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Self-care means many different things to many different people. There are, however, basic elements of self-care that each of us mamas can, and should, incorporate into our lives if we want to be our best self for those we love.
I’ve titled this post “The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Care for Mamas” for several reasons. Maybe like me, you’ve led a very busy life. Maybe like me, you have several children at home who need guidance and encouragement. Maybe one or more of your children have certain physical or emotional issues that also require your assistance. And maybe, also like me, you’ve tended to put yourself closer to the bottom of the “To Do” list than you should have all these years. If so, read on.
Another reason I’ve titled this post “The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Care for Mamas” is that I’m secretly (okay, maybe not so secretly) hoping some guys will stumble upon this post and be encouraged to join forces with their wives in encouraging them to prioritize their need for self-care. The truth is, we all experience stress. You can’t get away from it, and as mamas of kiddos with special needs, be they mental health issues, learning differences, birth defects or other things, stress can sneak up quietly and quickly.
I remember years ago, a friend and I were discussing stress. She suggested that there is “good” stress just as there is “bad” stress. I had never even thought of it that way. An example of good stress might be having a baby. What a joyous occasion to be sure, but one that brings a lot of changes into your life, maybe even financial challenges, just the same. And so with that, I started to view stress in a whole new light.
The problem with stress is that oftentimes we aren’t even aware of how our body is being impacted by what’s going on around us. You’ve been there. I know you have. I have too. Your child is in crisis, or there’s an issue that continues for a period of time, and what do we mamas do when that happens? We blast right on through. We have to. Our kids need us. While this is all well and good, what we have to do is become mindful of the stress in our life, both good and bad, and begin to build behaviors into our routines that will not only serve us well, but will also be an example to our children, and serve them well.
What is Self-Care?
Before we talk about what self-care is, let’s address a common misconception surrounding self-care. There has been in the past, and continues to be in some circles today, a belief that self-care for mamas is selfish. That idea will do no one any good at least not for long. A person, (read that mama) who does not subscribe to some sort of self-care is headed for trouble.
Stress is damaging to our bodies. It tends to make the symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety worse, and it often prevents individuals from getting the amount of sleep and quality of sleep their bodies need to function optimally.
Think of it like a long rope. On the left end of the rope is selfishness. Always thinking of self. Only thinking of self to the exclusion of others. On the other end of the rope is self-sacrificing. Never thinking of self. Thinking of others to the exclusion of self. Now, in the middle of this rope is SELF-CARE. Not always thinking only of self and not always thinking only of others. It’s that balance thing again.
Self-care is quite simply, caring for oneself. And although the definition is simple, finding the right combination of behaviors for any given stage of mamahood can be quite challenging. There are typically three aspects of self-care however. Physical, mental and spiritual. The goal of all three is to provide nourishment for a mama’s soul. To refresh her and refill her, because we’ve all had those days where the kids are sick, the dog just threw up, and your husband’s on the phone with the news that the $64 car repair is now up to $482 and it’s only 9:45am. We are empty! And if mama’s feeling empty, then there’s nothing she has to give. Nothing good, that is.
Enter physical self-care. These are practices she can set in place that provide nourishment for her physical body. Examples would be getting an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per night for a typical adult. Exercise such as Yoga, dance, Pilates, hiking, walking or gardening. You get the idea.
It could also be as simple as getting plenty of water to drink. A good rule of thumb here is to divide your body weight in half and that’s the number of ounces of water you need each day. In my case, I weigh 135 pounds. Divide that in half and I need to drink approximately 68 ounces of water each day, which is around eight cups.
I read a blog recently that went into depth about our need for water and how to ensure you’re getting enough. One of the ideas I took away from that post was to get a clear water bottle that has the number of ounces printed on the outside so that you know without keeping some sort of tally, exactly how much water you’ve had at any given time. What a wonderfully simple idea. On my next trip to Target, I found exactly what I was looking for!
Physical self-care can also include massage, mani-pedis and diet. Diet is such a huge construct right now. I’ve recently jumped into AIP (Auto Immune Protocol) personally, but there are so many diets getting a lot of attention right now. Keto, Whole 30, Paleo, Whole Paleo, Mediterranean, of course Vegan and Vegetarian. The key to a good diet is to pick unprocessed foods over processed, eat the rainbow in fruits and veggies every day, and steer clear of simple sugars and refined ingredients. Michael Pollan, who wrote, Food Rules, said, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” I think that is good advice.
Mental self-care includes things like meditation, tapping, journaling (gratitude or otherwise) and having, and keeping, reasonable expectations for yourself and others. Doing things you find fun and/or relaxing, such as playing with pets or being out in nature are great for your mental state of mind as well. How about Forest Therapy? Developed in Japan in the 1980’s, “shinrin-yoku” literally translates as “forest bathing.” The concept involves immersing oneself in nature and it has become a national pastime in Japan.
Creativity falls under mental self-care because it can be a great stress release as well. Every single mama is creative, and has the ability to tap into her niche. It might be drawing, painting (watercolor, oil, acrylic, spray) ceramics, paper crafts, sewing, gardening, leatherwork, animation, photography, sugar cookie art (one of my favorites) writing, cake decorating, illustration, writing and/or playing music. SkillShare boasts over 28,000 classes! They even have classes for you to discover which classes to take!
The third and final form of self-care is spiritual self-care. Behaviors considered spiritual self-care could be things like worshiping at a church, temple, mosque or synagogue. Engaging in prayer and scripture memorization or meditation. Keeping a gratitude journal or a journal of answered prayers to read when challenges arise is another form of spiritual self-care. Helping others less fortunate than yourself by giving money, food, time or assistance can be very rewarding as well.
How to Get Started with Self-Care
To get started on a self-care program, it is best to evaluate the stage of life you are currently in and where you fall on that rope we talked about earlier. Your options for self-care will change because times change, and so do life stages both in your life, Mama, and in the lives of your kids. I like to say, “Sometimes raising kids is hard. Other times it’s harder,” but really, kids grow up and when that happens, their needs tend to decrease.
So look where you are now, and realistically plot a path of self care that will allow you to enjoy something you find fun and something that is relaxing and make that your practice weekly. Sprinkle in some daily alone time (even if it’s only five minutes) and stay on top of your diet, exercise and water intake. Make a promise to yourself to tweak the parts of your life where you’ve swung too far to the right of that rope. Start the journey of getting more to the center of the rope and you’ll be happier. So will your family.
Tips for Success in Self-Care
- Make yourself a priority
- Check in with yourself and be mindful when you are experiencing stress
- Take a few minutes to meditate, journal or just collect your thoughts
- Exercise, stay hydrated and get your rest
- Pray or meditate on scripture
Common Questions About Self-Care
Question 1 I don’t have any time! How can I work self-care in to my life?
Many mamas run short on time so I would start with small goals. Don’t set out to implement a total make-over, but do start somewhere. Pick one or two self-care items (like a 10 minute meditation) and work with those daily for a couple of weeks. Then add in another item, or if the one you picked isn’t working, dump it and start again.
Question 2 How can I teach my kids about self-care?
That’s a great question.! When children are very young, they can begin to grasp the concept that this time is for Mama, and they can learn to respect it. We had “Quiet Time” in our house and it was short. Maybe five to 10 minutes tops some days, but it was a start. As your child grows, he/she can participate in your self-care routine, whether meditating, creating, or whatever. Of course, you will also need some alone time for your self-care.
Question 3 Where can I learn more about Forest Therapy?
You can learn more about Forest Therapy here: www.natureandforesttherapy.org
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Self-Care
Every mama needs a self-care routine. And while the specifics of that routine will look different from the routine of the mama down the street, what is the same are the benefits both she and her family stand to gain from such a routine.
I hope you get something out of this post, Mama. Please start a self-care journey, and share this post so that others will benefit too. And thanks for stopping by.