fatigued, less productive and competent, and emotionally withdrawn – qualities that mirror professional burnout – at least once a week. Less widespread, however, is the antidote: “me time.”
“[Women often] push themselves to be there for everybody else in their lives,” says Gail Saltz, M.D., psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different. Doing so with maximum effort, while ignoring their own emotional or physical needs, can deplete women, says Saltz, leaving them unable to care for themselves or others. “If you don’t put on your oxygen mask first,” she cautions, “you can’t help anyone around you.”
Reconnect with Yourself…
So what is me time and how can it help? “[It’s] recovery time,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. “When we have that time to ourselves, we can be close to our true self, and that true self is the person who has less stress and is compassionate and loving.” When you are your true self, she adds, “You’re a lot more fun to be with and you’re a lot more forgiving.”
That’s especially important, as children constantly observe their parents. “It’s modeling positive behavior for them to be able to see that Mom gets time for herself,” Lombardo says. “That’s a good thing.”
And if some guilt does start to creep in when you’re doing something for yourself, just remember: You’re human. “Everyone needs time for themselves, it’s just part of the way we’re made up,” states Lombardo. “Remind yourself, ‘I’m being a really good mom by taking this time for myself because I can be much more engaged with my children. I can be more present.’”
…And Your Spouse
The same is true of your connection with your spouse or significant other. “Time must be taken to maintain a healthy primary relationship,” says Saltz. When you’re all-consumed with caring for your children, you can lose focus on your partner. Before you know it, communication slacks off and you begin to feel disconnected. That state of aloneness can tip the scales of burnout dramatically. “When we are at heightened levels of stress, it affects our ability to think,” asserts Lombardo. “We tend to think in more negative ways.”
When your inner resources are running on empty, it’s human nature to take things more personally and get more upset about them than need be. The old adage “Count to 10 and breathe” is a great reminder to help you clear your head and refocus on both yourself and your relationship.
Take the Time
Once you’ve given yourself permission to block out some time just for you – even as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day to start – a good next step is to figure out when’s best, says Saltz. Is it when your partner is home to care for your young child or, if you want to do something with your spouse, when a grandparent is available to care for your youngster? Like brushing your teeth, me time needs to be an intrinsic part of your day. And having a support system in place can help ease your “escape” – and any sense of guilt that you’re abandoning your child.
Make the Effort
“Once you identify what you want to do, figure out how you can do it,” recommends Lombardo. “If you live near a beach, you can go for a walk there. If it’s just sitting in the warmth, maybe it’s taking a bath. It means just looking at what you want to do and the ways to do it.”
If you’re stumped and need an idea to kick-start your me time, try to:
Indulge in self-care. Take a nap or imagine yourself in a calm and peaceful place, “where you can kind of go on a mental vacation,” says Lombardo. Or take a beauty break with a DIY mani/pedi.
Escape your routine. Head to a coffee shop or local park to people-watch or take in your surroundings. A simple change of scenery can help restore your senses.
Engage your creative side. Whether it’s journaling, painting, knitting or drawing, your creative talents can be a great outlet for expressing your emotional life. You don’t have to be great at it – to just derive pleasure from whatever you are doing is what me time is all about.
Get moving. “I think exercise is a biggie because it really helps with mood, mental health and physical health,” says Saltz. The key is finding an activity that works for you, provides a release and makes you feel good, so you’ll enjoy doing it.