Updated: Mar 26, 2019
What do you think of when you hear the phrase Self Care?
Almost every time I ask my clients this question I get three main responses: blank stares, an “I don’t know,” or the idea that they should get more sleep. No wonder people are so tired, stressed and overwhelmed. We barely know how to take care of ourselves and tend to spend all our energy focused on taking care of others. This leads to irritability and a feeling of desperation. That desperation can cause a person to turn to quick and often unhealthy ways of coping such as comfort eating, drinking to excess, binging media (TV or games), and overspending while online shopping. These strategies make us feel good at the moment, but that euphoric feeling can quickly wear off and leave us feeling worse than before.
True self-care is about investing in yourself in order for you to feel OK.
Getting enough sleep is part of it, but only a small part. It is taking time to meet your physical, emotional, financial, spiritual and mental needs, in the way that works best for you. Then, when you feel OK, it is always easier to give of yourself to others.
One of the major deterrents from self-care that I so often hear from mothers is “mom guilt.” Being a mom complicates this concept of healthy self-care quite a bit. You know you need to take care of yourself but now you also have this little being that needs you to meet 100% of their needs as well. It is paradoxical because being a mom makes self-care even more important and harder than usual. One helpful strategy is to adjust the way we think about our role as a caretaker.
I like to distinguish the difference between caretaking and caregiving. Caretaking is done when we pour out for others, expecting them to fill us up in return. It is not truly a selfless act and never works because others aren’t able to fill you back up the way you can for yourself. Your child will bring you so much joy and love, but they cannot fill up your needs tank any more than that. Neither can any relationship. Caregiving, on the other hand, is what happens when we are personally OK because our needs tank is full, and we can give from the excess. When we don’t expect others to fill us up, we can give selflessly and glean the rewards that come from giving. When we give from that perspective, it becomes another way to fill our own tank.
One of my favorite analogies for motherhood is the airplane oxygen mask instruction. You must first put on your own mask before helping your children. If you are not safe and secure, you cannot help your children be safe and secure. This works the same way as our emotions. Children absorb the energy their mom is putting out so a stressed out, overwhelmed mom could lead to anxious kids. This doesn’t mean that a little stress or irritability will harm your children, but if it gets to the point at which moms mental health is at risk, the children will be impacted.
So how do we focus on healthy self-care, and what does that look like? First and foremost, we have to believe and remember that one thing kids need more than anything is a healthy mom, and therefore we love our children by caring for ourselves. Second, we find a plan that works best for our lives. Here are some strategies I like to suggest for my clients:
- Try to plan intentional movement for 30 minutes per day, but DON’T beat yourself up on the days that it doesn’t happen. We’re aiming for healthy habits, not perfection.
- Get outside! Take 5 minutes to step outside and practice taking slow, deep breaths.
- Practicing deep breathing while going to sleep (breathe in through the nose while counting to 4, then breathe out through mouth while counting to 4).
- Find a community of friends who love and listen to you. Burdens feel lighter when shared with others even if they can’t do anything to change the situation.
- Make kid-free time a priority by getting a babysitter once per month or however often you are able. Maybe trade off babysitting days with a friend in your community.
- Practice guided meditation with an app like Insight Timer.
- Stretch/Yoga sequence
- Watch a funny movie or TV show
- Put on your favorite song & get lost in the music for a few minutes. Maybe even have a dance party with the kids when they need a reset.
- See a therapist
If you feel overwhelmed or need to talk more about this, the best thing you can do is make an appointment with a counselor who can help you gain some perspective and create specific strategies for you. You have many options including the counselors at Sharp Wellness who would be happy to help.