In my therapy practice, the majority of my clients are moms. They come in suffering from anxiety, depression, and relationship issues … or are just plain unhappy. The causes and origins are as varied as the people who come in to see me, and so are the treatment plans. But one thing that too many of my clients have in common is that they are seriously lacking in self-care.
When we talk about self-care, we are referring to actions that an individual takes to maintain or improve his or her physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, being hydrated, spiritual quiet time, relaxation time, and medical care are some common examples.
Moms, let me just say we are not always the best at self-care.
I am putting the spotlight on myself here as much as anyone else. There have been one too many days where it is 3 or 4pm and I am completely drained. I look back on my day and I realize that the only thing I have put in my body is coffee. I am hungry and dehydrated and I didn’t even notice it until my energy levels plummeted.
Why do we do this though? The most common reason given for the lack of self-care is time. We are just so busy! We are often inundated in the day to day of handling work, home and everything in between. We are busy just generally trying to keep it all together. And while that kind of dedication and sacrifice is a big part of what makes us good mothers, if it gets out of balance, we and everything around us will suffer.
So while we blame time, I think if we dig a little deeper, we have to acknowledge that the neglect of self-care is really more a reflection of priority. We have somehow convinced ourselves that everyone else’s needs are more important than our own. We think that if we are to be a “good mom” that we have to tend to everyone else’s needs before our own.
The problem with that lifestyle is that it is extremely fragile. It is propped up with coffee, medication, and therapy, but lacks the foundation to be maintained for long. Eventually it comes crashing down when our lack of self-care means that we are exhausted, sick, angry or just plain miserable.
One of the best therapies I can prescribe for moms (and myself) in this position is to become intentional about self-care. It is not good enough to practice self-care when everything else is done because that goal is never reached. And when we do this, we are giving ourselves the leftovers.
Moms, we have to schedule time for self-care. It needs to be an appointment that we make with ourselves and then we have to keep it. When something comes up to potentially encroach upon that time, we have to establish boundaries and say no. To truly be the best for our families, we must prioritize these needs.
In addition, practicing self-care models a healthy lifestyle for our kids. They are watching how we take care of ourselves and they learn more from how we live than from what we say.
If you are struggling in this area, here are a few places you can start:
- Sleep. When we don’t sleep, we become a shell of ourselves. Moms, we need to stop thinking we should be able to function on 4 and 5 hours of sleep. Look at your routine and lifestyle and figure out what you need to cut or how you can rearrange your schedule. Consistent bedtimes and allowance for adequate sleep time is crucial, not just for the kids, but for the adults in the home as well.
- Diet. When we don’t eat, eat on the run, or eat trash, we will feel terrible. When we don’t drink water regularly, we will be dehydrated and run down. It will take its toll on our appearance as well as our energy levels. Make sure to take the time as a family to meal plan, stock up on healthy food and drink, drink, drink (water)!
- Exercise. Exercise produces chemicals in our brain that can calm us and help to improve stress, anxiety and depression. But for many people, when we talk about exercise, we immediately think it is impossible because we are thinking about our friends who claim to work out for 90 minutes, six times a week. Knowing we can’t keep up with such a schedule, we give up on the idea altogether. But a healthy level of exercise doesn’t need to be extreme. Even three times a week will do a great deal to improve your mental health. If you cant get to a gym, try to incorporate walking or some active play right there in your own backyard.
- Quiet Time. That might look like prayer time, meditation, or lying in a hammock with only your thoughts. But we all need to find a space in our lives, even if it’s brief, where we can be alone, relax, breathe deeply and unwind. So many of us live our whole lives in high gear and then we wonder why we feel burned out all the time. I usually recommend trying to find minutes each day, hours each week, a day or two per month, and a week or two per year. This is our reset button and we need to press it frequently.
- Fun. When we become adults, sometimes we forget that having fun is still important. We get so caught up in the business of life that we miss the forest for the trees. We strive to get things done, earn money, meet goals, but at a certain point, we need to look up and ask ourselves what exactly are we doing it all for? Moms, when was the last time you truly had fun? And do you realize that it’s ok to have fun? Both with and without the kids, we need to seek out activities that bring joy and excitement to our lives, which will reduce depression and give us the motivation to keep moving forward.
- Connection. This includes spending time with people that feed you. Date night with your husband, relaxed play time with your kids, playing cards and laughing with your girlfriends. This kind of connection restores us emotionally.
As with any change, if you are approaching these lifestyle changes for the first time, don’t get overwhelmed with trying to fix everything at once. Start with sleep (it is number one for a reason!) and keep working on it little by little until you have established a healthy routine.
While there are many factors that influence mental health and happiness, I would venture to say that self-care can always provide at least some improvement. Make a commitment to yourself that you will begin to work on this aspect of your life, first for your own well being. But then take note at how much it can improve the condition of the entire family. You WILL be a better mom if you take care of yourself.