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Andrea McLean's top tips for stressed-out parents and why 'me time' isn't selfish

Take 15 minutes for yourself every day...

'Me time'. We often think of it as a treat like going for a manicure or a massage. But as Andrea McLean – author, life coach, former Loose Women star and founder of This Girl is on Fire – rightly puts it, we need to start looking after ourselves more.

"The biggest hurdle that parents need to overcome, and in particular mums, is the whole idea that 'me time' is some kind of treat," Andrea told HELLO! as we spoke to her for our Back to School digital issue, guest-edited by Giovanna Fletcher.

READ: Giovanna Fletcher talks mum guilt, meeting Kate Middleton and juggling work with parenthood

"The media have a huge part to play in this, in the way that adverts are targeted. I think the way that we've been raised as girls as well that we should, 'have a nice little treat and do something nice for yourself, you deserve it,' as if it's this one-off little thing that you do, and then you get back to your normal grind.

Giovanna Fletcher has guest-edited our Back to School issue

"I think we need to flip that totally on its head because 'me time' is just that. It's time spent looking after yourself. And if you don't look after yourself, how on earth are you supposed to look after anybody else? So you should come first."

She added: "I think that as a society, we are so trained from when we're little that, as girls, you put everyone else's needs before yours, because that's the kind thing to do and the nice thing to do. And yes, that's right. But you should also come top of your list."

Read on for Andrea's top tips on how to improve your self-care routine…

Start by spending 15 minutes every day just on yourself

'Me time' is not being selfish

We are conditioned to think that 'me time' is having a moment where you can be a little bit selfish or treat yourself, but we need to put that idea aside completely. I was as guilty as anyone else. I'm very late to come into this, which is why I really enjoy telling other people about it, because I want to save them the years. I'm 51, I wish I'd known this years ago!

If people say they're too busy for 'me time', actually, when you break it down, 1 per cent of your day is 15 minutes. If a friend said to you, 'Do you not think you're worth spending 1 per cent of your day on yourself?' You'd say, 'That's ridiculous. Of course I am.' That's literally all it is, 15 minutes to focus on yourself.

READ: Heavily pregnant Alex Jones reveals labour won't stop her taking son on first day of school

Have some 'me time' every day

'Me time' isn't going to the spa or getting your nails done. It's things that you can do every day. If people struggle with that, just think, you are what you consistently do. If you consistently run around after everyone else or you consistently put yourself last, or you consistently do things that make you feel tired or stressed, that will never change. Whereas if you consistently look after yourself and take breaks and reset, then you will feel better.

Andrea likes to meditate and practise yoga

This is how you can fit in 'me time' even if you're super busy

I know what it's like when you've got a crazy house full of children. They get up early and you have to get up at the same time, so getting up 15 minutes earlier to have some 'me time' may not work for you. So at the end of the day, make sure you spend 15 minutes doing something that you like and you enjoy that doesn't involve just scrolling through Instagram or being on your phone.

Pick something that you really enjoy doing, that you mentally register you're doing it for yourself and let yourself decompress. If you can do it in the middle of the day, even better. And when you feel like you're too busy, just remind yourself, you are worth spending 1 per cent of your time on.

READ: Jaime Amor shares fun yoga video for kids to calm any back-to-school nerves

The TV star makes use of her 'Do Not Disturb' sign

Do something that is utterly pointless

We tend to think of 'play' or doing something that doesn't have any point to it as something that just kids do. And as grown-ups, we suddenly become very serious and everything has to have a point. But actually, do something that is utterly pointless that you like.

For me, it's as simple as sitting in my garden and raising my face to the sun for five minutes and not looking at my phone. I know when you have small children, it's really hard to stop and have a breather. You can't even have a wee without a child barging in. But just go to the bathroom, shut the door, sit on the floor and be still just for a moment. People tend to leave you alone when you're in the bathroom!

'Me time' can be as simple as sitting down with a cup of tea

Buy a 'Do Not Disturb' sign

The best investment you can make is buying a 'Do Not Disturb' sign from Amazon. I bought one during lockdown and sometimes I put it on the bedroom door if I just need a bit of space to myself. The kids know not to knock or come in. I think even with younger children, as well as teenagers, you can sit down as a family and talk about everyone needing their own space and time, where they do something that they just stop for a minute.

READ: Day in the Life of a very busy dad... how Ore Oduba handles it all

Do Not Disturb sign, £5.50, Amazon


Don't let anyone take Mum for granted

Letting the rest of the family see you as a human being and not just Mum is really important. It's not their fault that they take you for granted, because you've kind of trained them to do that. So you need to train them to see you as a person who also needs to just stop every now and again. If you talk about it as a family and everyone has a discussion, then it becomes really normalised rather than, 'Mum's having a weird moment again.'

For me, I like to meditate so I tell everyone that I need some quiet in the house just for 15 minutes and they understand that. It's so funny, I can literally feel the whole house is on tenterhooks, waiting for me to finish! But mums need to stop this whole idea of putting yourself last. Let everyone know that you're a fully functioning human being and you need to do this.

Don't take Mum for granted

Share out your responsibilities

 This is more for older kids and teenagers. Delegate! Let them take some responsibility for sorting themselves out. One of the things I said to both of my children when they started secondary school was that I will never tell them to do their homework, because it's not me who gets in trouble, it's them. They needed to learn that responsibility for themselves and their grades.

When my daughter was in primary school, we were always late and I'd be stressed tearing my hair out driving her to school. And then one day I thought, 'What am I doing? She's old enough to know what she's doing. And she's deliberately waiting for me to call her.' So I sat her down and said she needed to get herself sorted and ready for school. The next day, I was watching Lorraine on the telly. She came downstairs, saying, 'I'm going to be so late!' And I told her I wasn't going to call her. Of course, she was really late that day, but she never did it again.

That's just an example of what mums take on and you don't have to. And yes that won't work for every child, because some children will sleep until ten and then you've got a real problem! But for some kids, it will work.

Fill this September with fun

This September, the kids are actually going back to school as normal and you're not homeschooling, so you suddenly have more free time. Do something fun that you weren't able to do these past 18 months. Do something for you. That can be your 'me time'. And it can be something completely useless. I used to go to pottery classes and I was terrible! But it was fun and I enjoyed it.

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