Self-care is something I continue to struggle with on an almost daily basis. I just wanted to highlight this before I write more, because I do not consider myself to be an expert in this area. I just wanted to share what works for me. It may not work for you, but I hope you find something useful in this post. I had several of my followers asking what I do to keep myself from burning out, and to rescue myself when it does happen.
In fact, just as I was about to write this, I ended up getting the most severe migraine I have had since high school. I had to call my husband to come home from work because I could not take care of our guys. It has hung around, too. This is day six and I’m still feeling a bit of it, even after going to the doctor’s office yesterday for a shot and some steroids. The thing is, self-care is easy when you’re feeling good, but nearly impossible when you’re feeling miserable…when you need it the most.
As moms, we tend to put ourselves last and our loved ones first. The nature of motherly love is self-giving and self-sacrificing, but we have been given a skewed message of what that looks like. I used to think that in order to be a good mom or wife, I had to put everyone’s needs in first place and ignore my own. I did that for about six years of marriage and motherhood. But I just ended up feeling exhausted, resentful, and pretty lonely. I went through some really traumatic times, including a health scare and losing a baby, but I just buried that pain inside. My son with a disability, clingy two-year-old, and husband on the autism spectrum were no longer getting the best of me. It was time for a change.
Last year, after being tired of how I felt, and working through my issues with a counselor for four years, it finally clicked. I needed to check in with myself and see what I needed. The year 2019 was one of discovery for me, since I made it a resolution to take better care of myself. Just saying that was a huge relief, but what did that look like?
First of all, I made a list of all the things I had been pushing off because I ”didn’t have time.” Many of these things were even doctors’ appointments or tests. I took one afternoon to call and get everything scheduled, and I asked my family members for help watching the boys so I could go. Asking for help has always been difficult for me. I deal with perfectionism and fall into the lie sometimes that I have to do things by myself because no one else could do it the way I could. This just ended up making me feel overwhelmed and resentful. When I allow myself to ask for help, I feel relieved and people around me feel good that they can help.
There are times when I don’t take my own advice or I get hit with something crazy and I just get stuck in a burnout. I can tell that I am burned out because I am feeling numb, tired, and apathetic. The cause of the burnout somewhat dictates how I handle it. If it is a situation where I had some unexpected stress fall on me, I usually give myself permission to let parts of my responsibilities go while I deal with what is happening. For me, stressors happen often; it could be anything from a visit with someone, to a migraine, to someone in the family getting sick. During those times, I tend to have my inner critical voice telling me that I can’t handle it. I remind myself that I have handled it and even worse things in the past and that the voice is wrong. If I can, I let myself rest extra and don’t worry about the laundry and the dishes until things are calmer. My mom and I are very close and I often talk to her, too. In time, things calm down and I use extra “me time” to build myself back up.
If I have found that the burnout is something that has been building for weeks and there is not a specific trigger, then I make sure that I let my husband know what is going on. He and I have had a lot of good talks lately about things that make being a stay-at-home mom tough. I try to come up with a list of what I need, such as rest, alone time, a date night, or anything else and then we figure out a way to make it work. Also, I push myself out of the house. As an introvert, this doesn’t feel very good, but just pushing myself a little extra, like taking a walk with the boys, or going to the grocery store, or even taking a drive, is a change of scenery for all of us. I am horrible at this! But when I manage to do it, everyone is calmer. Sure, it’s easy to get stuck on the couch in front of the TV with kid shows on, but I am trying to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone. (Note: I only do this if there is not a specific trigger to feeling anxious or burnt out.)
As someone who has struggled with anxiety for at least 20 years, I know how crippling it can be. There have been times when my husband got so mad at me because we couldn’t go out on a date. I was too afraid to leave our boys at home, even with grandparents. And the grandparents were hurt, too. But they didn’t know what it was like to lose a child. I just took it a little at a time. At first, we went down the road for a milkshake after the boys were asleep, and we gradually spent more and more time away. Last February, we were gone a whole weekend on a Marriage Encounter retreat while my parents watched the boys. At the end, I was really proud of myself, and so glad to see them again.
I’d like to take a moment to summarize some of my best self-care strategies, in case you didn’t feel like reading the novel I wrote above. Here they are:
1. Take it easy on yourself!
Give yourself permission to not be what your mind tells you is perfect. Just remember that you are perfectly yourself and you are exactly what your family needs right now.
2. Get your “me” time.
This is absolutely essential to avoid burnout. Even if it means you take 15 minutes to go take a walk alone or get your favorite coffee. Just do it. You will thank me later! Let certain things go when you are in a time of stress, or do the laundry a little at a time. Skip making dinner and let everyone eat cereal for dinner if it will make things easier on you. Breakfast burritos are yummy and very simple to make. We love them!
3. ASK FOR HELP!
This is in all-caps because I know a lot of us struggle with it. I’m going to repeat it, ask for help! Talk to your husband/partner/mom/best friend. I know that our messed up minds tell us to keep it to ourselves so we don’t bother anyone, but that is the last thing we should be doing!
Well, if you have made it this far, hat’s off to you! If you are not at a stage in your healing where you can take this advice, don’t beat yourself up! Remember, it took me four years in therapy before I could even come to some of these conclusions. But I hope this helps you at least a little. Leave me a comment, or send me an email if you want to talk. I’m always here!