When you are so far down the list of priorities, or your caring responsibilities are incredibly intense, self-care is something that is needed like air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Ironically, for the people who need it more that anyone, it’s often something that feels as achievable as climbing Everest. Much as I love to spread the message that mothers (and I’m focusing on mums because we are often the primary carers) need to get out of the house and put themselves first, I also know that can be a really triggering message to some of you.
Not every mother has the resources to leave their child. They may not a partner to share the emotional and physical load with. They may not have the money to pay alternative childcare. They may have a child so medically fragile, they cannot physically leave them alone and the childcare needed is so specialist that the options for help are severely limited.
Self-care looks very different in these situations and while regular nights out with friends and mini-breaks and date nights and evening classes would be amazing ways to press reset and make you feel whole again, we both know nothing like this is going to happen. So what do you do when time and finances are against you?
Here are my ideas. They’re really pretty basic but that’s exactly what you need when life is just getting through each day.
Use a clean mug for your much-needed tea, rather than using the same one every time to save on washing up. A clean mug says you are priority. Do you deserve a drink that is hot and fresh and appealing? Yes, you goddamn do.
Change your sheets more often. I know, I know, it creates more washing and I’m sure you do a lot of laundry already BUT if clean bedding makes you feel special and gives you a little boost for the cherished moment your exhausted body finally collapses into bed, I think it’s worth it.
Drink water. Actual water, not disguised in tea and coffee. Good fresh water is often forgotten (I’m going by my own life here), but it will help clear your head and make all your organs function better.
Take vitamins. If your caring responsibilities come with a lot of stress and not much sleep, you’re going to be depleting your body of certain vitamins at a much faster rate. Vitamins B, C, E and the mineral magnesium are the first casualties. So, if you can’t change the stress levels, bolster your body to deal with them. Your future self will thank you.
Eat vegetables. My diet is one of the first things to suffer when I go into those survival mode seasons. All the carbs, all the Bourbon biscuits, and anything I can grab and snack on straight from the fridge help me fill a gap, but after a couple of days of this I’m understandably sluggish and even more tired and irritable (see above about vitamins for a clue why!) Find easy ways of getting extra veg – I throw frozen chopped spinach into every curry or make sure I have a side of broccoli with my pasta. Go on a big chopping mission to have carrots and celery and peppers to snack on with houmous or if you get time to batch cook, stick some easy veggie/vegan meals in the freezer. The Elly Pear books are great for this kind of thing.
Listen if you don’t have time to read. Audiobooks and podcasts are fab to tune into while doing mundane tasks. If you struggle to set aside time to read but have some relative downtime (cleaning the kitchen, unpacking a feed delivery, sorting the washing, going on a dog/buggy/wheelchair walk), you can still get your fix of media and literature in an accessible way.
Put up electronic boundaries. Protect yourself from the noise of modern life – it’s one more thing that increases your mental load. Unsubscribe from email lists that you never open, or rarely read, or that are trying to sell you things you can’t afford or don’t want. Turn off all but essential notifications. Give yourself regular social media breaks. It helps reduce stress and that fuzzy-headed feeling you might get.
Get real about the appointments in your life. Yes, they go with the territory but not all of them are useful. Answering the same questions that you do at every other appointment without actually gaining any benefit for your child, is a waste of everyone’s time. Reduce the frequency of these appointments, and ask if you can drop down to telephone catch-ups with face-to-face when needed. Perhaps you can be discharged altogether? See if you can schedule regular appointments for regular times, and/or multiple appointments on one day. This is self-care so you can free up time for, you know, actually leading your life.
Leave a voice note for your friends. I miss my friends terribly yet I’m totally crap at calling them for a catch up. Several of my closest friends don’t really do FB or Instagram either so the odd comment or heart emoji to let them know I’m alive isn’t an option. Lots of mums with a lot on their plate are the same, I know. With one group, I’ve been using Voxer, a voice messaging app. It’s great – quicker than typing texts, you can leave a message at a time that suits you and get a reply at a time that suits them but as you get to hear everyone’s voices it feels more connected and like you are together.
Do you agree with these? What helps you through the tough times?