With Mother's Day approaching, you might be thinking about ways to pamper yourself and all the rest and relaxation you're needing to catch up on. I don't blame you one bit, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for a massage or a pedicure myself. Those one-off moments of pampering are wonderful, but there's a lot more to self-care than that. With a mom holiday on the brain, right now seems like a good time to dig into the concept of self-care a bit more and focus on some strategies for fitting it into your schedule.
Last time I talked a little bit about differentiating between depression and normal highs and lows, and I wanted to start there because I think asking for help is an important foundation for taking care of yourself. In order to know you need help, you first need to check in with yourself and determine what's going on. That's a form of self-care. Once you figure out what's going on, you have to decide what you need and ask for it. That is also a form of self-care.
So, what exactly is self-care?
Most health professionals define self-care as any active participation in enhancing the quality of your physical, mental, or emotional health. That means anything from taking a 5-minute breather to deciding to eat a vegetable with dinner every day to spending a week away at a resort and spa could be considered self-care. You have a lot of flexibility in deciding when to care for yourself and how.
The one thing that brings all forms of self-care together is intention -- that initial moment of checking in, deciding what you need, and asking for it or taking steps to get it. Obviously, if you need counseling or some other kind of professional input, that's step one and usually they will walk you through the process of healing and holding yourself up. That's what I went through when I got treatment for my anxiety and depression and those coping strategies and methods for changing my habits have stuck with me through other changes and goals. Once you decide how best to care for yourself, here are some strategies to help you get into the habit of actually doing it:
To begin, start small.
Implementing any sort of change in routine is difficult, no matter how beneficial it might be. Self-care is no different. If you're currently frazzled, stressed out, and struggling to cram everything into your hectic schedule, there's a good chance you're not going to be able to drop everything and start a daily practice of meditating for 45 minutes before sunrise.
Commit to doing something for a small amount of time or an easily attainable goal to get yourself started. Maybe it's a five-minute walk after lunch, or writing down three things that made you smile in a journal each night. Pick something you can handle that will help you de-stress, unload, or introduce more healthful habits into your life, and don't worry if it feels too small to be significant. Follow through on one small thing and then you can build from there.
Remember to be realistic.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with starting small, but it's important to say it anyway. Do not turn self-care into another thing to beat yourself up about. It's not self-care if you spend the whole time abusing and berating yourself. If you skip a few days, fine. If something else cuts into your time, do your best to work around whatever is going on. If your goal was to take a five-minute walk but instead you decide to sit down and eat a delicious candy bar, good for you. Treating yourself is taking care of yourself too.
Also, temper your expectations. Don't quit on the idea of self-care entirely just because you got one massage and all your life problems aren't solved yet. A lot of us have been neglecting ourselves and our needs for a long time. That doesn't disappear overnight.
Build a support system.
No mom is an island. You can live that way for a long time, but it's very unhappy and lonely. I have a really hard time making friends, so I know the idea of building a supportive network of people can feel impossible. Consider it a part of -- you guessed it -- self-care. Try a new activity like a book club or a workout class. Go to a story time with your kids. Even use social meetup sites, like meetup.com to find like-minded people in your area. If you're not short on friends, reach out to your existing support system and work to strengthen your bonds and re-invest in your friendships.
Parenting is hard, okay? You need people. You need to be able to vent and laugh, to talk out the hard stuff, and to have people you feel you can relate to. You need people in your corner. Do what it takes to get them there. Also, if your support system sucks? Kick the sucky people to the curb. As a wise woman once said, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
Lastly, ignore the haters.
Haters gonna' hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. When I talked to Dr. Jessica Michaelson for my last Mind Over Mommy, one of the things I asked her was how to handle people in your life who are not necessarily supportive of either your efforts to seek help for mental illness or just of positive changes you're making in your life. Her advice? Do it anyway. Ignore naysayers and, like we talked about above, find people who do support you and relate to you. You can deal with other people's concerns and objections once you're feeling on your A-game.
Above all else, remember that you matter and putting yourself last over and over again isn't good for you or the people who depend on you. Nourishing yourself and taking time to recharge is not just taking care of yourself; it's taking care of everyone around you by ensuring that you're bringing the very best version of yourself to the table.
That's important, and so are you.
Mind Over Mommy is a biweekly column devoted to mental health and self-care for moms. As someone who formerly failed to make myself and my well-being a priority, I hope to create a safe space for women to share stories, learn, and encourage one another.