Self-Care Tips for Tumultuous Times

Whew! The kids are back at school! Or not? Are you home-schooling or remote learning or taking advantage of a hybrid offering? No matter which learning option you’ve chosen for your family, autumn signals a shift into new routines...during a very un-routine time.

Now, more than ever, we parents need to take care of ourselves.

We don’t know how long in-class learning will last...or how long we’ll muster our patience to support kids through online or home schooling. In this article, I’m sharing some tips to establish sustainable self-care for the long-term

But first, what the heck do we mean by self-care? 

Self-care has been sold to us as a once-in-awhile, luxurious (aka high-priced), extravagant indulgence, involving decadent pampering and treatments at fancy-schmancy spas and resorts, or solitary escapes to the shopping mall, or splurging on a new pair of expensive shoes.

What a pantload of crapola. 

Self-care is really about meeting our basic needs so we can adult (it’s totally a verb -- to adult: function in a responsible way in society, often taking care of other humans, and contributing to community and a workplace/business; to get dressed every morning and ensure a household runs; to balance a bank account; get the idea...). So what are our basic needs? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list, in order of foundational to aspirational or complex, according to our old pal Maslow. 

  • Physiological (things that are vital to our survival (as a species)): food, water, air, shelter, clothing, reproduction

  • Safety & Security (things that contribute to control and order): health, financial resources, physical safety from injury or harm

  • Social/Connection (things that support love and belonging): friends, family, romantic relationships, community groups and gatherings

  • Esteem (things that support feeling respected and appreciated): accomplishment, value, appreciation

  • Self-Actualization (things that support people becoming their best/highest selves): pursuit of meaning, fulfilling potential 

An easily-digestible explanation can be found here and an examination of a potential updated list is here (you know, because we’ve learned a lot since 1943).

IT IS NECESSARY TO CARE FOR OURSELVES. Without caring for ourselves, we cannot be expected to care for others. 

Self-care is the most responsible thing to do, and it isn’t always easy, especially if we are used to/happy to/obligated to put the needs and wants of others ahead of our own. It takes discipline to fill our own cups before finding, washing, drying, mixing the drink and filling the cups of others. 

But Jilly, you say, I’m doing fine. I’m managing. It’s better/easier for me to make sure everyone is happy/fed/sleeping/clothed/has their homework done/vents about their day before I pay any attention to what I might need or want. 

I repeat: What a pantload of crapola. 

I know a lot of people, myself included, who can hang on by a quickly-unravelling thread for a long time, and then plummet to the depths of exhaustion, physical illness and mental burnout by believing that bullsh*t.  

Take a moment, and see how many of these “neglected self-care” signals you check off: 

  • Frequent (let’s be real, constant) irritability, resentment or lack of patience: feeling like you’re giving too much away and not getting enough (anything?) in return

  • Eating on the go and/or getting little nutrition: the majority of your diet consists of sugar, caffeine, carbohydrates, processed, empty and “convenience” foods

  • Isolation, numbing and escapism: you’re spending more time alone than normal (even during the COVID times), and numbing out by bingeing on TV, wine, food, exercise, video games, online shopping...

  • Difficulty getting to or staying sleep: racing thoughts, anxiety, excessive worry or concern

  • Physical manifestations: breakouts, muscle aches and pains, exhaustion or illness once you slow down or actually take a break or vacation

Here are some loving suggestions for creating and sustaining self-care practices so they become non-negotiables in your life, not annual indulgences.


Tip 1: Choose a Self-Care Mindset

We’ve all heard the lines…

You can’t pour from an empty cup; fill your own cup first.

Put on your own life jacket/mask before helping others.

You wouldn’t let your phone’s battery lose its charge; don’t let it happen to you either. 

You gotta nourish to flourish.

Tend to your own garden before weeding your neighbour’s.

When it comes down to it, many of us don’t believe we deserve self-care. When we consider this logically, it seems ludicrous: of course I deserve food, water, air, shelter, to feel loved and respected and like my life has meaning. Imagine telling a friend or a child or a friend’s child they aren’t worthy of these basic needs. You’d never say that. 

How can we switch this belief about ourselves? Maybe the example of preventive maintenance of a vehicle or home will help: Why do we get our oil checked and changed; our tires rotated and balanced and replaced when the tread wears down; our timing belt replaced? Why do we clean our gutters in the fall; replace shingles when they get blown off; repair leaks in the roof or foundation?


Here’s another framing I particularly like:


If it helps to think of yourself as a house or a car or a bank account, then use it! If it helps to make a sticky note that says “I deserve care” and attach it to your mirror so you see it everyday, do it. If it helps to save all the self-care memes to your phone and look at them everyday, do it. Find one that speaks to you, and say it to yourself. 

Over and over and over. 

And over. 

Until it becomes your inner belief.  

Tip 2: Create (and Uphold) Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are a way of saying YES to you and NO to what doesn’t serve you. What’s so hard about that? 

Well, we live in a constant shouldstorm. Especially as parents.

A shouldstorm is the swirling spoken and unspoken, solicited and unsolicited, helpful and unhelpful cloud of expectations we and others place on ourselves.

When you hear yourself saying or thinking, “I should…” that’s a great signal to pause and check where that expectation is coming from. Here’s how:

  1. Notice when you say or think “I should.”

  2. Whose voice is saying it? Your own, or someone else’s?

    1. If it’s someone else’s, consider if they actually matter to you, and if so, if their expectation is healthy, respectful and reciprocal. If yes, then move on to the next step. If not, shut that should down.

    2. If it’s your own voice, ask yourself the same questions: Is this expectation healthy, respectful and nourishing or beneficial to me? If yes, proceed. If no, shut that should down.  

  3. Feel your answer in body. Our bodies don’t lie, so learn to listen for your body’s answer to the request for your time, energy or contribution. 

    1. If it’s a whole-body YES, then proceed. 

    2. If it’s a partial-body YES, then it’s actually a NO.

    3. If you really can’t tell, flip a coin and see what your response is. 

  4. Claim and communicate your boundary in clear language, to yourself and to others. 

  • Yes, I’m happy to help you. 

  • Yes, I’ll be happy to help you when I am finished what I’m focused on right now. 

  • No, I am prioritizing my health/energy/needs right now.

  • I need solitude for 30 minutes. Please respect my need and don’t interrupt me. 

  • No. (It really is a complete sentence.)

Take stock of the shoulds in your life, and grab your umbrella to deflect them.


Tip 3: Renegotiate Roles and Responsibilities 

The responsibilities we carry a working parents can have a huge impact on our self-care, so after you’ve established healthy boundaries, it may be (ahem, will be) important to renegotiate how things are going to be done and by whom in your household or workplace. 

Set realistic expectations based on your energy, capacity and capabilities, and those of your housemates or workmates. Just because you’ve always been the one to plan meals, grocery shop and cook doesn’t mean it has to be that way always. Maybe your kids can take on a dinner a week. Maybe your partner does the meal planning and prep on alternating weeks. Maybe your team members take turns drafting minutes and action plans at meetings. Maybe your colleague attends the 12th Zoom meeting of the day so you don’t have to.

Remember that you can constantly renegotiate roles and responsibilities; it isn’t a once and done event. Try something for awhile and if it works, then keep it. If not, change it. As your family grows and evolves, just like your workplace, different members are able to take on new challenges and shift the burden of responsibility. 


Tip 4: Create Easy, Repeatable Rituals or Habits

Once you’ve decided you want and need and deserve self-care, created healthy boundaries and redistributed responsibilities, it’s time to add or adapt supportive habits into your life. One of the easiest ways to add a healthy habit is to attach no- and low-barrier activities to everyday actions. Anchor these new behaviours to natural occurrences throughout your day, such as:

  • Waking

  • Eating

  • Toileting

  • Transitions between work and home life

  • Bedtime 

For example, if you want to drink more water throughout the day, have a glass when you wake up, with each meal or snack, after you’ve used the washroom, when you shift focus at work or log off at the end of the workday, and before bed. 

If you’d like to incorporate more movement into your day, make it as easy as possible. If you need to pack a bag of gear, get in your car, drive across town, find parking, get changed, do a workout, shower, get dressed, drive’re less likely to do that every day because it’s inconvenient (unless you need to get out of your house, then flee, flee to the gym for solitude!). Instead, throw on your sneakers and do a lap around the block between calls, or run up and down the stairs three times when you wake, every time you eat, etc.  

Start small -- with one deep breath, one minute of meditation, or another bite-sized amount of achievable healthy habit. Build as you go and be sure to acknowledge yourself for any and all progress, no matter how tiny it may seem. Remember: some is better than none. 


Tip 5: Strive for Less

In North America, in particular, we are programmed to do and want and be and buy and achieve and produce and get and have more, more, MORE. Let’s shut that noise down. 

Here’s your permission slip to write a permission slip to strive for LESS!


Take a moment (or an afternoon or a whole day) to essentialize those tasks, activities, commitments, responsibilities that are actually...essential. That means, if they didn’t get done or looked after, someone’s life is in danger. Now what’s on your to do list? Consider different aspects or categories of your life: financial, physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. Take a look back at those basic needs we started with.  

A lot of what we fill our minds and days with is non-essential. Try it for just a day, doing only what is absolutely necessary. Notice how much space is created, how much time, how present you can be in each moment. This takes real discipline. It might mean your kids are in one extra-curricular activity instead of four. It might mean you turn off the TV after 30 minutes and instead take a walk or read something inspirational. It might mean turning off your phone at 6 p.m. and focusing on the people in your household, uninterrupted, from 6 to 10 p.m. 

I do hope you’ve found some inspiration and motivation in these tips. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to enact one or all of the following:

What one thing can you STOP as a sustainable act of self-care?


What one thing can you CHANGE as a sustainable act of self-care?


What one thing can you START as a sustainable act of self-care?

Once you’ve chosen, consider: What might get in your way? How will you stay accountable to yourself?  

Need help? Feel free to reach out for a conversation or join my weekly support sessions for working parents: Thriving in Uncertainty

Originally published September 11, 2020 at

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