Self-care can sound either so fluffy and lovely you wonder why we don’t all do it or so selfish that only arrogant narcissists can indulge. If it were as simple as lighting a candle and running a bath, we wouldn’t all struggle so much with the idea of caring for ourselves. As mums we care for others all the time so why is it so tricky caring for ourselves? With the help of our Monday Meet women, we’ve come up with some tips to help you help yourself…
1. Try and imagine you are someone you have responsibility for caring for – when you are used to putting your needs last it can feel really alien trying to look after yourself. Sometimes it can help to imagine you are a friend or relative that you care about and think about what would help them.
2. One person’s self-care is another person’s torture – one size definitely doesn’t fit all. For me, running/intense aerobic exercise is self-care but I know this would be hell for lots of people. Equally my husband can play computer games for hours to relax but even the thought makes me feel a bit low. Do what helps you and don’t try and force things that aren’t helping.
3. Just say no – this is where a lot of us come unstuck. Acting in your own best interests can lead to confrontation with others who are used to being your priority. It’s important to keep you and your family at the centre – and don’t try and please everyone all the time. Hard as it sounds, we have found that this is the only way of staying sane and healthy and having enough left in the tank to help anyone at all.
4. Keep your boundaries – it can help to work out who you have a responsibility to care for i.e. your dependents (children, cats, sometimes parents or grandparents) and who you do not. Friends and colleagues can be a great network of mutual support but ultimately they are not your responsibility and you are not theirs. We have found this can help when you are feeling overwhelmed by the weight of others’ needs – focus on those that need you and only you.
5. Try different kinds – When we were coming up with ideas in our Monday group we came up with 6 categories – basic personal care (shower, bath, washing hair, going to the toilet, food), relaxation (meditation, jigsaws, massage, television), household (cleaning, budgeting), productivity (working, reading, planning for the future), exercise (running, walking, yoga) and social (meeting friends, seeing my mum, attending support groups). We all felt that as mums with young kids we had a tendency to view basic personal care as a bit of a luxury and so focussed only on that and household tasks, rather than things that made us feel like ourselves such as relaxation or socialising. Equally, I know my focus changes at different times – when I am ill self-care is basically staying safe, managing in a crisis, eating, sleeping and taking my medication. When I am feeling a bit stronger I need more fulfilling activities: reading, writing, planning for the future. Don’t be afraid to pedal back to the basics in tough times or to strive for more when you are feeling unfulfilled.
6. Don’t expect too much or let it turn into another thing to feel bad about – the temptation with all of this can be to add self-care to the massive to-do list of things you have to do – either for other people or yourself. I try and think of it as a journey rather than a task to succeed or fail at.
7. Find someone who can help you – it is all to easy to let your efforts evaporate into the ether of good ideas that never happen. So try and find someone – a friend, relative, health professional, peer – who can check in with you. At Happy Mums we have been setting tasks for ourselves in the Monday Meet so we have something to work towards.