There is no lack of information available about self-care and how important it is, especially in motherhood. The bottom line is that you can’t take care of your children if you aren’t taking care of yourself. When your bucket gets emptied by your children, pets, work, social obligations and housework, who is refilling it?
There are countless articles with advice on self-care and I end up rolling my eyes, thinking, yeah, I know that’s important … but how do I make it happen? It’s overwhelming and puts one more thing on the to-do list. Today I’d like to share some things you can easily work into your day that won’t add to your to-do list.
Here are five things you can do today, for free, that move you closer to taking better care of yourself so you can take better care of your kids. And I promise, none of it involves changing your morning routine.
5 Easy (and Free) Ways to Give Self-Care
1. Give yourself lots of grace. Admit you are doing the best you can, right now. How often do we feel guilt for checking out on social media instead of spending more time with our kids? Or for dropping the kids off at a child care center while you take some much-needed time for yourself? Or even for leaving a crying baby in a room so you don’t lose your temper? On the other end of the spectrum, what about those crazy to-do lists that never end? House work, grocery shopping, cooking, errand-running, exercise, more water, healthful diet, vitamins, get lots of sleep … rather than add to do your to-do list in the name of self-care, admit you’re doing the best you can with your circumstances today.
2. Find extra time and breathe. Deep breathing relaxes tension and clears the mind and body while bringing clarity and increasing emotional relief. Your muscles relax, oxygen delivery improves, stress reduces, endorphins release and blood pressure lowers. Now, I know people are really, really busy. But instead of running yourself ragged and then checking your social media accounts when you do have a few extra minutes (and let’s face it, it’s usually longer than just a few minutes, and it’s usually not relaxing), take that time to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Use the drive-thru line, a few minutes in the grocery store parking lot before you start the car, or the time you spend pumping gas. Close your eyes. Stop thinking about everything else, and just focus on the breath, in, and out. When your mind wanders, come back to the breath and try to give yourself just a little more time every day. When you’re in the middle of any task, instead of thinking about all the things, focus on the breath.
3. Give (and get) hugs. Hugs release oxytocin and are scientifically proven to lower stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase bonding. They even help with immune response in cold and flu season. Children who are hugged frequently tend to be less-stressed adults and as we age, hugs decrease feelings of loneliness. We know human touch is good for bonding of mother and baby, but those benefits last well into adulthood. Hugging for 20 seconds will have maximum effect … and you’ll curb any friction between you and your kids if you can give hugs more frequently because they’ll literally feel more connected to you. Since disconnection is the cause of most conflict, hugs can help bring families closer together.
4. Laughter really is the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter fires up then cools down your stress response and can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a relaxed feeling. Laughter also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, which reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. And I don’t need to tell you that laughing can improve your mood. Is there a single parent out there that doesn’t love to hear the sound of their child’s laughter? I think not … so to encourage more of that, be silly with your kids, get them laughing and surely you’ll laugh too. Another favorite method for laughter is to turn on a comedy channel on Pandora and let it play in the background while you’re running errands or cleaning up … my favorite comic right now is John Mulaney. He’s a fantastic story teller and gets bonus points because most of his stories are pretty clean so no need to worry about (much) foul language. Be warned there is the occasional topic you might not want to explain to grade school-aged kids.
5. Declutter something. Clutter has a way of taking up mental space. When you declutter or cross something off your to-do list, that frees up space for you to enjoy other things that are more important. I personally love the Marie Kondo version of decluttering: get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” When you can start removing these items from your home and your life, you’ll be more able to really enjoy all that does spark joy. I recommend starting with underwear with holes in them or ill-fitting bras. Women have a terrible habit of keeping old underwear, but really it drags you down. You’re wearing that all day and you see it every time you go to the bathroom, or tugging at that bra strap so it will actually stay up on your shoulder. How does that really make you feel? I’m not telling you to go out and buy new … but I am suggesting to get rid of everything that doesn’t fit so you can rid yourself of the mental clutter that comes along with it. After your clothes, move on to books, movies, your bathroom toiletries, kitchen gadgets and so forth.
These are five free and simple ways to work more self-care into your routine. Self-care doesn’t have to be hard, or about finding the time or money to exercise, or get a massage or go out with friends. These are things you can do today to start taking better care of yourself so you can take better care of your kids.
Now that I’ve finished writing this, I’m off to go play some comedy while I declutter something and give my kids lots of hugs … what will you do to take care of yourself today? —Cati