If the parental look you’ve been sporting is puffy eyes and a messy bun, it might be time to stop running on fumes. Cue mommy wellness: your license to prioritise your wellbeing. These experts reveal how.
It’s only natural your priorities change when you become a mom, but that shouldn't mean neglecting your own needs. Over time, you might come to resent being a parent. Sharon Piel notes that being a mother is challenging but rewarding.
“I believe the key is making sure you take care of yourself first – as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you want to be the best mom you can be, you need to take care of yourself to avoid burnout, depression, stress and other health issues,” says Joburg-based life coach Sharon Piel. If this is a foreign concept to you, you might be wondering what it even means. Sharon explains that taking care of yourself has several aspects.
“Firstly, attend to your physical health by ensuring you eat a healthy diet, drink enough water, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.” This isn’t always easy if you’re caring for a baby or very young children, “but try your best. It’s also important to have regular health checks.” Is your emotional health intact? “When you’re stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, it usually spills over into your relationships and parenting – you may become less patient, short-tempered or grouchy with your family,” she cautions.
Counselling Psychologist at Netcare Akeso Parktown, Kim Serebro notes that the role of motherhood is all-encompassing and is probably best described as selflessness. “The physical time and energy coupled with the emotional investment that is required for raising a child cannot be quantified. Whereas mothers often feel extreme joy and satisfaction in their role; they may also experience feelings of fear, trepidation and persistent anxiety,” she says.
From a mental health perspective, she affirms that it’s not uncommon for new moms to experience postpartum blues which encompass an array of very powerful and often overwhelming emotions, “however when symptoms become increasingly pervasive and long lasting it is possible that the mother may be experiencing what a psychiatrist would diagnose as postnatal depression.” Explaining that maternal mental illness can culminate in the disruption of self -regulatory and interactional skills for both parent and infant which in turn can negatively impact on the nature of the attachment that is formed between the mother and child.
“The physical and psychological well being of a mother is imperative in ensuring an optimal developmental trajectory for her infant. Thus, notions of maternal mental health require consistent exploration and implementation. More simply stated, a happy mommy is a great indicator of a happy and well-adjusted baby,” she asserts.
Kim concurs that when a mother is unable to care for herself, the capacity to care for others is compromised. “Persistent investment in maintaining the well-being of those around us is likely to culminate in feelings of resentment and bitterness. This, in turn impacts on our ability to care meaningfully for others but also for ourselves,” she adds.
Sharon recommends scheduling me-time daily, even if it’s for ten or fifteen minutes. “It could be as simple as having a cup of tea without any distractions or going for a walk around the garden.” And she affirms having a solid support system is essential. “Create opportunities for social connection by keeping in touch with family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”
Kim notes that for many mothers’ self-care is deemed as self-centred whereas physical time and energy invested into self demonstrates self-love and the awareness of the vital role that you play in the lives of others. And affirms that acknowledging that you are deserving of self-care facilitates in the establishment of a positive self-esteem and helps to build self-worth. “Energy spent on creating a sustainable self-care plan can boost our quality of life but also enhance our capacity to mother.”
Further noting that strategies for self-care do not necessarily require excessive amounts of time or financial resources. “Self-care activities that are both simple and sustainable are equally effective provided that they are meaningful to you. Being alone to reconnect with yourself is equally important,” adds Sharon who recommends spending time in nature, meditating, journaling or praying. “Regardless, it should be a sacred space for honouring yourself.”
Kim’s self-care tips
The activities you choose to include in your self-care plan can be guided by five simple key contributors to positive maternal mental health.
The five key contributors of self-care in maternal mental health:
Movement: movement is likely to aid in self-regulation.
Self-regulation means having an influence over your emotional experience. Self-regulation skills can assist in managing more pervasive negative emotions. Activities that involve movement can be helpful. They provide one with a release for these emotions and also assist in processing and organising the persistent thoughts. Such activities don’t need to be done in isolation, but can be done with your children, such as going for a daily walk.
Mindfulness refers to developing the capacity to connect with our thoughts and feelings in ways that feel manageable and meaningful.
Mindful activities involve using our senses to engage us fully in an experience. This can include taking time for a bubble bath or a cup of coffee while focussing on your experience in the moment. There are great online applications such as Headspace which can help in navigating activities in a mindful way.
Making time: Investing time in the pursuit of personal areas of interest.
When faced with the challenges of motherhood, it is important to maintain as much balance as possible in your daily routine. This should include some time put aside for your own interests and hobbies. Any activity that you get lost in may assist in distracting you from the challenges you may be facing, giving you time to process how to best face them.
Managing Emotions: Checking in with yourself and normalising difficult and sometimes uncomfortable feelings.
Daily check-ins with yourself should become a priority. When one is aware of their emotional experience and the factors contributing to these feelings it is easier to manage and respond to these emotions in an effective manner. Journaling at the end of the day can assist with processing any experiences that may have unfolded. This improves one's self-awareness, which in turns facilitates more meaningful responsiveness and engagement with others.
Making contact: Reaching out to your support system can provide you with the reassurance you need when experiencing difficult and uncomfortable emotions. This will also aid in challenging feelings of loneliness and isolation when struggling with the expectations of motherhood. It may also be useful to reach out to professionals when experiencing overwhelming negative emotions.
Are you due a break?
Do you find it challenging to put yourself first?
Do you fantasise about taking a break?
Do you feel disconnected from yourself and your child?
Do you find yourself zoning out?
Have you normalised burnout and fatigue?
Whether you’re due quiet time, a spa treatment or a date with a friend, it’s important to honour your needs. And if you haven’t been feeling like yourself, it could point to a more severe problem. Reach out to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 567 567