Ask Dr. Michelle: Self-Care Cheat Sheet
Several months ago, I wrote a post on the importance of self-care and how it becomes easy to forget about ourselves while caring for our children. To reiterate, I discussed how I am a firm believer that we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. Self-care might have different meanings for you, but if you’re a happy and healthy mama, then the chances are your kids will be as well.
Since my post on self-care, I have been asked for some simple suggestions to cope with anxiety and stress following the birth of a baby. Many of these are geared towards the first few months following the birth of a child, but can be used at any time or for anyone.
My suggestions may not take the place of psychotherapy with a trained professional, but they can be used to provide additional care for one’s psychological and emotional well-being. Remember that you may not feel ready to do many of the things listed below, but do what you are able and take small steps. Balancing it all can be tough, so please be gentle with yourself. Remember that taking care of yourself is not only important for YOU, but you are also modeling the importance of self-care and happiness for your children.
You’ve got this Mamas!
Self Care Cheat Sheet
Take a walk (or exercise if you’re able to and cleared by your physician).
Stay on all medications you have been instructed to take.
Get a massage.
Take a bath.
Get out of the house.
Listen to music.
Light some candles.
Take calming breaths.
Rest when your baby sleeps or when someone else can provide care for baby. Yes, here’s the age-old cliché again, “Sleep when your baby sleeps.” We know how difficult this actually is to carry out, but even if you’re not sleeping, take a mental break or a few minutes to just zone out or meditate.
Make your needs a priority. It’s easy to forget that the new baby isn’t the only person needing love and attention. Remember that you can’t properly care for your child if you are not also caring for yourself.
Seek support from friends and family.
Verbalize how you are feeling to your partner, friend, or family.
Let others know what they can do to help and be specific about what you need from others. Don’t assume that others can read your mind or that you are asking too much from others. Our loved ones are there to provide additional support so don’t forget to lean on them.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Every mama and every baby is different! What might be right or work for someone else may not be right for you.
Do not blame yourself. Find ways to have compassion for yourself. This is a difficult time and you are trying your best.
Just do the best you can and remind yourself that you are doing your best.
Remind yourself that all changes take time.
Remember that this too shall pass.
Remain mindful of when you need to slow down and take a break.
Confide in someone you trust.
Be careful asking too many people for advice. Everyone has an opinion!
Set limits with your guests. It’s okay to let others know that you are too tired or not up to having guests over. Take care of you first!
Surround yourself with people you love.
Avoid people who make you feel bad or uneasy and set boundaries with people you can’t avoid. Okay Mamas, we all have those people in our lives. Perhaps you can’t avoid them forever, but at least give yourself an out for right now. It’s okay to screen your phone calls and If they don’t make you feel good, you don’t have to see them!
Give yourself permission to have negative feelings. Expect some good days and some more difficult ones. Allow yourself to dislike the negative parts and to soak in the positive and know that it’s okay to feel all these conflicting emotions at once. We have all heard well-meaning versions of the message, “Don’t feel sad.” Take note that sadness is a normal human reaction and instead of telling ourselves NOT to feel, we need to remember that it is OKAY to feel and that we will be better and stronger in doing so.
Play. D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst believed that playing serves as the basis for creativity and the discovery of the self. Playing, says Winnicott, opens up a space of trust and relaxation and is the key to emotional and psychological well-being . By "playing", he meant not only the ways that children play, but also the way adults "play" through creating art, or participating in hobbies, laughter, conversation, etc. Winnicott believed that play is critical to the development of authentic selfhood, because when people play they feel real, spontaneous and alive. So, go ahead and give yourselves the time and space to play!
Laugh. Research indicates numerous benefits of laughter including enhancing intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulation of the heart, lungs and muscles, and increases in the endorphins that are released by the brain. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress and promote relaxation. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. It also helps connection with other people and may serve to Improve mood.
Trust your instincts. You are the expert of you. Listen to yourself and your body, and have faith that you are sensing accurately.
Avoid overdoing anything.
Set small goals for yourself.
Delegate household duties.
Prioritize what needs to be done and what can wait.
Avoid strict or rigid schedules. While schedules can be helpful in getting baby on a routine, adhering too rigidly to them may have the effect of creating undue stress on ourselves. It’s okay to be flexible and deviate from the plan at times. If your baby nurses or sleeps a bit early or late, it won’t be the end of the world.
Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a skilled professional. We’re always here to help.