Self-Care is a matter of Survival
Ten years ago if someone had told me to slow down and prioritise self-care, I probably would have rolled my eyes. Ten years ago I had no kids. No smart phone. No pressing deadlines. No partner to consider. No mortgage. I was spontaneous and I slept in on Sundays. Fast forward to today, as a working mother of two young children, self-care is high on my list of priorities. In fact, it’s a matter of survival. Some days, I have trouble carving out time to breathe, and other days I’m dominating (although admittedly these days are rare). On the days my self-care slips my moods turn ugly and the tension in my body is overwhelming. Having kids and becoming a working parent has forced me to adjust my definition of self-care. It’s no longer about beauty treatments and spontaneous holidays, it’s about savouring a hot cup of tea and lingering a few extra minutes in the shower. I share some of my favourite self-care routines in the list below. These strategies work for me but they may not work for you. In order for self-care routines to work for you they need to be easy to implement and well-suited to your personality and personal context. Don’t feel disheartened if some of these don’t work for you, just research further, collect ideas from family and friends or consider linking in with a professional to help you carve out more time for yourself.
Make your bed every day
This may seem like a strange tip but the benefits of bed-making are real, so much so that happiness and wellbeing enthusiasts and experts such as I Quit Sugar author Sarah Wilson and The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin have recommended this tip as a stress management tool. Gretchen Rubin explains that outer order creates inner calm and making your bed EVERY DAY is what counts. Every day is key because it has proven to be easier to do something every day rather than most days. Admittedly, I’ve only recently cottoned onto this tip (thanks to my order-junkie husband), but I’m surprised to say it works! A neater bedroom seems to have a calming effect on both me and my husband. Try it out. See how it goes. Remember it is important to do it every day and to stick with it. Small routines and commitments can help start the day in an efficient, productive and disciplined manner, which will likely have a flow-on effect throughout the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the wonderful benefits of technology but as a society, I feel like we are becoming unhealthily attached. Used in excess, technology can interfere with sleep, our relationships and our ability to engage with the world around us. We need to assume some responsibility for our usage but powering down and limiting screen time, if not for ourselves, for our relationships with our partners and children. Some benefits of limiting technology-use are the removal of unhealthy feelings of jealousy, fear and loneliness. Numerous depressed clients have spoken to me about their need to power-down and de-activate their Facebook accounts due to feelings of body image dissatisfaction or relationship anxiety. Access to social media makes us feel connected to people in new ways and at obscure times but it impacts our ability to be present in our lives and enjoy solitude which is important in helping us to reset, reconnect and engage with mother nature. If you do a Google search, you’ll find lots of tips for practicing powering-down or limiting screen time which I urge you to try. Some include removing your phone from your bedroom at night time, delaying turning your phone after you wake up in the morning or powering-off altogether at a particular time at night. You could also trying committing to 1 day per month of un-plugging or investing in an extended break each year. You don’t have to be hard-core about it. Just more mindful about your usage and the impact it is having on yourself and others around you.
This one is a no brainer for me. As someone with a tendency to dawdle, I’ve decided to incorporate more of this behaviour in my self-care routines but in a more structured way. I like to call it lingering not dawdling because I feel this word has less negative connotations. Examples of lingering include intentionally having an extra 5 minutes in the shower and lingering outside my front door for a few minutes before walking into the chaos of the kids’ bedtime routine. I also make sure I slow down as much as possible on my commute to work. It’s not the amount of lingering that matters to me (since it is just a few minutes here and there), but it really makes a difference to my mental state especially after a long day at work or a marathon effort to extract myself from the house before work. Look at what activities you like to do and what is manageable in your work day and try lingering an extra few minutes. Give yourself permission to take guilt-free minutes and see what impact it has. The best outcome for me as a working parent juggling the demands of work and family life is alleviation from guilty feelings which I used to get caught up in when I took a bit too long to do things.
Carve out time
One of the most common statements I hear in my work with working parents is “I don’t have time for self-care”. I get it. There is very little time in amongst all the busy-ness, but this is not an excuse for neglecting self-care. If you don’t make time, you won’t survive the long haul. Research suggests that parental stress associated with the demands of juggling work and family life can persist through to a child entering primary school (approx. 8 years), so it is important to carve out time for self-care as early as possible particularly when returning to work after the birth of a child. So how can you carve out time when you already feel stretched? Productivity Ninja Marissa Brassfield makes some great suggestions in her blog ‘5 Next Level strategies to carve out time for self-care’. One of her suggestions is to go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier. This may seem like a difficult thing to implement at first, but it will work for you if you persist. Brassfield also suggests scheduling a standing date night for yourself (not your partner, just yourself). Now this may seem extreme (especially to all the working parents out there) but Brassfield stresses the importance of scheduling a rejuvenating activity to reconnect with yourself (whether it is once a month, every second month, figure out what works for you, your partner and you family situation). Give it a go.
Say NO when you feel NO
I read a lovely blog by Scary Mommy called ‘Self-care saying no’. It highlighted the importance of boundary-setting in relationships both personally and professionally. The thing that really struck me about this blog was the line “you can be a good person with a kind heart and still say NO”. It was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. I deeply understand the significance of this statement. Ten years ago I would have questioned it but as a working parent giving myself permission to say NO has truly helped me to prioritise what needs to get done and find a balance between family and work life. Boundaries are beautiful things, especially when they are created lovingly and assertively. They can prevent professional burnout and feelings of resentment building in a relationship. If you are in the habit of saying YES when you mean NO, take stock and start to consider your own needs. To start, experiment with slowing down and delaying your answer so you give yourself time to reflect. Then build to saying NO. I’m not recommending that you default to NO in all situations, just think about your own needs (as well as others) before you given an answer.
Choose your clothes wisely
Not everyone will agree with me on this one, but I do believe that you are what you wear. Clothing can have such a fundamental impact on your mood and there is science to back it up with new links being made between clothing choices and emotional states. It’s taken me a while to adjust to the changes in my body since having children but I’m noticing the positive impact of wearing clothes that make me feel comfortable and beautiful despite the lumps and bumps! Might I add you do not need a huge budget to find some good clothes. You just need a bit of time to research and test things out. Another perspective on clothing choice which has become particularly important for me as a sleep deprived parent is most choice of clothing around bedtime. Comfortable pyjamas cue my body for sleep and help me unwind but I don’t tend to put my pyjamas as soon as I get home from work. I make sure I take off my work clothes and put a more relaxed outfit on and then pyjamas before bed. These two changes are part of my night time wind down. This may not work for you, but the message I’m trying to make is to be mindful of clothing choices. Please avoid wearing clothes that are too tight or ill-fitting. It will cause you to experience tension that will ultimately impact your mood and mental state!
These self care tips work for me, and I hope by sharing them, some of them may work for you also! Please let us know in the comments below if you have some tips that work for you – we would love to hear from you!