This time last year, it would’ve been unthinkable for you to work a full-time job, school your kids from home, and somehow fit in everything else that you have to do too. Yet now this is a reality for millions of parents whose role has expanded in the wake of the pandemic. Some days it may feel like simply getting through is a win, but to help you not only survive but thrive during this busy time, we’ve put together a few handy and healthful tips.
1) Embrace Short Workouts
By the time evening rolls around, you may realize that you don’t have an hour to run, ride, lift, or do whatever activity you’d like to be pursuing. Or you’re so worn out physically, emotionally, and mentally that you can’t face the rigors of a full session. As the continued fallout from COVID-19 condenses your schedule, it would be beneficial to reassess your expectations of what’s realistic from an exercise standpoint.
From there, the next step is figuring out what you can fit in and when. If your kids are still on Zoom calls with their teachers while you have a work break, you could fit in a quick bodyweight session that combines push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, air squats, and chair dips. Or before the end of the day when your significant other gets home, let them know that you’re planning to handover the parenting duties so you can make it to the 5:30 PM class at your fitness studio. If you have a home gym setup, you could squeeze in a quick evening session in which you just pick two exercises – like kettlebell swings and get-ups – for 15 to 20 minutes.
Sure, the abbreviated duration of such workouts might make it seem like you’re getting much done. But because they’re shorter and more achievable, you’ll find that you can stick to them more consistently and in doing so, that you’re closer to achieving your goal – whether that’s losing a bit of weight, packing on some muscle, or crushing your 5K PR – once your kids are back in school and you finally have more time to train. In fact, a study published in PLOS ONE found that short bursts of intense activity for as little as 10 minutes a day resulted in better health outcomes than longer, slower workouts.[i]
2) Set Aside More Me Time
At the moment, you could be feeling that every waking moment is dedicated to serving someone else: your kids, your spouse, or your boss. As a result, it’s easy to get to the end of the day and think about all the things you’ve done for others, while realizing that you didn’t do anything for you. To help redress the balance, try to set aside short periods of time to dedicate to something you want to do. To start, set the goal of doing at least one fun thing every day. Treat yourself to buying a new book, take a long hot soak once the kids are asleep, or schedule a weekly coffee date (either in person or virtually) with a friend.
As with the micro workouts we just mentioned, the key here isn’t duration but consistency. If you can begin to carve out at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to connect with other people outside your immediate family, do something you find relaxing or even sometimes indulgent, or just get some much-needed peace and quiet, you’ll feel calmer, more energized, and better able to keep pushing forward. Seeking solitude, if only for a few minutes, can also help you be more creative, according to findings from University at Buffalo researchers.[ii]
3) Shake Up Your Snacking
There have probably been a few days when you ate a good breakfast, made a nice strong cup of coffee, and then didn’t pause between work calls, helping your kids with everything from math assignments (now what was the formula you learned 30 years ago?) to science experiments, paying bills online, and so on. Suddenly you look up, see it’s 2 PM, and realize that you haven’t eaten anything in seven hours.
In such a situation, it’s easy to just grab whatever snack is in the pantry, wolf it down, and get back to work. A better way is to make a smoothie while you’re fixing breakfast and put it in the fridge so you can grab it when you have a few minutes free without breaking stride. You could start with a splash of milk or a non-dairy alternative, a scoop of Momentous Essential protein, a couple of handfuls of berries, and a spoonful of almond butter. Fire that up in your blender, put it away, and your healthy lunch-on-the-go or midday snack is ready.
4) Tame Technology Use
So much of our daily lives before COVID-19 were consumed by screen time and now that WFM has replaced going into the office for you and your children are on Zoom calls instead of face-to-face with their friends in classrooms, kids and adults alike are spending more time using technology than ever before. To help restore some kind of balance, try to set stronger boundaries for yourself and your family during and after the work/school day.
If your kids are done with their online classes and assignments, the temptation is to catch up with friends on social media networks or just to veg out on YouTube, which over the course of a week can dramatically increase their overall screen time. As much as they might protest at first, take their laptops and tablets away during these times and encourage them to go shoot baskets in the driveway or play in the back yard. You can also ban all devices from mealtimes (you too – that Slack update can wait!), which will improve conversation and connection. Make the experience even richer by eating outside if possible. And if you can cut out early from work on occasion, pack a picnic and walk to your local park, head to a trail or lake, or do some other kind of family activity that doesn’t involve a screen.
[i] Jenna B. Gillen et al, “Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment,” PLOS ONE, April 26, 2016, available online at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075.
[ii] JC Bowker et al, “How BIS/BAS and Psycho-Behavioral Variables Distinguish Between Social Withdrawal Subtypes During Emerging Adulthood,” Personality and Individual Differences, 2017, available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319093449_How_BISBAS_and_psycho-behavioral_variables_distinguish_between_social_withdrawal_subtypes_during_emerging_adulthood.