On the heels of one intense year, I’m sharing how I have found small ways to focus on self care. These 5 simple yet impactful tweaks have helped to improve my daily mental health and I hope they can help you too!
I touched on this on Instagram the other day, and I realized I wanted to dive in a bit deeper on the whole idea of “self care” (and making time for mental health), especially as a tired mom, working from home while raising little kids. I’m not a doctor, just a mother, juggling a whole lot. Warning: getting personal here. ❤️
Parenting is hard. Parenting through a pandemic is even harder.
The Idea of “Me Time”
I hear SO much about “self care” and the idea of “me time”. People will say that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Honestly though, that idea – to make space for myself on a regular basis, just always felt kind of elusive.
I don’t know about you, but the pandemic has shifted everything, and honestly, with all that is going on, there really is so little time for myself.
A friend of mine described the day-to-day for the last year as running in a hamster wheel, and that rang so true to me. Some days/weeks/months it just feels like an endless cycle of breakfast, lunch, dinner, 37 snacks, squeezing in work, virtual school, activities for our toddler, outside time, bath time, bedtime, crash. And let’s not forget the mental weight of so much unknown, a potential looming pandemic-level health crisis, seemingly never-ending turmoil in this country, and more.
So much about our new day-to-day has forced me to change up how our days look, how I find balance, where I can get in a little “me time,” and how I get work done at home with both girls learning from home as well, without feeling totally crushed by the weight of it all.
The real trouble is that there’s no break, no end in site, no one to step in and say, “I’ve got this. You go take your life back!” 🙈
I’ll admit, it’s so easy to feel clobbered by the weight of it all; to throw my hands up and say, “I give up! This is too much.” And there are plenty of days that I do and say just that. And then I pick myself back up and start all over again.
Create a Plan For Self Care: Making the Time
I feel better with a plan. And what I’m learning about myself, even under this immense pressure, is that I need tangible pick-me-ups. Even the smallest “fix” can have me feeling so much better.
I can remember years ago studying for the bar exam; it was such a stressful few months. I made myself small goals and celebrated little victories. The incremental wins helped me focus and push forward.
See Also → Small Step New Years Resolutions
These days, in the thick of motherhood to young children during a pandemic, I’ve made a handful of very simple changes to my own behaviors that have had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day. So today, I thought I could share these simple ways to help improve mental health here with you because they were easy enough tweaks to make and yet felt rather impactful in the grand scheme of things.
5 Simple Yet Impactful Ways to Improve Daily Mental Health
❏ WRITE IT DOWN
Write down and try to follow a to-do list, a calendar, or even a daily post-it note. I find that if I don’t write down what I need to get done and check in on my progress each day, I can forget important things or panic when I realize just how much I actually need to do.
There’s something almost therapeutic about the act of physically crossing off of your “to do” list; like this metaphorical weight has been lifted, even by just completing one small task. Seriously, try it. Add “do the dishes” to your paper “to do” list, get those done (when you can), and then cross that bad boy off your list! Easy and effective.
❏ WORK IN SHIFTS (ASK FOR HELP)
If you have a partner at home, try to take shifts wherever you can, so that you switch up the work, and try to combat some of that overwhelm you can start to feel when doing the same set of tasks on your own for long stretches. If you can hire help – a mother’s helper, a babysitter, part-time daycare, etc. – try that.
I know that this is easier said than done. My husband is a physician at a very busy city hospital, and he works absolutely crazy hours; yet still, a few hours each week, he’s found ways to give me that break, even if just for an hour, and knowing I have that “me time” to look forward to, really helps. I know there’s a break coming. It’s something concrete to hold onto and work towards and it really helps.
❏ GET OUTSIDE
This one is such a dichotomy for me. Sometimes, just to get myself and the kids dressed and out the front door can feel like a burden, and yet, from the moment I hit the outside world, I feel better.
Walk, move, get outside, even if just for a few minutes. Fresh air really does do wonders for your mind. And it’s a break. It’s okay to take breaks. Go outside, breathe in the air, listen to the birds in the trees, and just be present in the moment.
I for one, have never been a huge exercise person 🙈, yet carving out a daily walk has done wonders for my mental health; and I’m more productive as a result. Spending even a few minutes outside shifts my mindset so much. On weekdays, when things feel extra busy, I try to take our kids for walks at the end of the day. Even when I have no energy left, I’ll just throw jackets on the girls and sit on the front porch with them as they play with kinetic sand or toys. I always feel better once we’ve gotten outside.
On the weekends, Mike and I have been taking long walks all through the city to explore with the kids and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to these days. We moved to our new area at such a weird time (just as the pandemic was raging early in the summer), and we felt cheated of the chance to really explore Boston. Our walks help.
Because I love to take pictures, sometimes I’ll even bring along my big camera, or just take out my cell phone, and snap a few photos of all of the pretty scenery and buildings along the way. It helps me to disconnect from the daily stress and focus on something that I like doing.
❏ MAKE PLANS
In my family, we are always looking to the next big thing. We plan holiday family trips a good year in advance. We talk about vacations and dinner plans and big celebrations. We mark our calendars and prepare.
The last year threw a huge wrench in our planning. Last winter’s family trip was canceled, this year’s trip is a maybe, I haven’t seen my family in more than a year and that feels awful.
So I make small plans. I plan picnics and trips to the beach. I plan phone calls with old friends. I plan zoom calls for holidays. I plan nature walks and coffee runs. I plan visits to pick up takeout on the weekends and map out new neighborhoods to walk with the kids. I reserve library books and we make an outing out of pickup day.
I plot goals down a line and fulfill these small plans like tiny victories.
This article from the BBC explains so well why scheduling things is more important than ever when faced with so much unknown. As the article explains, “… putting the future into a perpetual holding pattern is tough on mental health. Studies have shown strong ties between an unclear future and anxiety, and intolerance of uncertainty has been shown to correlate strongly with depression.”
So make plans. Make small, tangible plans that provide comfort and joy. Make bigger, distant plans, and know that though those plans may have to shift some, you’re working towards a goal. Bottom line, keep pushing forward.
❏ DO SOMETHING JUST FOR YOU
I think this one is hardest for most moms; myself included. We give so much and the idea of doing something seemingly selfish feels somehow wrong. It’s the opposite though. Taking care of YOU makes for a better mom, partner, human.
If you love to workout, do that. Even if it means waking up before everyone else.
If reading is your jam, pick up that book. My trick is to read a few pages from a book every night before bed. Even if I’m tired, and I only read five pages before I fall asleep, centering my mind on a good book, rather than my endless “to do” list and all of the stress of the day ahead, helps me to relax and sleep so much better as a result.
Pick up a hobby. Practice embroidery, paint on your front porch, make bath bombs or candles or wreaths.
Throw on a face mask, do a weekly hair treatment, slather yourself in face cream every night before bed.
Just do something solely for you, unapologetically.
So there you have it: 5 simple yet impactful tweaks that have really helped my mental health and have taught me to carve out “me time”.
Have there been any daily changes you’ve made that have had a positive impact on your routine? If you work from home, how do you carve out “me time” amidst all of the busy? Any favorite self care tweaks that leave you feeling more balanced?
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Leave me a comment or say hi on on instagram, facebook, and twitter, and let me know about your wins. I wanna hear the good stuff!
Photos by Leah Jayne Productions for Glitter, Inc. (See more of our winter family photos here!)