Self-care for moms isn’t what it used to be. We used to think of self-care as engaging in activities or practices that feel especially good—perhaps a bit indulgent—and are somewhat stereotyped, like a bubble bath, pedicure, or treat (like a dark chocolate mocha latte). We know these are insubstantial yet yummy distractions that have their place within the context of a busy and demanding lifestyle. Still, in today’s uncertain and ever-changing world, “self-care” falls short of meeting the needs of moms who are unacceptably overworked and stretched beyond capacity. Simply getting through the day can feel like—and is—an enormous accomplishment.
Moms need a lot right now, but mostly, they need a break.
When “self-care” first became a catchphrase in popular psychology, it often led to notions of decadent, pleasure-seeking practices that might feel luxurious in the short run but held few long-term benefits. Recently, this version of self-care seems to have run its course. It is over-used, misdirected, and—depending on the circumstances—utterly infuriating. Especially to moms who, quite frankly, are tired of people telling them to go shopping or take a nap to rejuvenate their weary souls. Really!? At best, instructing someone who is sad, depressed, lonely, exhausted, or living through a pandemic to practice self-care is short-sighted; at worst, it fails to address the larger issue of a culture that leaves moms shockingly unsupported. But that is a topic that deserves its own consideration at another time . . .
Any way one looks at it, self-care should feel good. No arguments there. Lasting satisfaction or pleasure, however, doesn’t always come in the form of food, sunshine, exercise, good friends, or sleep, which, undeniably, make up the foundation of any good self-care plan. When we talk about any effort to maximize one’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being, we cannot ignore one important prerequisite: Do you feel worthy of this practice, activity, or behavior?
You Deserve a Break
Each self-care gesture is only as effective as your ability to engage without feeling guilty. Guilt annihilates self-care. Guilt emerges when you cannot reconcile your desire to respect and care for yourself with feelings that you don’t deserve it.
Everyone does. Especially now, when fatigue and overwhelm have taken root and permeate every thought, every action, and every breath. It is no longer enough to self-sooth our souls. We must self-heal. Emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual healing comes from within. From a deep, earnest sense of worthiness. Only then will the soothing shower, the calming massage, the Netflix binging, and other external gifts of respite truly settle in and feel good. Relaxation alone is a crucial part of self-care, but unless there are longstanding changes, we all have to return to the very same reality from which we were seeking an escape.
Are You Getting In Your Own Way?
Are you ready to feel better? Yes? Are you sure?
Let’s start with some hard questions:
- Are you putting the needs of others before yours on a regular basis?
- Is it hard for you to say no?
- Is it hard for you to say yes?
- Do you feel guilty when you do something just for you?
- Are you embarrassed to ask for something you need?
- Do you believe that me-time is inherently selfish?
- Do you worry about how others may regard you? Or judge you? Or condemn you? If you make a choice they don’t agree with?
- Is it hard for you to stand up for yourself?
These are some of the core beliefs that may interfere with your ability to engage in activities that augment well-being. Think about ways you might be holding yourself back from taking good care of yourself. Self-care is not merely a thing you do or an act you take. It is a manner of thinking, a mindset; it’s a function of being. It is not an intermittent luxury or a palliative intervention. It is an essential, enduring, and intentional way of life.
Reminders for Solid, Self-Healing Care
- Your body. Rest, sleep, good food, hydration, sunshine, the way you breathe, and exercise continue to be substantial cornerstones of good health. Pay attention to choices you make that may enhance or impede your quest toward well-being. Your brain and body cannot get sufficient rest if you are busy doing. Find time to breathe, be present, and stop scrolling. Unplug.
- Your self-compassion. Remind yourself: I matter. Just because. I am enough. This underscores everything else. This, too, can feel self-centered. It is not. That is a label our cultures, our families, or our misinterpretations impose upon us. True self-care is fueled by self-compassion, not by periodic repetition. Relinquish your inclination to feel guilty. When you feel guilt begin to creep in, there is no room for joy or relief.
- Your boundaries. Setting limits with friends, loved ones, and ourselves is hard. It can make us squirm with doubt and self-blame. The harder it feels to set a boundary, the more important that one is to maintain. Accept that this is hard and do it anyway.
- Your choices. It shouldn’t matter what others think. Stay aligned with what you value most and all that is important to you.
- Your communication. Say what you need to say. Take a deep breath and express how you feel. When it is particularly hard, remind yourself that this is a signal that you need something and should trust yourself to push forward, as long as you are in a space that feels safe and supportive. #speakthesecret
- Your rights. It’s hard to ask for what we need when we are busy taking care of urgent demands from others. It’s also hard to remember we are entitled to do so. Ask for help, ask for rest, ask for time, ask for quiet, ask for a break.
- Your connections. This is an undisputed fast track to emotional wellness. A sense of belonging and acceptance is paramount. Reach out. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. Laugh whenever possible.
- Your grace. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Always. Be sure to give yourself permission to take care of yourself.
Today is a good day to start self-healing. Put yourself on the top of your list of things to take care of.
Karen Kleiman is a well-known international maternal mental-health expert with over thirty years of experience and frequent appearances and interviews in digital and print publications, as well as on national television programs. In 1988, Karen founded The Postpartum Stress Center, a treatment and training facility for prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety disorders, where she treats individuals and couples. Karen Kleiman is the author of Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts and What About Us? (now available for pre-order). For additional tips and support, follow The Postpartum Stress Center on Instagram @postpartumstress.