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Parents: boost health with time-out

Woman having coffee and reading a book
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Talk to most parents and it becomes clear that time out has become something of a coveted and revered aspiration; a commodity closely guarded and strategically traded between spouses.

Our social media feeds are riddled with hints and tips, words of wisdom and plausible justifications around the importance of taking time out and how to get it just right.

Yet parents are still questioning, "Time out? What is this magical thing you speak of?".

"The fact is, when you are overloaded and under too much stress, it is very hard to look at things differently. You need space and time away or you lose your creativity – your brain is just too full."
Organisational Coach Tania Begg

When did we become so ‘I'll take whatever I can get’, about it all? 

Certainly, there is something very admirable about the whole glass half full mentality. But are we doing ourselves a massive disservice in the meantime? And what message are we giving our kids?

Self-care. Me time. Time out. The reset button. Call it what you will but there is more at stake here than a momentary escape or chance to refresh.

"I think time out is so important as a parent and it teaches your children self-care," is how one mother put it.

And she is spot on.

Organisational Coach Tania Begg thinks so, too.

"You're leading by example," Begg says.

"When you are employed, you get your four weeks of leave a year and many workplaces won't let you accumulate those now because they have recognised the need for employees to go away, have a break and come back refreshed and ready to go again.

"The fact is, when you are overloaded and under too much stress, it is very hard to look at things differently. You need space and time away or you lose your creativity – your brain is just too full.

"You become so overwhelmed, your brain is fried and everything just becomes too much to deal with.

"There is science behind it and, certainly, there are good levels of stress.

"But when there is too much stress and we find ourselves in survival mode we will be irrational and won't make good decisions."

“Ensuring women get regular respite from the challenges of caring for a young baby is a relatively simple and effective way of promoting maternal mental health in the year after childbirth,”
Dr Hannah Woolhouse.

Now we all know parenting doesn't come with four weeks annual leave a year – if only!

But Begg maintains little breaks and opportunities for time out are just as effective.

"Put it in your diary to take that time out. Make time to contact friends and time for self-care."

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute’s (MCRI) longitudinal study of 1500 women suggests that women who have time for themselves once a week or more in the first six months after childbirth have improved mental health.

However, it found that only 48.5 per cent of new mothers reported having time for themselves each week when someone else looked after their baby. One in six women reported that they never had time for themselves.

This was echoed in the First Five Years Snapshot of Australian Families conducted at the end of 2017 which surveyed more than 1000 parents. The snapshot found 46.4% of parents rarely or never take time out to relax or clear their mind e.g. relax in a bath, read a book, chat with a friend or take a walk.

The snapshot again identified the importance of time out in parents’ lives in a second question. When asked what would positively influence how happy they feel about their role as a parent, the top answer at 62.1% was “more quality time for myself”. This was however closely followed by “more quality time with my child” at 52.8% revealing parents’ struggles with their busy lives.

For some, time out might be going to the hairdresser for a few hours to cover the greys, yet even that is fraught with guilt about spending the time and the money on oneself rather on the rest of the family.

Others suggest running and exercise as their favourite form of me time, while going to a concert, coffee on the back patio, going to the shops without the kids, sewing, cooking, date nights and movies all rate highly.

Interestingly though, it was almost like a lot of parents are settling for second best on their precious me time. The fact they can do something seemingly mundane or every-day, and usually for someone other than themselves, without being hassled by the kids rated as adequate time out for themselves.

The MCRI Maternal Health Study found the prevalence of depressive symptoms in mothers almost doubled to 10 per cent in those who had time for themselves less than fortnightly, and tripled to 15 per cent in those who never had time for themselves.

“Ensuring women get regular respite from the challenges of caring for a young baby is a relatively simple and effective way of promoting maternal mental health in the year after childbirth,” said lead author Dr Hannah Woolhouse.

“While it makes sense that time for self would improve women’s mental health, what is surprising is the robustness of the relationship we have observed. Frequent time for self appears to protect the mental health of mothers regardless of the more general social support they are receiving.”

The five most common things women did when they had time for themselves were: going shopping for the household (57 per cent); going out with partner (47 per cent); having a long bath or shower (42 per cent); going to the hairdresser or beautician (37 per cent); and relaxing, putting their feet up and watching TV (36 per cent).

Time out ideas

  • Exercise – going for a run or enjoying a yoga session helps reset your stress levels while releasing all those fabulous endorphins. It's the perfect way to find your happy place and de-stress.
  • Date night. Reconnect with the one person to whom you can always count on and spend some quality time.
  • Take a long bath – whether your bath is filled with beautiful bubbles or soothing enriching minerals, there is nothing quite like a long warm soak to ease the tension away.
  • Get back to nature. Take the time to sit on the beach and get the sand between your toes, or even just venture into the back yard and enjoy the grass underfoot.
  • Book a massage – find a reliable, skilled therapist and then invest some time in having all those nasty knots and stress points kneaded away. 
  • Find a hobby – That translates as something just for you. Sewing dance costumes, running kids around, watching footy training and cooking dinner for the masses might be enriching and deeply satisfying, but it's not YOURS. Find that thing you can call your own and then nurture it, enjoy it and immerse yourself in it – if only for a few moments as the opportunity presents.
  • Catch up with friends. Just like date night, this is so important because it is all about connection and spending time with like-minded adults who are not likely to throw yoghurt in your lap or start singing the Wiggles if they don't have your attention. Be it with a wine or coffee in hand, there is something very grown up and soul-nourishing about just sitting and reconnecting.