Mental health was precarious for parents pre-Covid. And as the crisis continues, over 1,000* surveyed parents, mostly Moms (94%) admit they’ve eliminated time spent on their own wellness to cope with the added workload.
They’re overwhelmingly working from home (71%) without childcare (70%) and report doing ‘terribly’ or ‘worse than usual’ as caregivers to themselves (72%.) They’ve paused exercise, hobbies and date nights. And many refuse to take vacation time out of concern for job security.
Many achieve career success by ignoring well intentioned advice about balance. We’re incented to run, not rest, in most industries. Pre-Covid, more than half of Americans didn’t take all of their paid vacation time. But everything is different now and breaks have become critical.
When asked, ‘what’s been the hardest?’ many cite increased challenges with emotional and mental wellbeing.
“Keeping up with mental health.”
“Maintaining routines even when feeling depressed and unmotivated.”
“Not having a ‘finish line.’ We truly don’t know when this will end, and it makes it hard to keep going and do the right thing.’’
Self-Care Is Essential
For parents, faced with an uneven back-to-school and wobbly job market, self-care may seem frivolous. Yet, like the masks and the other health protocols we follow, it’s vital. Dr. Charmain Jackman, Clinical Psychologist & Founder of InnoPsych said, “It starts with your mindset. You really need to understand that self-care is important. It’s not about pampering, like getting a pedicure. Self-care is about giving your mind and body a rest. And there’s so much attention on it because we don’t often prioritize it.” Exactly. Why not?
Most Lack Space to Set New Routines During Covid
Parents usually recharge away from the demands of caregiving. A challenge while sheltered-in-place with the dynamic nature of Covid. As one Mom states, “There’s no mental break from work and Moming. No commute, so no time between the two, they just bleed into each other.” When asked what they’ve stopped doing during the pandemic, many admit, they’ve cut everything they used to do for their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
55% Are doing less self-care (i.e., sleep, movement, health and stress-level management)
“(I’m doing) less movement and exercise. (There’s a) lack of outside help, so more work.”
“Normal sleep schedule, beauty-care, most routines”
“I was just getting into a workout routine (boxing gym) and thought I had found my Saturday morning ritual when the pandemic took that away.”
68% Are spending less time nurturing healthy adult relationships (i.e., partner/spouse, friends, siblings)
“Getting coffee, nails/pedicures, in-person visits with friends, all forms of self-care outside the home.”
“Massages! Socializing. A night or two out from time to time. And I also had to miss my annual girls trip with friends I only see once a year.”
68% Are spending less time on self-interests (fun, hobbies and learning new skills.)
“Writing on my blog, listening to podcasts (both were usually during my commute to and from work.)”
“Yoga and any form of physical self-maintenance, i.e. nails, hair.”
Less Focused Work Time = More Hours Catching Up
Charmain said, “We’re in this economic time where businesses are closing, closed or furloughing people. With the Covid crisis and the racial violence that erupted, what I hear from people is, ‘if I take time off, is my job at risk?’ There’s this sense people have, particularly in businesses that didn’t operate remotely before, that somehow they’re not working hard enough or doing enough hours at home.” Many have expressed that their jobs have become more demanding as the economy tightens.
“I recently became a parent of three, with more work than last year, and no part-time childcare as I previously had.”
“While working from home has been a help in some ways, doing so while dealing with a one-year-old and limited childcare options has been hard on my husband and I. We rarely feel able to focus on work, the baby, or keeping up with necessary chores around the house. Without that ability to focus, it feels like everything is suffering just that little bit more.”
“There are no breaks from any of it. We took a vacation where I was still catching up from work the whole time and we didn’t go anywhere so I came back not refreshed at all.”
Consider a Vacation Intervention
Charmain explained a common barrier to taking time off, “I don’t feel like I’m on vacation unless I go somewhere else, usually in a plane. If I’m in the house, I might as well just work.” So true! With limited travel options, many are inclined to just power through. Charmain shared, “My husband did an intervention for me in July. I didn’t want to go somewhere too far, where we would have to stop, so he found a place that was a two-hour drive. And it turned out to be wonderful. It was a remote area, so there weren’t a lot of people around and we got to explore the town on our bikes with the kids and play in the water.” Bravo! She added, “Although there’s still this restriction that we’re all under, it was nice to get away.” A clever alternative.
Even Short Breaks (Away or At Home) Can Help Us Reset
Charmain explained, “When you take a step back, you can reassess what’s going on, reflect on things or just take a mental break. You should come back feeling more recharged.” There are countless studies about how breaks and boundaries help productivity. She explained why her vacation helped her refuel, “It forced me to step away from the computer. It was nice to be able to unplug. When I’m at home, it’s easy to stay focused on the work and not pull away.” Sigh. A common refrain among exhausted caregivers. What happens when people can’t get physically away?
Reframe What a “Break” Is
Charmain said, “You have to reframe how you think about things. For example, my mom is a walker because she can’t do the heavy exercise anymore, she’s older. So, my mindset was, ‘walking is for older people, walking is for when you can’t run and do your elliptical.’ But I found some good hills in my neighborhood and I’ve been taking great walks. I love being in the outdoors, where I’m with my own thoughts or sometimes, I call a friend to chat.” It’s powerful to tell ourselves a different story. She said, “I reframed how I thought about exercise. So, for people who like going to the gym, the reframe is, ‘how can I replicate that in my backyard or my neighborhood?’ I was very judgmental about walking but I needed something new to add to the routine. Because we’re spending so much time in our homes, it really helped me to get to know my neighborhood in a different way.”
This is the perfect time to care for your wellbeing. It may seem impossible but taking positive steps to bring pause, joy and growth back into daily life is important. The pandemic is not ending quickly. And the emergency measures you applied in the spring are unlikely to fit for what’s expected to be an extended period.
Go on, take a break, even if it’s five minutes to breathe deeply with the bathroom door closed. Preserving your mental health and energy helps you and everyone who relies on you.
* This is a partial update with results from 1,044 parents who have taken the pandemic parenting study between, March 30 – August 21st.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Charmain Jackman!
Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc. Visit her website to pre-order ‘Sweet Spot’ her new program with daily reflections to reclaim your voice and power. And follow her great adventure on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.