Posted on March 15th, 2020 to mental health
by Emily Griffin
This post is not about how much sleep is optimal. It’s not about what to do when your baby is waking more than desired at night. Or what to do to get more quality sleep for yourself. This is about little, but impactful, things that can make a difference in the quality of your waking hours, when your sleep is not ideal (for whatever of the many reasons there can be in parent life). I decided to do a little crowdsourcing- not just take from my own experience and strategies that help my client moms in my private practice as a psychotherapist — but also from some other moms I’m connected with.
Here are fourteen ideas, some small and easy, some bigger and harder, to enjoy this mom life a little more while you’re not well rested. Don’t feel like you have to try all of them at once. Pick one and start small. If something doesn’t work for you right now, that’s okay! Focus on finding what works best for you and your family.
- Get fresh air. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stroll around the block, a run or even just sitting on your porch, try to take time to get outside every day. If you can’t get out on your own, take your baby or kids with you. Invite a friend or anyone you like spending time with, or if you’d rather take a few minutes for yourself, that’s okay too!
- Take in nature around you. Go to places that feel rejuvenating, not draining or overstimulating if you can help it. It could even just be visiting your favorite tree in your neighborhood (don’t have one yet? Find one!) or the flowering bush around the block- choose to intentionally take in the blossoms and the angles of the trees. Look up and observe the clouds- notice the shapes and shades of color. Appreciate the wonder around you.
- Move your body. Either intentionally exercise (using the baby as your weights?), silly dancing by yourself or with the kids, running around playing tag, swimming, doing a few yoga poses if that’s all you have time for, or even just dancing in your seat while stuck in traffic. Get your blood flowing. Get creative.
- Listen to your favorite music. Have a playlist that feeds your soul during this chapter of your life. Find songs that feel like love songs to your kids and make that a playlist too. A few of mine are: “The Story” by Brandi Carlile, “Mirror” by Justin Timberlake, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkle, and “Zion” by Lauryn Hill. Focusing on the love I have for my kids through song energizes me.
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude helps your brain get out of the rut of negative thinking and helps you manage the inner critic. It helps you to focus on the things that are going well and gives you more perspective when a potentially stressful moment inevitably comes up. Those who practice regular gratitude aren’t living in a fairy tale. But the more they practice, the more they are able to notice things to be grateful for. When you make note of those things you feel grateful for (no matter how small!) negative thoughts and problems occupy less mental space and are less likely to derail the whole day. If practicing gratitude is difficult for you, learn more about self-compassion and ways to incorporate the same compassion for yourself that you have for your closest family members and friends. Self-compassion directly impacts your capacity for routinely connecting to gratitude and identifying all of the things in your life that are worth acknowledging. Listen to TED Talks by Kristen Neff and Brene Brown, among others for more on this subject.
- Hydrate. We tend to have a lot of awareness about nourishing our kids, and when we’re busy it’s easy to lose track of how much water we’re consuming. Make sure you get enough. And have coffee if you want it too. Just don’t drink coffee instead of water.
- And while we’re talking about nourishment: Practice mindful eating. A snack can be a nice boost for your mood and energy! I won’t get into specifics- you know how to look up nutritious snacks. Mix it up and try new things when you’re feeling bored by the same old stuff in your fridge. And include foods you actually enjoy.
- Outsource whatever you can to simplify your responsibilities and your to-do list. Your plate is likely at an unmanageable level- and you’re feeling like you “should” be able to handle all of it. But the truth is, we all need help. My support system is a major reason I’m able to cope! Examples of things to outsource include: dinner (get takeout more if needed!), grocery delivery, transporting kids to/from school, laundry, cleaning the house, dog walkers/doggie daycare (especially if you’re finding unwanted presents from your pup when you get home), and yard work.
- Take breaks and let your kids build their connections with other adults. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. Take time to get to know others who can be part of your village (if you don’t already have your support system fully established). Then you can get creative with ways to make a little more time for yourself.
- Set up kid-friendly areas of your home so you don’t have to be “on” all the time. Some moms feel like they have to manage every moment for their children. Give your kids some quiet time, some time to think, to figure out how they want to play and to get creative. This can start even when they are babies. When your kids know how to entertain themselves, you don’t have to fight so much to grab little chunks of time for yourself. Don’t unintentionally send the message that they should be dependent on you for everything. Check out Janey Lansbury for more info and ideas on independent play.
- Make room for levity in your life. What makes you laugh? What is fun for you? It may have been so long since you gave yourself this consideration, it could take some figuring out and exploration. You may not get long chunks of time like your “pre-baby self,” but building things you WANT to do back into your day will make a big difference. Laughter has a way of naturally energizing in a special way and provides a natural reset for your mind and may relieve some physical symptoms of stress. What are some of your least favorite things that can become a little less burdensome if you find a way to take a different, lighter approach?
- Learn about mindfulness and guided meditation. Headspace and Insight Timer are my go-to apps to use when introducing guided meditation to moms I work with. Mindfulness is bigger than that though. Read about it. It takes practice to try out and get comfortable with meditation and mindfulness practice, but I can attest to how powerful they are in supporting a positive mindset and resilience to setbacks through the day (including a wave of fatigue). Some of the best teachers on mindfulness are Jon Kabat Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, and Tara Brach.
- Create a routine for yourself. You’ll feel better having fewer decisions to make throughout the day, especially getting ready in the morning and when winding down for bed. It will help to reduce the resentment you feel about being the parent who takes on emotional labor and the manager role… I know, it’s not fair. But you’re better at it, aren’t you? Still not fair. That’s another reason you need time for yourself.
- Find awe in things around you (not just that vacation you took before you had kids to that scenic place…). A few things that you can deliberately take in with child-like awe: the clouds, angles and shapes that tree branches make, tie dye and vivid colors of stained or blown glass, patterns in nature (have you seen the pictures of snowflakes??), architecture, noticing your children’s growth through pictures over time, the softness of a baby’s skin, rainbows, how baby elephants are born (random, yes, but amazing!). What else goes on your list?
Mindset, I’ve found, is mostly the answer. Don’t ruminate on how much actual sleep you’re getting. If you are hyper-aware of totaling your hours of sleep every week, you’ll be perpetually disappointed. If you decide you will count any time you can rest, get some quiet, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, be thankful for the time you DO get to sleep, you will feel more rested. These small practices that I laid out connect with each other to allow for a mindset that maximizes a feeling of restoration and feeling ready to take on the next chunk of the day. Most of this did not come easily to me. I built a practice of coping out of necessity — out of a desire to avoid passively continuing patterns of negative thinking and anxious energy. If you’re having a really hard time functioning, managing stress, or feel physical signs of stress and fatigue that don’t get better over time and with adjustments, reach out to a friend and consider talking to professional. A therapist can help you navigate this process in a meaningful way with lasting benefit.
Take this list and start small. Your parenting journey is long and will feel challenging but can be so rewarding. Begin with one step.
Emily Griffin is a clinical social worker with a private psychotherapy practice, Happy Parents, Happy Babies, LLC, in NW Washington DC. She works with parents on perinatal mental health and parenting support, as well as relationship and other life challenges. She has five children of her own. Share your thoughts with her on this post or reach out for support at firstname.lastname@example.org.