Self-Care Is Not Selfish

Three Vital Elements of Self-Care That Overwhelmed Moms Need

Moms wear multiple hats. They also carry a dozen torches. Unfortunately, most of what they do is unappreciated and undervalued. This is why moms must be intentional about the ways and frequency in which they take care of themselves.

To-do lists inundated with responsibilities like the house, school, business, sports, activities, appointments, bills, relationships, and more, pull us in countless directions.

Undoubtedly, we work hard as mothers. We work even harder as women in business, and even harder still when we also function as caregivers for a sick or special needs child.

But…

It’s imperative that we take care of ourselves with intention.

What this means is that we have to treat our self-care as a routine part of our overall healthcare and not as a reward, the occasional prize for a “job” well-done.

Our responsibility is:

  • to define what self-care looks like
  • identify the areas of our being that need the most attention
  • plan our personal caregiving consistently.

Self-care is not a luxury

Self-care is a necessity for our mental survival and our ability to show up 100% for our family, clients and ourselves.

I learned this the hard way when I was caring for my son as we battled leukemia.

Managing his autism was already a daily challenge.

After a time, I realized that my self-care needed more than just a day at the spa. Although candles and quiet time helped, within minutes of returning home, mentally, I was back to square one.

What I didn’t realize was that the demands of my life were not only taxing my muscles but were also taxing my mind.

Frequent hospitalizations, consultations and therapy sessions wore me out. On the outside, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. I knew how to mask my fatigue.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing anyone a favor hiding my struggles.

Had I been more transparent, I might have learned in the early stages of my journey all the areas where I should have been taking care of myself.

Hindsight is 20/20 but at least now, I can pass the message on to other moms like you.

So, let’s talk about what comprehensive self-care looks like.

Element #1: Mental Health

As caregivers, we moms have to be adamant about administering to our mental wellness.

As captains of our ships (i.e. the home), if we’re not good then chances are the ship’s gonna sink!

What does taking care of our mental health look like? It can look like going to a therapist or talking to a family member/friend or simply taking mental breaks.

My mental health avoidance

A girlfriend of mine suggested that I see a therapist so that they could help me navigate through the mourning process of pediatric leukemia. But…

I didn’t make it a priority. As a matter of fact, I never went to see someone.

I was so overwhelmed arranging my son’s care I decided that mine could wait on the back burner. Instead of going to a therapist, I spoke with my sister and a few close friends.

And although they supported me mentally, if I had to do it over again, I would make the time to seek professional help or at least have a friend make arrangements for me.

Mental health in a digital age

The modern mom’s mental health is a topic that isn’t discussed nearly enough, especially as it relates to digital behavior.

 

Social media and digital overload taxes us mentally and challenges our happiness. When we scroll through platforms absorbing imagery of things that other people are doing we don’t necessarily realize the effect this has on us mentally.

In a San Diego State University study on the correlation between happiness and how teens spend their free time, Professor of Psychology, Jean Twenge found that in the analysis of 1 million teenagers over the last 27 years,

teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat or watching TV were less happy. In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness.

In relation to moms, the study also found the trend was similar amongst adults over age 30 – that they are:

“Less happy than they were 15 years ago, and that adults were having sex less frequently…there could be many reasons for these trends, but [the truth of the matter is that] adults are also spending more time with screens than they used to.”

Mental self-care tip: Seek a therapist as needed and adapt periodic digital diets to increase your happiness quotient. 

Element #2: Spiritual Health

It is my honest opinion that it doesn’t matter how many books you read, how many podcasts you listen to, or how many talks with family or friends you have – if you’re not spiritually grounded, managing the overwhelm will be short-lived.

Please know that when I refer to spiritual health, I’m not confining it to ideas of religion or deities but rather to something broader which can include God, the Universe, self, and other energies.

As the University of New Hampshire Office of Health and Wellness points out, spirituality is not just about our beliefs, religion, and faith but also our values, morals, principles, ethics, purpose and how we personally connect with others on a deeper level.

“Spirituality allows us to find the inner calm and peace needed to get through whatever life brings, no matter what life brings, no matter what one’s beliefs are or where they may be on your spiritual journey. The spirit is the aspect of ourselves that can carry us through anything.”

When my son was first diagnosed, I immediately connected with my Pastor. I had deep conversations with God and the Universe.

We were already dealing with so much trying to get a handle on autism that I knew something else was going on, bigger than us. I felt in my soul that there was a deeper purpose for our journey, something beyond my limited understanding.

By acknowledging this reality, it made it easier to surrender trying to control outcomes. I rejected notions of “woe is me” or “life is so unfair” and accepted that our journey was designed to impact someone else.

That deep spiritual belief carried us through the darkest of days and kept our heads above water.

 

The University of New Hampshire confirms the vital importance of taking care of our spirit:

“If we take care of our spirit, we will be able to experience a sense of peace and purpose even when life deals us a severe blow. A strong spirit helps us to survive and thrive with grace, even in the face of difficulty.”

Revelations

As I write this post, it dawned on me that perhaps it was my sense of spirit that triggered my son’s pediatrician to make curious remarks like: “You’re doing such a great job. You’re such a good mom. You’re handling this with such grace.”

After a number of visits, I finally resolved to ask, “Dr. Khan, you always say these things but I’m Asad’s mom. What else am I supposed to do?”

Her response, “Some moms can’t handle everything that you’re going through. They don’t take care of the child or they have a breakdown.”

I remember shrugging my shoulders and replying, “Who else is going to do it?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Tip: Consider how you are feeding your spirit. If you’re feeling completely disconnected, start small and talk to someone you know who’s spiritually-minded. They may be able to start you on a path of understanding.

Element #3: Physical Health

Physical health encompasses several different components.

As it relates to mothers’ self-care needs, the three main components I like to focus on include physical activity, therapeutic activity, and sexual activity.

Physical activity

Countless studies have proven how physical activity stimulates the production of serotonin, the chemical in our brains that amongst other things, regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. Exercise also causes our body to release endorphins, which generate a physical feeling of euphoria and well-being.

In other words, exercise can make us happy.

Prior to my son’s diagnosis, I was a fitness junkie. I loved working out, what it did for my body and how it made me feel.

The demands of caregiving forced me to change my aggressive fitness behavior. However, on days when I was feeling particularly unmotivated, I would make it a point to go for a two-mile walk to change my behavior.

Taking care of my body in this specific way cleared my mind and allowed me to stay productive in my business even through all the noise.

Therapeutic activity

The second part of the physical health equation, what I like to call therapeutic activity, is where the spa comes in.

Did you know that massages can have rehabilitative effects on both our mental and physical being?

A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that “women diagnosed with breast cancer who received massage therapy three times a week reported being less depressed and less angry.”

Perhaps if more of us moms knew these findings, we’d be prioritizing those spa visits.

Sexual activity

The last part of what I consider the optimal physical health equation is sexual health.

It almost seems counterintuitive to think about sex when you’re an overwhelmed mom or you feel like your drowning in caregiving duties. And honestly, there were many days where sex was the last thing on my mind.

However, the truth of the matter is there are real health benefits to taking care of that part of our body. According to WebMD, the health benefits of sex are aplenty.

Moms dealing with a variety of stresses often face issues like high blood pressure, lower immunity, and poor sleep.

Thankfully, regular sex (preferably accompanied by an orgasm) helps to improve our immune systems, boost our libido, improve bladder control, lower our blood pressure and enhance our sleep.

Yes, please!

Tip: Go for a daily walk and/or workout a few times a week; get some regular massage time in and handle your sexual business.

Finding the time for self-care

Admittedly, it’s a challenge finding the time to fit in activities that feed us mentally, spiritually and physically but we must.

“Finding the time” is part of the problem.

We have to make the time. This is where being intentional about how we handle our self-care comes in to play.

When it comes to my spiritual health, I’ll often use my wait in the car line to catch up on reading or meditation. And if I’m driving, I’ll often listen to a motivational message to help me with mindset.

Heading to the gym right after dropping the kids off at school seems to help me stay consistent going to the gym.

And as far as sex life, it’s all good.

Next steps

Take inventory of the different ways in which you approach your self-care. Challenge your notions of what that means. Most importantly, check in with yourself regularly and intentionally.

Our self-care doesn’t just happen.

Ultimately, our mental, spiritual and physical well-being is our responsibility. No one else’s.

If we can actively nurture these three areas of our life consistently, I believe we as moms will feel less depleted and more available to ourselves and the important people around us.

To help you keep track of how you’re checking in with yourself, download the free Life Progress tracking sheet. Laminate it, place it on your wall and check in with yourself daily.

 

This was originally published on Tawanna B. Smith.

Tawanna Smith
Tawanna Smith

Founder of Mom's Guide To Travel, is a respite travel strategist and women's retreat leader. She teaches caregiver moms how to leverage travel for mental wellness and self-care.