Moms are burnt out, and no amount of “me time” is going to fix it. As much as we all need time to ourselves to decompress, that only provides temporary relief. Yes, the pandemic is part of the equation, but there is a cultural challenge that predates COVID-19 and calls for an important shift in our approach to self-care.
Unfortunately, society has created the myth of the “perfect mom,” one who should be able to “do it all.” We feel guilty if we are not able to live up to that ideal. The truth is that no one is perfect and doing it all is impossible. As a result, the pressure we put on ourselves can be overwhelming, bringing us to the edge of our endurance.
For too long, self-care has been portrayed as “pampering.” But how can a massage be relaxing if we spend our time on the table stressing about the 18 other things we could have been doing? Instead of this event-driven self-care model, I propose we refocus on practicing daily interventions that can improve our wellness. Here are a few ways to get started:
Flex your priorities daily: Priorities change – day by day, week by week, or month by month. Sometimes, my priority might be to pay attention to what my child does at her soccer practice, so I put away the phone and watch closely. Other times, it might be enough to just be physically present at practice, allowing me to use that time walking briskly around the field to get exercise, which might be another priority for me. It’s important to allow myself the flexibility to know that it’s okay to miss a soccer practice because that day I needed to take care of something else. We often view our different priorities as being competitive to each other – and there will be times when they are – but, mostly, when we accept that these activities and priorities can coexist, we find them all easier to achieve. We can do this by allowing ourselves the space and grace to be human and stop chasing perfection.
Learn to delegate and then let go: It can also make an enormous difference to delegate a task and then accept how your support system helps to manage it. For example, I often pack my children’s lunches the night before to reduce my morning stress, but my partner prefers to do it in the morning. I really don’t need to control how or when my partner makes the lunches. Managing my expectations allows other people the space to take ownership and support me. They may or may not do it the same way, but that doesn’t matter if the outcome is still the same.
Swap self-care for soul-care: Deep down, when people talk about self-care, I believe they are seeking a way to find contentment during the highs and lows of life. But contentment isn’t found in such surface-level things as pedicures and bubble baths. Nor is it possible to always feel happy with our lives – the ups and downs are inevitable. Instead, I think, it’s important to invest in consistent practices that help us find meaning and inspiration in our everyday lives. Simple activities like meditating, journaling (even a few words a day), going to a prayer service, listening to a motivational podcast/book, writing a gratitude list, or just finding things that make you laugh. It’s essential to get to that deeper layer of what you truly need, deep in your soul, deep in your heart.
Develop coping skills before you need them: It’s important to practice healthy coping and distress tolerance skills on a regular basis, especially when we’re not in distress. If we wait until the moment of crisis, it will be too late. The way that our brains are wired, when we're anxious we have a go-to behavioral response that happens almost automatically. Such responses are also typically unhealthy behaviors we later regret, like overeating or drinking too much. To change our in-grained response to stress, we need to practice our distress tolerance skills well beforehand, so that they become second nature.
Everyone experiences stress differently. Some people feel it in their body, while others experience altered thought or behavior patterns. Exercising coping skills on a regular basis can be as simple as adjusting body posture, doing breathing exercises, or engaging in mindfulness meditation. These are all effective ways to stay in the moment and redirect distorted thinking. You can also create a playlist of inspiring songs or podcasts or set up a text chat with your closest friends or family so it will be at your fingertips when you need to know that this too shall pass.
Connection can help you thrive: The willingness to change to support a more balanced and healthier lifestyle starts by looking inward. But for that to be effective, we need to have perspective outside of ourselves. We can get that connection from nature, spirituality, romantic partners, parents, children, co-workers, friends, and even charitable work. It can take place in diverse ways and for varying lengths of time. Whether it’s a phone call, a text message, a walk, a weekend away, or simply sitting in the grass for three minutes and breathing by yourself – the point is that it doesn’t have to be prescribed. It can be flexible depending upon your needs and bandwidth at any given moment.
Overall, remember to take it slow and think realistically about what you can do for yourself – on a daily, weekly, monthly basis – that can help you feel you are in touch with what matters most. But if you do find yourself feeling pushed to the brink, I encourage you to ask for help. You are not alone, and the right support can help you create a strategy for renewed hope and meaning in your life.