Skip to main content

The Science & Art of Self-Care for Parents

September 22, 2023
A close up of a lady sitting relaxed with a journal in hand, her elbow resting on the windowsill, depicting self-care for parents is possible.

In a world teeming with advice and buzzwords, ‘self-care’ stands tall among them. But as a parent, every time you hear it, perhaps a small exasperated voice whispers, “Another thing I’m not doing right?” Between the tantrums and the bedtime stories, between the lunches packed and the scraped knees soothed, where is this elusive self-care for parents supposed to fit?

I’ve been there – glancing at magazines showcasing serene spa scenes, only to be interrupted by the real world’s needs and responsibilities. But what if I told you self-care isn’t just about spa days or silent retreats? It’s about moments stolen in the middle of madness, it’s about connecting with yourself right there in the throws of parenting.

At its heart, self-care is the gentle act of doing something solely for yourself. It could be a conscious choice to eat nourishing food, taking a moment to listen to your body’s needs, a stolen moment with a book, a short walk listening to the sounds of nature, a quiet evening meditation, conversation with a loved one, or yes, even that occasional spa day. It’s the promise you make to yourself – to cherish, nourish, and rejuvenate your soul and body.

Join me as we journey to discover and understand the true essence of self-care. We’ll unearth its history, decode its science, and most importantly, rediscover ways to embrace it, even in the busiest of parental schedules.

The History of Self-Care

A close up of several bound books, tattered covers and loose leaf pages, surrounded by apothecary jars, a mortar and pestle, and dried herbs indicating the history behind the science and art of self-care.

The concept of self-care isn’t novel. Depending on one’s interpretation, its essence can be traced back to ancient civilizations. However, dissecting its historical origins may not be as pertinent in today’s fast-paced world. What matters now is its application and significance in our lives. While debates swirl about its “true” definition or origin—whether it hails from the musings of philosophers like Socrates, the recommendations of medical professionals, or social and political movements—it’s undeniable that self-care plays a pivotal role in our well-being.

To me, the source of the concept isn’t as important as its practice. I deeply believe in the inherent power each of us possesses: the power to heal, to thrive, and to provide our families the unwavering love and support they merit. Embracing self-care has been instrumental in my own healing journey, especially during the pivotal moments of parenthood.

And I am not alone in my views on the benefits of its practice. Across the globe, various cultures and belief systems embrace unique methods of self-care. From the tranquil ‘Shinrin-yoku’ in Japan’s dense forests, the cozy embrace of ‘Hygge’ in Scandinavia, to the mindful practices of Ayurveda and Yoga in India, the philosophy of self-care is universally recognized. The communal philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ in Africa reminds us of our interconnectedness, while the ‘Siesta’ tradition in Latin America emphasizes the significance of rest. These practices, diverse in their approach, converge on one fundamental truth: the importance of nurturing oneself.

While these many and various practices from around the world have deeply rooted cultural significance, modern science is now catching up, highlighting the tangible benefits of self-care.

The Science Behind Self-Care

Reflecting on the essence of self-care, Dr. Dean Ornish, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, shares,

“The greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is taking deliberate, healthful care of ourselves.”

Such wisdom underlines the foundation of why self-care for parents is not just an indulgence but a necessity, especially for us parents here in today’s world.

Let’s delve deeper into the science that underscores this profound realization with a little story about a day in the life of a parent.

The day started with your son knocking over a glass of milk during breakfast, followed by your daughter’s meltdown over mismatched socks. By lunchtime, you’re on your last nerve and you don’t know why. Then, to top it off, your mounting to-do list just keeps growing. It feels like you’re constantly racing against the clock, reacting to the urgent demands of responsibilities, family and work. Basically everyone else’s life but your own. The weight of it all threatens to pull you under.

The constant juggle is real, and it’s exhausting. But what if in the middle of all this chaos, you were able to find moments of solace, minutes where you could recenter, refocus, and renew?

The Mental Benefits of Self-Care

A calm scene of a wooden path with 6 stacked river stones, highlighting the balance self-care can bring to mental well-being.

For many of us, the mental toll of daily life can sometimes feel insurmountable. But the beauty of self-care for parents is that it offers a path to mental rejuvenation, even in small doses. Research has shown that an active self-care practice can result in:

Reduction in Anxiety and Depression Symptoms

A bit of mindfulness can go a long way. A study published in 2013 in the Clinical Psychology Review found that MBT (Mindfulness Based Therapy) is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress(1).

It doesn’t take hours – just a few moments of practicing self-care through mindfulness, whether through deep breathing, meditation, or a brisk walk outside, can offer a respite from feelings of anxiety or moments of sadness. On a personal note, I regularly rely on diaphragmatic breathing and short bursts of meditation. It’s my daily anchor.

Improved Cognitive Function and Focus

Ever feel like you have the memory of a goldfish? Or that focusing on one task seems impossible? Incorporating consistent self-care can sharpen your cognitive abilities, making it easier to tackle challenges without feeling overwhelmed. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Neural Pathway Strengthening
    Think of your brain as a jungle. When you take a path often, it becomes clearer and easier to tread upon. Similarly, when you practice focus through self-care activities, you’re essentially carving a clearer path in your brain for focus. Over time, the habit strengthens, making it easier to concentrate even outside of self-care practices.

  2. Mental Rest and Rejuvenation
    Much like how our bodies need sleep to recover, our brains also need periods of rest to restore and heal. Whether it’s reading a book, meditating, or indulging in a hobby, these activities give our brains the much-needed downtime, improving overall cognitive function.

  3. Stress Reduction
    Chronic stress is a known cognitive function disruptor. High cortisol levels can impair memory and focus. Self-care activities help in reducing stress, thereby improving our brain’s performance.

Enhanced Emotional Regulation and Resilience

That moment you cringe right after snapping at your child or partner? Yeah, I’ve been there. Life throws curveballs, especially in the realm of parenting. But with regular self-care practices, you’ll find yourself more adept at handling emotional upheavals, be it a toddler’s tantrum or your own momentary frustrations.

When we engage in self-care activities, our brain’s prefrontal cortex — responsible for emotion regulation, among other things — gets a workout. Just like strengthening a muscle, consistent self-care exercises our ability to bounce back from stress, enhancing our resilience. Over time, this doesn’t just lead to fewer moments of regret but also fosters a deeper understanding and tolerance for life’s inevitable ups and downs.

The Physical Benefits of Self-Care

A man is pictured here from neck to chest, holding a red heart in front of him to show the physical benefits self-care has on the body.

As parents, we often become so preoccupied with the well-being of our little ones that our own health takes a backseat. But did you know that by neglecting your physical health, you might actually be doing a disservice to your family? Just as you ensure your child gets the right nutrients and adequate sleep, your body craves regular care and attention too. When you feel your best, you’re able to give your child the best version of you.

Boosted Immune System Function

When you’re feeling run down, there’s more that’s happening to your body than you may be aware of. The truth is, constant stress and lack of self-care can weaken your immune system. And when your immune system is suffering, you’re going to be much more susceptible to those bugs going around throughout the year.

Chronic stress can take a toll on our immune system. A meta-analytic study published in the Psychological Science journal found that psychological stress is correlated with a weakened immune response(2). Engaging in self-care activities can be an effective strategy to manage and reduce this stress, potentially giving your immune system the support it needs. Think of self-care as giving your body the armor it needs to combat the immune-weakening stressors of daily life.

Improved Sleep Quality

If there’s one thing every parent dreams of, it’s uninterrupted sleep. But even when the kids do sleep through the night, do you find yourself tossing and turning? Or waking feeling even more tired than when you fell asleep? Engaging in self-care routines, especially relaxation techniques, can help calm the mind and prepare the body for a restful night. Without proper rest, not only do we feel groggy and irritable, but our decision-making, patience, and overall health can also be compromised.

Yes, I’m talking about adding yet another routine to your busy schedule, but it is possible and the benefits to your physical (and mental health) of a restorative sleep are far reaching! It can be as simple as practicing mindfulness while brushing your teeth, opting for a book before bed instead of a screen, and choosing a breathing technique or meditation to practice just before drifting off to dream. Simple and consistent nighttime routines are an effective way to encourage more restful, healing sleep for your mind and body.

Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases

We all want to be there for our children’s milestones – be it their first day of school, graduation, or even their own parenthood journey. As an older first-time parent, this deeply resonates with me. Late at night, I’ve found myself calculating how old I’ll be during my children’s pivotal life moments. And, to be honest, it’s frightening. Questions flood in: Will I have the vitality to stay active? To be mentally and emotionally present for them and my potential grandchildren? Will they bear the burden of caring for me prematurely?

Beyond these personal reflections, there’s the broader truth: genuine self-care, the nurturing of one’s total well-being, can profoundly influence our health trajectory. It can preemptively decrease the chances of succumbing to lifestyle diseases. Regular self-care plays a crucial role in curbing the risk of chronic ailments like hypertension and diabetes. As highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managing stress and dedicating time for oneself can significantly mitigate risk factors tied to numerous chronic diseases(3).

The Art of Personalizing Self-Care

A calm indoor background features a woman with her eyes closed, hands gently crossed over her heart, personalizing her act of self-care through breathing.

Every individual’s relationship with self-care is deeply personal. Contrary to some popular narratives, self-care isn’t restricted to luxurious spa days or spiritual retreats. At its core, self-care is a dedicated act of valuing oneself. This manifests uniquely for each person based on their individual needs, experiences, and aspirations.

The Misconception of “One Size Fits All”

Taking a holistic view, self-care strives to nourish us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The golden rule? If your chosen self-care activity brings you peace, rejuvenation, and fulfillment, you’re on the right track. While one parent might find solace in a weekly pedicure, another might feel centered after just 5 minutes of meditation. The essence of self-care isn’t the activity itself, but the personal peace and holistic wellness it imparts.

The Importance of Tailoring Self-Care Routines to Individual Needs, Preferences, and Lifestyles

Embracing individuality in our wellness journeys is crucial. As parents, we constantly evolve based on the shifting phases of our children’s lives, and our self-care should evolve too. This adaptability ensures that our chosen activities are always in alignment with our current needs, circumstances, and goals. Remember, it’s not about fitting a mold but crafting a routine that resonates with you.

How Parents Can Fit Self-Care Into Their Often Unpredictable and Busy Schedules

The beauty of self-care lies in its flexibility. Instead of grand gestures, think micro-moments of mindfulness. A few deep breaths before starting the car. Stealing moments of gratitude while folding laundry. Even a short walk while your child is at practice.

Self-care doesn’t require hours; it requires intention.

Small, consistent actions can weave a tapestry of well-being that spans your entire day. Let’s delve into its significance in our lives and how we can harness its potential.

Methods of Self-Care for Parents

The beauty of self-care lies in its adaptability. We each have unique needs, challenges, and areas longing for nourishment. If you’re unsure where to start, consider the challenges you face or the connections you yearn for.

For parents, the whirlwind of responsibilities might mean feeling like you’re on autopilot, perhaps losing focus or feeling disconnected from the present. In such cases, methods that hone in on the mind could be invaluable. But maybe it’s physical rejuvenation or spiritual connection you seek. The key is to identify the area of your life that craves attention and explore methods that resonate with your soul.

Caring for the Mind with Self-Care Techniques

  • Meditation and Mindfulness
    This involves intentional focus, be it on a sensation, thought, or your breath. By actively training your mind to focus, you not only cultivate peace but also develop a pattern of attentive presence that enriches your daily life.

  • Journaling and Reflection
    Journaling is more than just writing; it’s a release of thoughts, both negative and positive. It’s an opportunity to connect with your deeper self and externalize your inner world. By reflecting on your entries, you can gain objective insights, helping you navigate emotions and thoughts more effectively.

  • Cognitive Restructuring and Positive Self-Talk
    Go beyond surface-level thinking and dive deep to reshape your mindset. Challenge negative thought patterns and replace them with uplifting internal dialogues. This powerful approach transforms not just your mindset but also your overall well-being.

Physical Self-Care for the Body

  • Physical Activity and its Types
    Admittedly, I’m not one to religiously hit the gym. My approach leans more towards mindful and consistent movement throughout the day. For many parents, especially those playing tag with young kids, being active is a daily reality. But remember, physical activity extends beyond just staying on your feet. Whether it’s resistance training for muscle strength, yoga for flexibility and mobility, or cardio for heart health, the essence lies in choosing what resonates with you and your unique body’s needs.

  • Proper Nutrition and Hydration
    It’s a mantra we’ve all heard: “Eat healthily and drink water”. Yet, nutrition isn’t just a blanket concept. It’s about finding what nourishes your unique system. Since each of us is bio-individually distinct, our dietary needs vary. Food is more than just fuel; it’s a tool that can regenerate, heal, and renew us. So dive deep and discover what truly fuels and rejuvenates you.

  • Adequate Sleep and Relaxation
    Sleep, in my book, isn’t just about clocking hours. It’s about the quality of those hours. The goal? A deep, restorative slumber that leaves you feeling rejuvenated and ready to embrace the day with zest. Prioritize this kind of rest, and your body will thank you.

Nurturing the Soul Through Self-Care

The soul, often considered the most profound part of our being, craves nourishment just as our mind and body do. Tending to the soul means diving deep into the essence of who we are, exploring our passions, connections, and spiritual inclinations. It’s about addressing the intangible yet integral facets of our being, those which anchor us and provide meaning, purpose, and connection. As we venture into this space, we discover avenues that not only rejuvenate our spirit but also create a deeper sense of belonging and inner peace.

  • Engaging in Hobbies and Passions –

    Ever felt a sense of void or yearned to reconnect with the playful spirit of your inner child? Dive headfirst into your hobbies and passions. Not only do these pursuits help rekindle our childhood zest, but they also guide us into our heart space, our soul’s core. Engaging in such activities allows us to lead with, experience from, and communicate through our heart.

    This isn’t just an emotional or abstract notion; it’s deeply rooted in our psychological well-being. Immersing in activities we’re passionate about can lead us into a ‘flow state’, a term in positive psychology where we’re fully absorbed, losing track of time and self-consciousness. It’s almost as if we’re channeling our purest energies, operating at peak performance effortlessly.

    Moreover, from a spiritual perspective, indulging in passions can stimulate certain chakras, especially the heart chakra, enhancing our emotional equilibrium and deepening our connection with the universe. In essence, when we align with our hobbies and passions, we don’t just pass the time; we nourish our soul.

  • Spending Quality Time with Loved Ones –

    As parents, many of us find ourselves in the ironic position of being constantly around our children, yet not truly being present with them. I’ve been there; drowning in daily tasks, always beside them, but not truly connected. This realization can weigh heavily on our hearts. But it’s crucial to understand the difference between mere presence and quality time. Quality time is not just a phrase; it’s an essential bridge that connects our hearts to those of our loved ones. It’s about active engagement, about syncing our energy fields with those we care about.

    But why is this concept so crucial to self-care? Engaging in quality time serves as a form of soul nourishment. We often underestimate the rejuvenating power that genuine connections can offer. By actively connecting and sharing moments with our loved ones, we not only nurture our relationships but also our own souls. These interactions offer a sense of belonging, understanding, and validation. They allow us to decompress, reflect, and share our burdens, joys, and life experiences, helping in grounding and centering our emotions.

    We are all energy beings. Our very essence radiates with electricity, enveloping us in an aura. When we engage in quality time, our auras intertwine, either uplifting each other or, on occasion, pulling one another down. But when done right, quality time can cultivate a harmonious atmosphere filled with shared joy and light. So, for parents especially, investing in this form of self-care isn’t just about the time you spend with your children but the quality of that time. Ensure it’s meaningful, present, and full of love. Through these moments, you nourish your soul, fortifying both your emotional well-being and the bond you share with your loved ones.

  • Seeking Spiritual Connection –

    Spirituality, in its essence, transcends the constructs of religious affiliations and dogmatic beliefs. It’s about a deeper connection to the vast universe, to the energies around us, and perhaps to the very essence of existence. For some, this may manifest as a structured religious practice, while for others, it’s a personal exploration of the self in relation to the cosmos.

    For self-care, tapping into this realm of spiritual connection can be immensely therapeutic. When we contemplate our place in the universe or meditate on the energies that bind all living things, we’re essentially grounding ourselves. We find solace in the idea that we are part of something immeasurably vast and intricate.

    Many ancient practices and philosophies, spanning various cultures and eras, have emphasized the importance of this spiritual connection for inner harmony and balance. It’s about listening to that inner voice, feeling the resonance of the universe within, and seeking alignment with it. This could be through meditation, nature walks, stargazing, or simply sitting in quiet contemplation.

Regardless of how you choose to interpret or pursue it, spiritual self-care is about nurturing that innermost part of yourself, that intangible essence often referred to as the soul or spirit. It’s about seeking meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging in the grand tapestry of existence. In doing so, you not only enrich your understanding of self but also foster a deeper appreciation for the world around you.

Remember, the journey of spiritual self-care is deeply personal and unique for everyone. It’s about finding what resonates with you, igniting that inner spark, and cultivating a relationship with the mysteries of the universe in a manner that brings you peace, clarity, and a profound sense of connectedness.

Actionable Self-Care Steps for Busy Parents

An adorable glimpse of a mother and daughter with their hair wrapped in towels with the daughter playfully dotting lotion on her mother's nose showing that self-care for busy parents is not only necessary but fun with kids.

Quick and efficient self-care practices:
In between tasks or during a short break, even just a few minutes can be transformative.

  1. Take 5-minute mindfulness breaks. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and ground yourself.
  2. Listen to a calming song or uplifting music.
  3. Do quick stretches or walk around for a few minutes.
  4. Have a dedicated “no-screen” time, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

Integrating self-care into daily routines:
Incorporate self-care seamlessly into activities you’re already doing.

  1. Practice deep breathing while in the shower.
  2. Engage in positive self-talk while driving or commuting.
  3. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts that uplift or educate during chores.
  4. Make a bedtime ritual, such as reading or practicing gratitude.
  5. Choose one mealtime per day to include an extra helping of nutrient dense foods.

Tips for consistency and overcoming common challenges:
Consistency is key. Here’s how to stick with it and navigate hurdles.

  1. Set specific self-care goals and jot them down.
  2. Schedule self-care into your daily planner or set phone reminders.
  3. Enlist a friend or partner to join and hold each other accountable.
  4. Understand that it’s okay to miss a day. What’s important is to try again.

The Lasting Legacy of Self-Care

In the intricacies of parenthood and the whirlwind of life’s demands, self-care emerges not as a luxury, but as an essential. You’re not only enhancing your own well-being but also setting a positive example for your family. While we often find ourselves catering to the needs of everyone around us, it’s crucial to remember that nurturing ourselves is paramount. In replenishing our own reservoirs, we find the strength, patience, and resilience to face life’s challenges and embrace its joys.

Self-care is more than a buzzword; it’s a conscious decision to prioritize oneself amidst the cacophony of life’s demands. Whether you’re a new parent grappling with sleepless nights or a seasoned one juggling multiple responsibilities, remember: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. Embrace it, champion it, and watch as your well-being transforms not just your life, but also the lives of those around you.

Self-care is an act of love, both for yourself and those you cherish. Let it be a journey of discovery, growth, and joy.


(1) Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., et al. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(6), 763-771. Link to the article.
(2) Segerstrom, S.C., & Miller, G.E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: A meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological Science, 15(7), 445-450. Link to the article.
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Diseases. Available at: This Link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Articles