When your teenager enters treatment for a substance abuse and/or co-occurring mental health disorders, it’s easy to put all the focus on them. After all, you’re the parent. You’ve been there every step of the way. From diapers to first steps to midnight fevers – unwritten law of the universe: the fever pops after working hours, always – to first school dances, first dates, and unfortunately, first experiences with drugs, alcohol, or debilitating emotional or mental health conditions. You put your kids first because that’s what you’re supposed to do: prioritize their needs over your own, rearrange your life so you can give them every advantage possible within your ability, and give them a running start at a successful and fulfilling life.
But now that your teen is in treatment, it’s time to turn your focus back on yourself. That’s not being selfish. It’s being realistic. A study published in 2017 shows that “families of individuals with substance use and concurrent disorders experience a wide range of biopsychosocial problems that significantly impede their quality of life and health.” The main contributor to this degradation of quality of life and health is stress. A little stress is no big deal, but persistent stress over time is something else altogether – it becomes chronic stress, which is not good for you, your family, or anyone.
As a reminder, chronic stress can cause:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Chronic health issues such as hypertension and decreased immune function
- Acute health issues such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and headaches
- General health issues such muscular pain, joint discomfort, and low energy
- Relationship problems at work, at home, and with peers
Researchers report that when family members of individuals struggling with these issues participate in a program for their own health and wellness, the experience the following positive outcomes:
- Reduced Stress
- Increased feelings of support from family and friends
- Improvement in family, work, and peer relationships
- Improvement in physical, emotional, and psychological well-being
Therefore, participating in a specialized program geared toward self-care seems like a no-brainer: you have to do it, or else you run the risk of adding to your family issues, rather than helping to improve them.
But what if you don’t have the time, means, or access to a specialized program?
Don’t worry: self-care is something you can do yourself – and it won’t break the bank or take too much of your valuable time.
Self-Care Tips for Parents
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) identifies several simple mental and physical habits you can implement to make sure you don’t inadvertently harm yourself while your primary focus is on supporting your teenager.
Productive Mental Habits:
- Focus on what’s good. For starters, your teen is in treatment. You’re supporting them as well as you can.
- Avoid reinforcing your own guilt. Here’s a tricky one: you might be angry at your teen about being in treatment. But you know you can’t feel angry about that – that’s not okay. Actually, it is. Own your anger, or resentment, or whatever it is you’re feeling – but don’t compound the problem by feeling guilty about it. See it, feel it, and let it pass: that way you neither ignore nor repress your emotions.
Productive Physical Habits:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. A diet rich in whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein forms the basis for a healthy mind, body, and spirit.
- Get enough exercise. The positive benefits of regular exercise are well-documented. Daily exercise regulates hormones, promotes heart, muscle, and bone health, and boosts immune function.
- Get enough sleep. Good sleep hygiene regulates your hormone balance, improves general health, and gives you the energy you need to get through a tough day of parenting.
- Reduce alcohol and drug use. While some people turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve stress, this is playing with fire: too much of what seems like a good thing can backfire, and you may end up with a substance use disorder of your own.
- Try mindfulness activities. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are widely accepted as effective ways to improve stress and overall health and well-being. Try a class, download an app, or simply take the time to go on a peaceful walk or do something you love.
The way you take care of yourself depends on who you are and what works for you. It doesn’t have to be any of the above. Your answer may be going out for a cup of tea with a close friend, playing a round of golf with a group of peers, playing music, or finding some quiet time to journal or read. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it: the important thing to remember is that you need to take care of yourself, too. And though you may not be the mom of the family, this old southern adage certainly applies:
“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.