Part of being a parent means that you often put the needs of your child before your own. However, when a parent or caregiver ignores their own needs, they may become overwhelmed, and this situation could negatively impact their health or compromise their ability to care for a child. One way that parents can practice daily self-care is by developing habits that benefit their overall well-being.
Habits are behaviors that are routinely exhibited; are often performed automatically and without much, if any, conscious thought; and take minimal effort. Habits can be a regular part of your daily schedule – like making time every week for exercise, choosing nutritious food options at the grocery store, or driving home the same way after work each day. Good habits can create efficiency in your daily tasks and growth in your general well-being.
Many people have healthy and unhealthy habits, or behaviors, that they perform as part of their daily routines. Healthy habits are habits that can promote your well-being, increase your positive communication skills, or expand your personal growth and development. Healthy habits are an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and may include activities like getting an adequate amount of sleep each night or making it a priority to cook and eat healthy meals. Unhealthy habits, on the other hand, can negatively impact your health and even your relationships. Some examples of unhealthy habits may include overeating; smoking; drinking in excess; or, routinely, not getting enough rest.
Practicing healthy habits can help you feel better in the present and can promote long-term well-being benefits. Using healthy habits as a means of parental self-care can benefit you and your family over time. Furthermore, by maintaining healthy habits, you are modeling positive behaviors for your children. By consistently modeling these behaviors, you are showing your children that developing healthy habits is a good thing and having their own healthy habits will be important in their development and well-being.
Some examples of healthy habits are the following:
- Getting at least 7 hours of sleep nightly
- Exercising regularly
- Setting aside time every day for mediation or self-reflection
- Choosing to drink water over sugar-sweetened beverages
- Attending regularly scheduled doctor visits
If you need help developing healthy habits, you can start by reviewing the following four stages of behavior change. According to the National Institute of Health, these changes need to take place in your life in order for you to create good or healthy habits:
This is the stage in which you decide that a change needs to take place and you decide that you want that change to take place. Sometimes, you realize that, in your life, something is wrong or that something could be improved. While you are in the contemplation stage you may not know how you are going to make this change, but you do understand a change is needed.
Example – You may realize that you are feeling low on energy every day because you are not getting enough sleep.
This is the stage in which you begin to think about how you want to or can bring the needed change to your life. During this phase, you will have decided to make changes, and you will begin to set goals for making those changes. You are laying the groundwork for the path to change and strategizing about ways to overcome the obstacles you may face. This is the stage right before you take action to change behaviors.
Example – After realizing you are not getting enough sleep, you start to think of ways you can fit more sleep into your schedule. Perhaps you decide to go to bed earlier or get up later, or, if there is time during the day, you decide to take a short nap.
Keep in mind the following questions as you prepare to create a healthy habit:
- Are your goals reasonable and specific?
- Is this something you would like friends or family to participate in?
- Is your environment making it easy to accomplish your goals?
Example – If you would like to establish a healthier diet, have you removed junk food and replaced it with healthier options?
During this stage, you put your behavior change plan into motion. You are learning how to manage the needed changes in your routine and lifestyle, and you work to make these changes become part of your routine. You are also learning about what strategies you can use to effectively overcome the obstacles that may be preventing you from making positive behavior gains. Also, during this stage, the changed behaviors are becoming a more normalized and part of your routine and life, and you are, hopefully, beginning to see the fruits of your labor.
Example – You have decided on a plan to get more sleep. Maybe you are not watching television as late as you used to, or maybe you were able to find time in the afternoon to schedule a nap.
By now, your changed behavior feels like a more natural part of your life, and you may not even be giving it much thought. However, you need to make sure that you continue with the positive behavior changes. You may take a step back from time to time, this is normal, but it is important for you to get back on track and return to your new behaviors, so these behaviors can remain a normal part of your life.
Example – Now that you have been getting enough sleep and are consistently able to get adequate rest, you find you have more energy. However, sometimes you notice that for a couple of nights in a row you have watched an extra hour of television before bed. When you realize this is happening, you make an effort to get back to going to bed at an earlier time every night, so you reinforce your healthy habit and do not support an unhealthy habit.
Remember, breaking bad habits and making new ones can be very challenging. It is important to be patient with yourself and avoid becoming frustrated. Sometimes, mental health challenges can also get in the way of healthy habit development. If you feel like you may be experiencing some mental health concerns, be sure to meet with your healthcare professional so you can address any underlying challenges.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020, November). Changing your habits for better health. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diet-nutrition/changing-habits-better-health