Since working as a mental health specialist, I have really come to understand the importance of self-care. Anyone who works in a helping profession knows what I’m talking about–as rewarding as these jobs can be, they can also be completely emotionally exhausting. I was taught from the start of my career to prioritize self-care in order to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout, two very common terms in any helping profession. We’ve all heard the term “You can’t fill from an empty cup,” and boy is this the truth. In order to maintain our own mental health and personal relationships, self-care is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity.
But self-care isn’t important just for those working in helping professions. Self-care is important for all of us. After all, we all have responsibilities, from working to taking care of our children to cleaning the house to paying our mortgage. These are all things that require us to give our energy and attention, and if we are not taking the time to replenish that energy, then eventually we will run out of it.
Before I had Sawyer (my sweet little 4 month old baby boy), I was able to make time for self-care whenever I wanted to, really. One of the most helpful things I found as an outlet was exercise. I had the time in the evening after work to go to the gym for an hour 4-5 times a week to release the stress of the day. I could go to bed early if I wanted, and sleep in on the weekends. I could go on a date night with my hubby or go out with friends. I could have all the “me time” I needed.
Obviously, things are quite a bit different now. (And I wouldn’t trade it for the world!!) While becoming a parent has been the absolute best and most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, it has also brought a lot of new territory and challenges. Right now we are in a phase where our son has decided to stop sleeping at night and is up 5-6 times a night. Is it 4 month sleep regression that just won’t quit? Maybe. Teething? Reflux? Just missing his “Momma time” since I’ve gone back to work? Who knows. Maybe a combination of it all. Regardless, no one in our house is getting much sleep these days, so ‘getting some rest” or sleeping in for self-care is not exactly realistic for me right now, and I’m sure this is true for a lot of you mamas!
It goes without saying that when you become a parent, your world shifts entirely and the majority of your focus becomes not on yourself, but on your child. You also have significantly less time to do the things you once had time to do. For me, between working full-time, being a full-time grad student, and being a wife and parent of a 4 month old, I am finding that there is very little time in the day just to get housework and grocery shopping done, let alone any “me time.” (I will say, my husband is SUPER helpful with tag-teaming taking care of our son and helping get cooking and cleaning done, however it is still a big challenge.)
For a lot of us, self-care tends to fall to the back burner when life gets too busy. We often look at self-care as a luxury rather than a necessity. But this just isn’t healthy. If we neglect taking care of ourselves, we start to burn out, and that affects every aspect of our lives including our relationships with those we love the most. We are less patient, more irritable, more fatigued, and less present in our day-to-day lives.
So how exactly DO you find time for self-care when life doesn’t stop moving 100 miles a minute?? Good question. I am still learning the ropes of maintaining this as a new working mama, but I have been doing my best to incorporate self-care into my daily routine. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or spectacular. Just taking a few minutes here and there to relax and re-energize can make a huge difference! Below are 10 self-care ideas that I have found are doable for any busy working mama.
- Take a walk break
If you’re not the best about remembering to take your breaks during the workday, now is the time to start. When I first started back to work and started pumping 3 times a day, I was using my allotted morning, afternoon, and lunch break to pump (which really isn’t a break!) After coming home totally exhausted the first week of doing this, I started using a pumping bra which allows me to continue working on the computer while I am pumping. (I am fortunate enough to have an office where I can close the door and continue working while pumping.) Now I make sure I am taking the time (most days) to take my morning and afternoon breaks and go for a short walk. The fresh air can be much needed. If it’s raining, I can do laps around the office. It gives me a chance to decompress and get some much needed exercise after sitting at a desk the majority of the day.
2. Take your lunch break to re-energize
It can be super tempting to spend lunch breaks running errands to get things done that you didn’t have time to do earlier in the week, using it to work on homework, or just working straight through lunch to get extra things done. However, I have found that I absolutely need the break to re-energize in order to make it through the day still functional. So most days, I go home, eat, and either sit quietly reading a book, listening to a podcast, or watching a show on TV. It is my time to sit and not have to think about anything other than relaxing, even if it’s only for a short amount of time. Some days, I will plan lunch with a co-worker or a lunch date with my husband. Spend your lunch break doing whatever re-energizes you and refills your tank.
3. Take a hot shower
Since becoming a mom, I have come to appreciate how wonderful (and crucial to maintaining my sanity) a nice, hot shower can be. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, it’s “me time” where I can relax.
4. Find a creative outlet
Whether it’s journaling, playing an instrument, crafting, cooking, baking, or dance, I highly encourage you to find a creative outlet–a great way to express yourself and release stress. For me, this has been writing, in the form of these blog posts. I also enjoy experimenting with cooking/baking and finding healthy alternatives to my favorite foods. Doing something creative doesn’t have to take up a ton of your time. You can spend a few minutes here or there. I might spend 30 minutes on a Saturday morning writing a blog post while my son naps. Or I might experiment with a new Whole30 recipe with my husband after my son goes to sleep at night. You also don’t have to have a specific talent in order to create. I’m not the world’s best writer or the best cook, but I enjoy doing both and love learning as I go and seeing progress with the more practice I get. That’s all that matters!
5. Eat healthy foods
For some, this one might seem like self-torture rather than self-care. After all, what better way to reward yourself after a long day than with a piece of chocolate cake?? I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge occasionally, but I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel much better physically, mentally, and emotionally, if you take care of your body by feeding it nutrient-dense foods rather than empty calories and sugar. I view healthy eating as one of the truest forms of self-care. What better way to show yourself love and honor the body that God gave you than by fueling it with the nutrients it needs to thrive? This doesn’t have to get crazy fancy or expensive either. We do most of our grocery shopping at Winco, and have found a lot of simple swaps to make meals that are fast, easy, yet are made with much healthier ingredients. It’s also important to make sure you are eating breakfast and eating small amounts throughout the day. No, that pumpkin spice latte does not count as breakfast! Take the time to prep a healthy breakfast for the week and healthy snacks on hand throughout the day. Healthy eating does require more planning and preparation, but it’s 100% worth it.
6. Stay hydrated
This one is along the same lines as eating healthy foods. Your body and mind simply cannot function the way they need to if you are not properly hydrating. A lot of the headaches, fatigue, and overall feeling like crap that we often attribute to stress or physical illness are actually due to dehydration. It is also easy to mistake thirst for hunger, which can lead to overeating when your body is really crying out for more water. So buy a Hydro Flask or just a plain and cheap water bottle from Wal-Mart, and drink up. It is typically recommended to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. So, if you weight 120lbs, you should be drinking at least 60 ounces of water. I actually need more than this currently because I am breastfeeding. So I try to drink an additional 20 ounces or so. Also, keep in mind that caffeine tends to dehydrate you. So those 2 cups of coffee in the morning do not count as part of your daily fluid intake. Listen to your body and give it what it needs!
7. Take time to connect with your spouse
Sure, this is going to look a lot different than it did before you had kids, but regardless of how busy you are, you can still find a few minutes here or there to spend quality time with your spouse. It might be having a conversation about your day while baby naps, cooking together in the evenings once baby is asleep, watching a favorite TV show, or the occasional date night. For us, date nights are harder to swing since we don’t have any family close by, so we have had to be more creative. We will occasionally meet for lunch together while Sawyer is at daycare. We have also talked about taking a day off work in the next month or two and spending the day together while Sawyer is in daycare. A great alternative to date night!
8. Take time to socialize
This can be easier said than done, after all, who has time to spend with friends when you’re working during the day and taking care of your little one at night? I get that. I also get that as working moms we want to spend as much time with our families as we can since we miss out on that time during the day.
I am more of an introvert so I really don’t need a ton of socialization to feel fulfilled; in fact, too much socialization can completely drain me, so it’s important for me to find a good balance. It’s also important for me to be intentional about friendships. My time is much more limited these days, and I need to be focusing on friendships that are healthy and uplifting. I am grateful to have a handful of close friends that I have remained close with throughout several seasons of my life. My husband and I also have a few “married couple” friends that we are both close to, which allows us to incorporate family time together with time with our friends.
The majority of communication with my friends these days is via text or tagging each other in Instagram memes, with occasionally hanging out in person. And for me, that works. I have also found a few online support groups for working moms on Facebook that can be helping for feeling connected.
Everyone is different and has different needs when it comes to socialization. Find what works for you and your schedule!
9. Watch a mindless TV show
Obviously, too much of this one would certainly be a bad thing, but I definitely think that after a full day of mental focus and nonstop responsibility, it is perfectly OK to spend an hour in the evening watching a TV show that doesn’t require a lot of thought or focus to follow, yet is incredibly entertaining. For me, this is reality TV. Of course, I wait until my little guy has gone to sleep for the night to watch these. From the Real Housewives franchise to The Bachelor, these are my guilty pleasures. There is just something about being able to watch the drama unfold without having any responsibility to do anything about it!
10. Take time for prayer and spiritual growth
My faith has always been important to me, however, I am definitely guilty of neglecting to prioritize this one when my life gets busier. I do find though, that when I make the time for spiritual growth, either by studying devotionals, taking the time for prayer, or attending church, I feel more complete, have more clarity, am more at peace, and more purpose-driven. Reflecting back on God’s faithfulness in my life is so reassuring for me when life becomes difficult or uncertain. And remembering that God has a plan for my life fills me with purpose on the days where I feel I am wandering aimlessly without a clue as to what I am doing.
Maintaining good self-care is certainly not easy as a busy working mama, but it is 100% achievable, and we are worth it! It might be easy to feel guilty to take the time for self-care when we have so many demands and things on our to-do lists. However, I look at self-care as an essential aspect of maintaining my mental and emotional health, helping me be the best version of myself, and therefore, a better wife and mommy.
If you have any additional self-care ideas for busy moms, post them below!