A LITTLE SELF CARE GOES A LONG WAY, MAMA
Motherhood can be exhausting, consuming, demanding and emotionally depleting. In this fast paced society there is pressure to keep up with the evolutionary environment, conditioned by the expectation to do more, work more, access more and be more than ever before. Focusing on the needs of our children, partner, family, work and home can feel suffocating. That feeling like there is never enough time, support or money to fulfil your roles, especially if you’re a parent to a child with additional needs. It’s easy to adopt social expectations, conditioned by media and the belief that everyone else seems to ‘have it together’, when you don’t feel that way at all. Feelings of guilt, inferiority and inadequacy as a mother, partner and woman can become consuming.
When you’re in the thick of an empty pantry, piles of unfolded washing, weekend sport, bills to pay, lawns to mow and mouths to feed, an added dose of sleep deprivation, children with varying requests and your own health needs can raise the stress stakes. The truth is; being a mum is hard and can be extremely stressful. The effects of stress are fast becoming one of the most debilitating influencers on our physical and mental wellbeing, with 1 in 3 women suffering from anxiety at some time in their life.
A small amount of stress is important. The body’s ‘fight or flight’ response releases cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline so we can respond to danger and stressful situations. However, long-term release of these hormones and other physiological effects of an over-responsive sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that responds to stress) can result in conditions that cause chronic inflammation. An over-zealous inflammatory response can lead to chronic health issues.
Conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, insomnia, fertility issues, poor respiration, chronic fatigue, and poor digestive function have become common complaints in the modern day mama.
· Impaired gut health can cause increased toxicity in the body resulting in weight gain, mental illness and disease due to a compromised immune system.
· Depression, anxiety, body image issues, feelings of worthlessness and lack of motivation impact on your ability to feel energised, in control, and capable of meeting the needs of your family.
· And what about happiness? Is there room for joy when stress consumes the physical and mental wellness of our precious human body?
It can be extremely difficult to prioritise your needs during motherhood. It’s becoming increasingly necessary to implement self-compassion and focus on our own health and wellbeing as a priority. It’s time to reconnect with the essence of who we are, full of joy and vitality. From this place of connection, fulfilment and wellbeing, we’re better equipped to cope with the demands of modern day motherhood.
So how can we reduce the impact of stress on our health?
Once upon a time we were raised in communities, a cohesive and nurturing space for everyone to contribute to. Gone are the days that aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends collectively lived and worked together, shared meals, danced into the late evening and raised children together. In this fast paced society we work excessive hours to meet the demands of higher living costs and Facebook friends have replaced friends that rock up on the doorstep with cake for a chat. We’re reaching more people worldwide, yet are more socially isolated then ever before. We’re marching through life in a pair of worn out martyr boots and feel guilty for asking for help, embedded in the belief that it’s a sign of weakness.
Give yourself permission to reconnect with our human roots and surround yourself with a community. Recognising that we cannot, nor are we meant to, do this parenting, living, working, wellbeing thing on our own and asking for help is a sign of strength. Everyone benefits from the opportunity to reconnect with the essence of human nature where community imparts a sense of belonging and offers a sense of satisfaction knowing we’ve helped make someone’s day a little lighter. Call a friend, ask your mother-in-law to babysit, invite yourself over to a friend’s for dinner, and meet your neighbours. The community is there to support you if you’re willing to let them in.
Meditation is proven to reduce the effects of stress and reduce symptoms of psychological discord such as anxiety, panic disorders and depression, as well as improving attention, focus and cognition. It is also now showing that as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day reduces the genes that promote inflammation. A simple daily practice of being aware of your breath can have long lasting, reversible influences on your wellbeing by reducing inflammatory markers, which can help to combat the impact of disease on your physical and mental health.
Insight timer is my favourite (and free) app for simple, guided, timed moments of breath awareness. Soon, you’ll see, that a few minutes isn’t enough and you’ll start to make time for this ancient practice, so you can benefit from its powerful influence.
The ‘happy hormones’ serotonin and dopamine are (mostly) produced in the gut so think of your gut as the gateway to happiness. Your gut microbiome is impacted by poor nutrition, frequent use of antibiotics (they strip the gut of good bacteria) and high levels of stress. You can experience an increased risk of depression and anxiety if your gut flora is out of balance.
Restoring the gut microbiome is a worthy process. Regular intake of water, fermented foods such as kombucha, keffir, bone broth and sauerkraut, and earth-grown foods are vital to a healthy belly. Packaged, processed and fast foods might be time convenient but their high content of saturated fat, sugar and food-like substances disturbs the gut microbiome, which affects your immunity. And stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, drugs and smoking are detrimental to your gut health as well as increase your risk of disease.
If you’re suffering from low energy or from an illness that begs for a stronger immune system, speak to a Naturopath about how you can improve the balance of bacteria in your gut to improve your overall sense of vitality and wellness.
Joy and self-fulfilment
It’s easy to get carried away in the act of doing all the healthy things to promote wellbeing but at the very essence of living, the ultimate goal is to be happy. Are you engaged in activities that bring you joy? Doing things that you love is good for the Soul, and what’s good for the Soul is good for the body and mind. Write a list of all the things you love and implement some of them into your daily routine.
A little organisation goes a long way. Open up conversations with your family to ensure everyone is involved in planning and scheduling to reduce the demands on you during the week. It offers a sense of control, takes the thinking out of daily meal preparation and reduces the effort in remembering which child has to be at what location on what day. A weekly schedule board on the fridge is great for keeping the communication lines open and asking the children to take control of their needs and routines.
Simple weekly rituals such as shopping on the same day every week (or use online grocery delivery services to save you the hassle), meal prep on the same day each week, or consider healthy meal delivery services such as Hello Fresh or You Foodz. Offer yourself spaciousness and schedule in some down time. When things unexpectedly change you’ll have the freedom to move things around and make changes. When the calendar is over full there is no room for error, which can increase feelings of stress when ‘life happens and plans change’.
A hot bath, reading a magazine or book, a massage, a foot soak, a walk in the park…whatever your soul needs to feel rested and rejuvenated, book it in, schedule it on the planner and honour your time. It is sacred and you are worthy of all things that bring you a sense of rest and relaxation so you can continue your amazing work as a Warrior Mama.
Exercise releases endorphins, which help you feel happier. It also reduces the physiological effects of stress on the body, returning the body to a state of ease, calmness and wellbeing. And if you’re excuse is “I don’t have the time”, will you have the time to be on bed rest when you burn out because you haven’t taken adequate care of yourself? 15 minutes is 1% of your day. Can you find 1% do something that nourishes your body?
Get a cleaner
Seriously, invest $60 a fortnight and let someone else do the vacuuming, mopping, bathroom and ironing. They might even throw on a load of washing while they’re dusting the skirting boards. A recent article reported that a sink full of dishes was one of the number one causes of stress and frustration for mothers on a daily basis. Fill up the dishwasher and hire a cleaner. It’s a small financial investment to take away the feelings of failure often associated with the inability to meet the demands of the household when your cup is full.
Learn to say ‘No’
A little selfishness goes a long way and is imperative to your wellbeing. Knowing your boundaries and creating space that honours your needs, sticking to your schedule, and filling those ‘down times’ with things that bring you a sense of ease, rest and happiness, should supersede another’s needs. Restore your own sense of vitality first, and then you can support and show up for others when you’re up to it. People will respect you for protecting your boundaries, and those who don’t, aren’t helping you to be the best version of you.
Write down three things you’re grateful for in a journal every day. It’s a beautiful way to focus on the positives when stress, hardships, anxiety, pain, fear and sadness consume your thoughts. You can cultivate more joy by simply being grateful for what is, rather than focusing on what is not.
The recommendation on the plane during the safety briefing to ‘apply your own mask before helping others’ is so befitting for mothers. If the effects of long-term stress adversely impact your physical and mental health, how can you support your children and family to thrive? It’s imperative that you connect with the essence of your own wellbeing so that you have the strength to fulfil your role, and do so with a sense of vibrancy and ultimately, a sense of unapologetic joy. Because, you deserve that.