Last fall, Delicious Living featured advice from three experts on how to manage sleep deprivation, a topic near and dear to me. My oldest turns eight tomorrow and my youngest is four. I’ve certainly had my share, and yet sleep is not the only scarce resource when you have an over-packed responsibility list: Exercise, nutrition, and stress-relieving activities also take a hit, and I have only recently noticed just how much it affects me—and everyone. As the saying goes: When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!
Several of my close friends are new second-time parents, which for me signaled the start of a whole new level of sleep (and self-care) deprivation. As I witness their transition along with my own smoldering energy reserves, I want to express how important it is to establish habits that will replenish mind and body so that they can keep going (and going and going) for these child-centric years. Burnout is sneaky: A can-do-anything attitude may have been key to a successful career in your twenties or early thirties, but once you have kids it becomes very difficult to pull off. Trust me.
Delicious Living’s longtime medical editor, Dr. Robert Rountree, coauthored a wonderful book called A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, which I highly recommend. But self-care isn't just for moms; dads need to replenish, too. The advice in "Manage sleep deprivation" is a great place to start for any parent: I take adaptogens, avoid coffee, and clear mental chatter by meditating 20 minutes before going to bed.
Here are a few other ways parents can manage stress and prevent burnout.
Make (and eat!) breakfast.
It’s very important that parents not only feed their kids but themselves a protein-rich breakfast with healthy fats (such as nuts or avocados), which prevents blood-sugar crashes during busy mornings and throughout the day. My naturopathic doctor, Nancy Rao, ND, in Boulder, Colo., explained to me: Allowing yourself to get too hungry is very hard on the adrenal glands (which help modulate stress response and energy).
Once you burn out your adrenals, there's a serious cascade effect on your health and it can be a long process to get them back in working order. My back-up plan includes oatmeal fortified with protein powder, seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. I keep a premixed bag at the office for mornings I make it out the door with only tea.
Plan meals, and stock the refrigerator with easy, healthy foods.
Set yourself up for success during the evening when you’re tired and probably wishing dinner would just make itself. Eating a nutrient-rich dinner is so important to your overall health—so don’t settle for “kid-friendly” processed foods if you can help it.
Start with easy-to-cook staples such as whole grains (e.g. quinoa, brown rice, or whole-grain pasta), quick-cooking green veggies (kale or broccoli), and proteins (such as chicken or lentils), then splurge on tasty sauces or add-ins, such as harissa, peanut sauce, coconut curry bases, tzatziki, for full flavor. This allows for some flexibility while ensuring you don’t spend two hours cooking when you only have 30 minutes.
This is one that I struggle with most because, to me, exercise used to mean a 3-hour mountain bike ride or a full day of skiing on weekends. But even 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, every day has a huge impact. Exercise with your kids only if you have to—exercising alone or in a group of other adults increases my sense of autonomy, which I have found is essential to my well-being. My husband does yoga 4-5 times a week, and he is much happier for it.
Clear the schedule at least one day a week.
This seems simple but is remarkably difficult to pull off with extracurricular activities encroaching on most weekends. Despite the joy that these activities bring, having a go-go-go schedule doesn’t allow for one of the most important ingredients of family well-being: relaxation. Consider that research shows that quiet relaxation—during which you are not actively thinking about anything in particular—is actually the key to solving problems. “Creative problem solving” makes of 90 percent of the job description of a parent.
Lean on your community.
People with strong support networks are consistently shown to have fewer incidences of depression and disease, and tend to live longer, too. Invite other parents for coffee or happy hour, seek out like-minded clubs or organizations, schedule time with friends, and ask for help when you need it. I can’t express how grateful I am for our community—I truly couldn’t have made it this far without them.