self care for parents

When your child is struggling with substance use, your focus is on them and their needs. It is not unusual for you to continually monitor where they are and who they are spending time with. Worry permeates your very being, every day. And in short order, you feel anxious and exhausted.

I am telling you this because your own self-care is an important part of the solution. Not only will self-care help you feel better personally, but it will also make you a better problem-solver. You will also have the added benefit of showing your child how best to cope with stress.

The whole experience is likely to result in you feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions. These will translate into you feeling fear, anger, resentment, guilt, and shame. The result — some people isolate, avoiding family and friends, as well as conversations about what is happening with their child. Physical problems often arise including tension headaches, insomnia, and stomach upsets. You could gain unwanted pounds by eating sleeves of cookies. Or, you find yourself drinking an extra glass of wine. And of course, the situation saps emotional and physical energy, often leaving you feeling helpless and hopeless.

So what is the solution?

Self-care, which means taking the time to make sure you are at your best. This can mean eating and sleeping well, socializing, engaging in hobbies and exercise, spending time with other family members, and mindfulness practices like meditating and yoga. It may include setting more boundaries with your child and others, for instance, being able to say “no” when you are feeling exhausted or infringed upon. In some cases, engaging in therapy can help to develop an action plan and stay on track.

Unfortunately, some of you will think “You want me to do something enjoyable for myself when my world is crumbling around me?!” The answer is “Yes” for several reasons, not the least of which is that you will personally feel better and develop more resiliency. In fact, self-care can and will increase positive emotions like joy, gratitude, hope, and serenity helps people in multiple ways. We know that when people increase their daily intake of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life. They also find that they receive more social support — or perhaps they just notice it more, because they’re more attuned to the give-and-take between people. They report fewer aches and pains, headaches, and other physical symptoms. They show mindful awareness of the present moment and increase positive relations with others. They feel more effective at what they do. They’re better able to savor the good things in life and can see more possible solutions to problems. And they sleep better.

The whole process enables folks to not only do people feel healthier, but they are better able to problem-solve. I cannot overstate this — when we are feeling depleted from this struggle, it’s easy to react and make snap decisions, rather than taking the time to think through the situation at hand. Your best judgment and problem-solving skills are needed to address your child’s unwanted behaviors. And there is another significant benefit to self-care is that it allows you to model healthy behavior and coping skills for your child. For example, if you come home from work, tell your child that it was a really stressful day, and then go for a walk or take a hot shower to relax, you are modeling a healthy way to deal with life’s ups and downs.

Self-care is not a spectator sport. While it may seem difficult, try infusing your life with something positive on a daily basis for the next week. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee with a friend, buy some fresh flowers, light a candle, take a walk in nature, and spend ten minutes doing a puzzle. Whatever it is, take some time to nourish yourself and see how you feel. It will be a gift not only to yourself but also to your child and other loved ones.

Portions of this column were based on information provided by the Partnership to End Addiction @

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