Mother’s Day is approaching, and I’ve been thinking about my super special mom, my dear friends who are moms as well as the moms I have cared for in my practice.
A repeated heartbeat many of them share is the challenge they face with balance and self-care — given the demands of motherhood and family. And more often than not, most of the moms have confessed that self-care is the one area they tend to let fall by the wayside while concentrating on the needs of their family.
I understand! When you’re a mom, all too often the time and energy needed to take care of yourself can get preempted, or your time can become over-extended with the care needed for your children, home and family. And it is well documented that moms have a long history and well-established reputation for putting themselves last. The facts are that hundreds of studies over the years echo the same findings that, “moms tend to put the needs of their family first, and their own needs last.”
During this special time with tributes to mothers, I want to share an important reminder about self-care. The balancing act of being a mom along with the needs of family and home care is demanding — but what moms tend to overlook is their own self-care is vital and a proven way to be healthier (which in turn makes them an even more effective member for the family).
I often use the airplane analogy with my friends and patients when they share with me that they don’t take care of themselves because their family’s care is more important. When getting in-flight instructions, you are told if the oxygen masks drop, you are to put them on yourself first, then assist others. Bottomline, if you do not have oxygen for yourself, you are of no use to those around you.
I totally understand busy moms don’t have a lot of time for self-care activities. But, thankfully, self-care doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time to be effective. While on the subject, self-care is important for everyone.
Self-care is any activity you deliberately do in order to care for your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. And while it varies from person-to-person, touchstones of self-care include being physically active, balanced eating, managing stress, quality sleep, fostering positivity (whether it’s your thoughts, social connections or behaviors) and leisure and me-time. It also means giving yourself the opportunity to think about what’s really important and saying “no” to what’s not ultimately important.
Self-care helps you to live a balanced life while providing a good model for family and friends. It allows you to better cope with stressful situations and be resilient — and thrive.
Despite its importance, many do not prioritize or put it on their “to-do” list. Sadly, not taking care of yourself can leave you stressed out, gaining weight or becoming prey to a number of serious and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Or, you may not get your scheduled health screenings that can catch a cancer earlier or identify early stages of anxiety or depression before they worsen to rob you of countless joys.
Foundation of self-care
Caring for yourself does not mean you are being selfish or neglectful. In fact, it’s the opposite. Self-care means you are identifying and meeting your needs, which is essential for your health and well-being — to be the best for you and your family. This will strengthen you so you are better able to provide great care for others.
• Make a commitment to care for yourself and make it a priority. Placing it on your daily to-do list, you are more likely to actively plan it instead of leaving it to chance and circumstances. Adding it to your calendar and telling others about it will increase your commitment.
• Commit to healthy touchstones: Engage in physical activity, consume a nutritious and balanced diet, manage stress, get quality sleep, foster positive thoughts who you socialize with, behaviors and carve out time for leisure and “me-time.”
• Be mindful of caring for yourself, knowing why you do it, how it feels and the rewards you reap. You are more likely to make this a habit and receive greater satisfaction.
Self-care differs from person to person, including how you spend your leisure time or time alone. Know what works for you and develop your own routine and rhythm.
• Set healthy boundaries, guidelines that you create to establish how others are able to behave around you or how you spend your time. Doing so can ensure your relationships are mutually caring, respectful, appropriate and rewarding. You are less likely to feel taken advantage of or unappreciated. Also, saying “no” helps to avoid over-extending yourself.
• Get fresh air (in the great outdoors, that is). Science shows doing so decreases the body’s stress hormones — which in turn can reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, poor sleep quality and premature death. Consider eating outdoors, taking a walk, enjoying coffee on a patio or visiting a park.
• Socialize. Humans are social creatures by nature. Spending time with positive people, whether family, friends or co-workers, has been shown to make people happier, maintain better physical and mental health (decreases anxiety, depression) and even live longer.
• Reconnect with yourself and spend time alone. Take time doing what you want, on your own, and without interruption. You may choose to meditate, pray, read, write, garden, walk, watch a show, shop, lay in bed, listen to music or create something (like painting, sculpture or refurbish old furniture). It may mean making time to do nothing. It may sound a little funny, but our body, mind and emotions need a break from the demands of life.
• Try not to judge yourself by what others think. Acknowledge you cannot be everything for everyone and be all right with that.
• Smile and laugh as often as possible. Psychologically, having a good sense of humor and laughing permits you to have a better perspective by seeing situations in a more realistic and less threatening light. Physically, laughter can put a damper on the production of stress hormones — cortisol and epinephrine. And by doing so, it can help you relax. You can even practice laughing by beginning with a smile and then enact a laugh. Although it may feel contrived at first, with practice, it will likely become spontaneous.
• Pamper yourself. Spend a day at the spa, or create one at home (washing your hair, deep conditioning it, enjoying a warm bubble bath, manicuring and pedicuring your nails or taking care of your teeth or skin).
• Schedule routine check-ups with your primary doctor, dermatologist, dentist and gynecologist.
• Be in tune with your mental health and your general outlook on life. Having anxious feelings is normal. But, when it takes over and interferes with your joy, peace, ability to sleep, work, care for your child or function optimally, it is time to take action. Too many women suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and do not even know it. If you are experiencing excessive worry, your worrying is becoming more intense, frequent or distressing, and you are finding it difficult to stop it once it starts. Or if you are worrying about minor things, reach out and speak with a trusted friend, your physician or a mental health professional. Get the help you need.
• Let it go and move on. Don’t let someone else’s behavior or actions, or other events ruin your day, especially when it’s beyond your control or not worth the aggravation (known as nonsense inconveniences). An example of this is getting cut off by another driver on your way to run an errand or go to work.
It’s true that fitting in time to take care of yourself can be difficult. For some, it can even feel wrong to be thinking of yourself instead of your children or the pile of laundry that needs to be done — but self-care is essential. Learning how to take care of yourself as a mom is an ongoing process that changes with age and life stage. From getting enough sleep, to taking care of your basic needs, to setting personal limits and boundaries, to getting check-ups, it’s about making your health and wellness a priority as you care for the needs of your family. Dodinsky stated it aptly — “Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind.”
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author.
Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@ pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line.
This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.