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Sure, I adore luxury pampering sessions; pedicures, massages and baths, who doesn’t? But these are only one piece of the self-care equation.
The reality is, it’s the accumulation of small daily acts of self-care that really help us to be our best, most authentic selves.
Here are the 5 most important areas of self-care that you’re probably neglecting/lacking, especially if you’re a mom.
This is the big one. Nothing messes with your emotional well-being, mental state or physical health like sleep deprivation. It’s a beast and most of us parents are well-acquainted with this ugly state.
Yes, there are lots of legitimate reasons why sleep is incredibly difficult as a parent, especially with newborns or toddlers or both. My memory of life with a newborn is foggy but I’m still close enough to it to know there were some pretty awful days and nights when sleep was just not happening, for any of us. I would drop down into survival mode, only doing the bare minimum of anything to keep myself going and care for my baby. It was intense.
With a first baby, everyone tells you it’s temporary and it is, it totally is. However, in the midst of the newborn days or even what I’m currently experiencing as “no sleep” toddlerhood, you’re still a bit skeptical of this alleged “temporariness”. I’ve caught myself silently objecting when people would say “it’ll pass” with “yeah, but what if my baby is the one exception to the ‘this too shall pass’ rule” and I have to do this FOREVER. Wha-do-ya say to that, huh?!” I’m happy (and slightly embarrassed) to report that 15 months in and…it always passes!
Sleep is probably the biggest struggle that new parents face. No joke. Despite the fact that we all hear; “sleep when the baby sleeps”, I believe very few of us actually heed this advice. I wholeheartedly commend those who can do it. That is some real self-care badassery right there!
For most of us though, it feels like there’s too much to get done. Not to mention the fact that naptime and night are often the only moments mommas have to themselves. Who wants to waste that time sleeping?!
Admittedly, sleep is probably my least favourite thing to do when I get a free moment. I’d honestly rather untangle knotted balls of yarn or scrub a toilet, namely because I convince myself that these mundane tasks matter more than resting. (It’s definitely a preoccupation with productivity.) I’ve got limited free time. Some days it amounts to mere minutes. Lying down to take a nap or going to bed early are just not my go-to acts of self-care. Regardless of how tired I am.
But, let me tell you….lately? They really ought to be.
When you start mistakenly running red lights or having frequent meltdowns about things that really are non-issues like running out of brown rice and having to make basmati instead, you need more sleep.
Sleep is the ultimate equalizer, it can single-handedly transform you from hot, steaming mess to functional human. It’s the miracle cure for all mombies.
My theory is that sleep feels too self-indulgent and when you’re a mom and you have a to-do list that’s a mile long, you forgo your needs in the interest of others’ needs, general efficiency and productivity.
I can assert that I share this sentiment. I get the dilemma. However, I also know that nothing on your to-do list will ever satisfy or nourish you the way sleep will.
For me, sleep is a serious work in progress. I know I need, I don’t always get it or make the time for it, so if anyone has ideas for me I’m listening.
The irony here is that I write this as I’m polishing off a giant hunk of fudge that I bought this passed weekend at a craft fair. In my defence, my son just received his first black eye and I’m a bit of wreck. But ya know what else, I love chocolate and I won’t apologize for it.
As women, we get shamed too much about what we eat and how thin or not thin we are as a result. It’s BS!
So this “eating healthy” bit of self care isn’t about dieting, body shaming or depriving yourself of sweet treats. Screw that noise! It’s about moderation but also about acknowledging your nutritional needs. I know far too many mommas who subsist on coffee and convenience foods (which is usually high in sodium and low in nutritional content). I know moms who tell me they literally forget to eat all day because they’re busy and distracted with other responsibilities. I get the struggle but no one is getting off the hook here.
Another piece to this whole eating healthy thing is taking the time to sort out your own personal food friends and foes. Simply put, these are the foods that make you feel really good and the ones that don’t. This is a definite act of self care but it can be a challenging one to maintain, especially if you have a weakness for your food foes.
I went through a period where I was getting stomachaches and cramps A LOT. I decided that I needed to take the time and figure out what was going on because it was really impacting my overall health and well-being. A naturopath suggested I keep a food journal and eliminate things from my diet and then slowly introduce them back in one at a time. I examined two common culprits; wheat and dairy. It took a lot of effort and discipline but it was worth it because I discovered that my body is not a fan of wheat. This was devastating and sometimes I like to pretend it’s not so but I cannot deny the fact that I feel better and healthier when I maintain a wheat free diet.
Embracing this fact has lead me to discover some great substitutions and alternatives that are actually healthier. Occasionally, I relapse and I feel awful and then I commit myself back to the “no wheat” regiment and all is well again.
So you see, food has such a huge impact on how we feel, which makes it a crucial part of our self-care. What we put in our bodies impacts our energy, stamina and mood so it’s important to make steps toward good food habits.
I’m working on another post that offers some great tips and insights on family meal planning and preparation and I’ll share that soon, but for now here are 3 of my good food habits:
- Having quick healthy snacks on hand. This usually means taking the time on the weekends to make a batch of Glo bars (Oh She Glows) or some energy balls for the coming week. I also ensure that I have lots of chopped fruit and vegetables in the fridge.
- Not skipping breakfast. It’s tempting to do because mornings are hectic. However, our bodies and metabolisms need that kick start. Breakfast in our house is usually oats. They can be prepared in a variety of ways, they’re filling, inexpensive and packed with good nutrients. We usually rotate through these options: oats and chia pancakes, baked overnight oats, cold overnight oats, slow cooker steel cut oats and instant oats (Made with Local Loaded Oats are our fav!).
- Meal planning. This is key for healthy eating. I know when my husband and I neglect to plan our meals for the week, it leaves us scrambling to get something made fast. It’s stressful and it typically means we order crappy take out or pick up something pre-made from the grocery store. These aren’t always the best options, especially if we do it a lot.
I’m not a gym goer. My husband, and even a few of my close girlfriends are, and they love it. I appreciate the discipline it takes and even the benefits of doing frequent cardiovascular workouts where you can really sweat out your stress. I also like the community or social aspect of attending a class like Zumba or spinning, especially if you attend with a friend. I actually do enjoy this on occasion but it’s not my preferred way to get my weekly quota of activity in.
Me, I’m more of an experience gal, which is probably why I love hiking, walking and yoga. I also like my exercise to come with a side of adventure and for me that usually takes place outdoors. These activities help ground me, but they also help me to feel energized, even when I’m tired, and positive, even in the face of some hefty obstacles.
Physical activity of any kind is great because it gets endorphins running, resets our mind and helps meet many of our core psychological needs.
Exercise can sometimes feel like the thing you should do and for women, it’s often intricately entangled with dieting and weight loss. I know I have felt this way, especially when I’m trying to conform to some BS standard of fitness and beauty. I’m not down with the fitness regiments that have us hating on our bodies and obsessing over weight loss.
You have to find activities that suit your lifestyle, but most importantly make you feel good in the body you’re in. Maybe this is running marathons but it doesn’t have to be. It could be attending a weekly yoga class, joining a recreational badminton league or just getting off the bus a few stops away from home and walking the remaining distance. Whatever it is, do it often and create a routine around it. Typically, we can integrate exercise into our everyday lives and the more we do this, the more habitual it becomes.
You can do anything but not everything. I frequently have to remind myself of this, especially since I became a mom. I have limited time and energy to invest and I can’t possibly juggle numerous projects and responsibilities, no matter how small they may seem, or how passionate I might be about them.
I did the overflowing plate a lot before having my son. I love being helpful and generous with my time, especially when it concerns a shared passion or interest. The thing is, I would usually underestimate the time it takes and rarely account for my recharge time when taking on projects. The result? Burn out! Every time!
I’ve had to learn to say “no” more. When I was pregnant, I made a conscious effort to focus on this big upcoming transition and turned down several opportunities to collaborate on things that could have been really fabulous. This is just it, you have to know what it is you want and keep reminding yourself of it because there are inevitably going to be things in your peripheral, direct line of sight and hell, even in the rear view mirror that seem far more appealing than what you’re doing at the time. It’s hard to stay the course but if you have goals you want to meet and values you wish to uphold, you have to learn to decipher what’s for you and what’s not for you.
I find saying no to social invitations especially difficult right now because I really want to see my friends, have adult conversations and go out after dark but it just rarely meshes with my current reality. My marriage, mothering and business consume my life, and while there isn’t room for much else, this is okay with me and I know it won’t always be like this. I miss my life of leisure and my awesome friends but a lot of them are busy with their own circus and their own monkeys. Sometimes, rather than saying a definitive “no!” I say “no, but…” and offer an alternative date and activity that could lead to me hanging out with said friend.
Saying “no” feels like a purely selfish act and it is. That doesn’t make it any less necessary. Sometimes the person on the reciprocating end of the “no”, won’t understand but that’s okay. You taking care of you and that’s awesome.
Adulthood is a complete buzz-kill. Most of the time, we’re walking around with our “take me serious” faces on, trying to look and act the part. Undoubtedly, something that’s missing from many of our lives is play.
This is largely because Western culture is ultra focussed on productivity, and play is in direct opposition to this. There’s no tangible outcome to play. No projects completed, no dishes done, no 7 year old’s birthday party planned.
Play is the quintessential, important, yet not urgent thing we need in our lives. It is what fosters our curiosity, creativity and wonder about the world. Not to mention, it can bring us a lot of joy and contentment.
As a new parent, I’ve had to rediscover and reconnect with play. I mean, it’s children’s job to play and explore, it’s how they learn. But, why as adults, do we stop playing? Do we have nothing left to learn?
I definitely feel more permission to be playful when I’m with my son. In fact, I’ve got quite the line-up of silly faces and sounds. We roll around the floor, growling like bears and make pillow forts (well I make the forts and he knocks them down- this is the game at this stage). It’s hard to let go of my inhibitions and the serious adult side that tends to ridicule and judge. It’s also challenging to relinquish the urge to check something off a to-do list. The truth is, it’s really fun to get down on the floor and spend time observing and playing with my son. It’s a great stress reliever and a fabulous way for us to connect.
Playing with children and babies, yeah that’s fairly easy. However, engaging in play as a solo act, that’a a tough one! I certainly struggle with it, both with allowing myself the time but then what do I do when I get it?
Start small and simple. Start with scheduling in play dates with a partner or friend. And this is important: create a routine around it, mark it in the calendar!
My husband and I have periodic game nights. This is a fairly basic way to get in some adult playtime. I can even recall times when we spread out a big sheet of paper on the kitchen table and spent an hour doodling on it. He would draw a squiggly line and then I would continue drawing on it based on what I saw. We’d go back and forth like that. It was quite entertaining. There’s also crosswords, sudoku or other brain teaser puzzles.
And your play doesn’t have to be oriented around board games or art. There are plenty of physical ways of enjoying some playtime; bowling, rock climbing, indoor trampoline parks (yeah they exist!) or going dancing. I have friends that are really great at the play thing. Friends who surf and make it a priority to do this as often as they can. And they have kids.
Having children also means you have lots of tools on hand for play. Grab some play doh or lego even. It’s usually uncomfortable and frustrating at first but we know how to play, it’s hard-wired in us. We just have to let go of the idea that it needs to be something specific; losing ourselves in the moment. It definitely offers you a renewed outlook on adult life and serious recharge of your energy and who doesn’t need a zap of that?!