For parents, educators, and kids there’s no time of year that’s more emotionally charged than back-to-school time. These weeks are both exhilarating and exhausting. The prospect of a new school year can fill us with a sense of promise and, at the same time, overwhelm; a sense of joy mixed with one of melancholy. This rollercoaster of emotions is stressful in itself, and when we add to it the change in schedule, long to-do lists, back-to-school events, and all the rest, we can quickly find ourselves in over our heads.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of self-care -- the idea that we each must prioritize our own emotional, physical, and mental needs and take actions to promote health in those areas. For many, self-care can feel unnatural, or unattainable, particularly if we tie it to certain stereotypes we may not identify with. But at its core, self-care isn’t about a single practice, activity, or routine -- it boils down to doing whatever we need to do in order to be at our best.
With back-to-school upon us, we sat down with Hala Khouri, wellness expert and trauma-informed yoga teacher, to talk about self care, why it’s important, and how we can incorporate it into our lives, even at our busiest moments.
The first point Hala emphasized was that self-care is not in any way selfish. For her, the goal of self-care doesn’t end with the self; rather, she views self-care as an essential ingredient to her practice of serving others and the world. When we don’t prioritize our own wellbeing, we can’t bring our best qualities -- creativity, compassion, energy, whatever they may be -- to our relationships, our work, or any aspect of our lives. As parents, when we are burned out or unbalanced, we tend to be more shut down, controlling, and reactive, and less understanding and communicative.
Hala also shared that to see the results and achieve the balancing effect we are hoping for, we often have to go beyond what we typically think of when it comes to self care. While it’s important to prioritize routines like exercise, healthy diet, and sleep, we also need to incorporate fun and authentic enjoyment. So, if you’re making time to take that yoga or cycling class, prepare a healthy dinner for your family, or log off the computer at a reasonable hour, but still feel stressed, anxious, or exhausted, you might consider finding an activity that brings you joy, or spend some time with someone who makes you genuinely happy.
Saying “no” is also a key practice in self-care. Particularly during this time of year, when we tend to have extra events, gatherings, and opportunities for becoming involved -- whether with a child’s school, carpool, playdates, etc. -- sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself (and those around you!) is politely decline.
When asked about her own self-care practices, Hala highlighted sleep (she aims for 7-8 hours a night), healthy food, exercise, drinking lots of water, date nights with her husband, and therapy. But she emphasized that self-care is deeply personal, and ultimately what is essential for one person may not be important for another. That said, in addition to some of the ones she mentioned, there are a variety of other practices that have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing stress and promoting wellbeing. Spending time in nature, enjoying music or art, meditation, and being in the presence of loved ones can all be restorative, calming, or inspiring. Finally, Hala noted that we don’t need to set aside a lot of time for self-care. In the everyday rush of life that many of us experience, and particularly during a busy time of year like back to school, simply pausing for a moment -- to breathe, to feel the body, to reset -- in the midst of a chaotic day is a significant step toward “putting your oxygen mask on first” and being at your peak so you can give from your overflow and not from stress and obligation.