When it comes to pushing myself too hard, I’m an absolute expert. Whether I work from an office or from home, I need to actively keep reminding myself that taking breaks is not just OK, but rather necessary for my physical and emotional wellbeing. Self-care isn’t selfish.
I cannot count how many times I’ve tried to push through a few difficult months of work while juggling obligations at home. Most often, I would find myself ill a couple of days before I’m supposed to cross the “finish line.”
So, one of my resolutions for 2020 was not to work against myself. In other terms, it was a decision to pay proper attention to self-care, at all times – even when it was inconvenient. While my attempts brought mixed results, I did realize one big thing: my self-care regimen affected more than just myself and that self-care isn’t selfish.
My Biggest Downfall: Stress
From a biological standpoint, stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. The fight or flight response our body has to environmental stimuli, was, after all, devised as a way to help ourselves overcome challenging situations. Those stomach butterflies that happen just before asking our boss for a promotion, or riding a rollercoaster may help us adapt better to those situations. Eustress can help improve performance or bring out our competitive side.
The problem arises, however, when the stress we’re under is negative. And its adverse effects are made stronger when we experience it chronically. Prolonged exposure can cause a host of negative effects like fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, weight loss or gain, and even a weakened immune system.
For me, this is particularly important to remember. I’m not only a person who tends to get lost in their job, but my anxiety and perfectionism often drive me towards creating (completely unnecessary) internal stress. This tends to build up and wreak havoc on my body and spirit. But the thing is, I’m not the only person who feels the effects of unmanaged chronic stress. As it turns out, my family does too.
Self-Care and Mood Improvement
Some of the most common symptoms of chronic stress include mood swings and irritability. And the people I live with definitely experience those. So, instead of allowing myself to be in a cankerous state and snap at my loved ones, my first course of action in taking better care of myself was to include some simple relaxation time in my routine.
While I’m not big on meditation (yet), I do enjoy a 20-minute morning yoga session. It’s just enough to remind me to be mindful of my breath, get my body going, and prevent me from going into overdrive from early morning. Yoga has been scientifically proven to minimize stress response, and practising it regularly could prevent systemic inflammation, which is often a result of prolonged stress exposure.
On the whole, I’ve noticed that when I do my morning yoga session, I’m much calmer throughout the day and rarely react impulsively. When it comes to self-care for parents, that’s a pretty big plus for my family.
Balancing Energy Levels
Seeing that I tend to work a lot, one of my self-care strategies was to remove any unnecessary energy-wasters from my life (including negative people).
I’ve been encouraging myself to say NO to the things I don’t want to do, and I’ve made it my point to make everyday tasks easier. For example, we’ve now made meal-prep a family thing, and have installed a granny pod in the backyard so that I don’t have to drive for 2 hours every three days just to check on my elderly parents.
With the time and energy I’ve gained, once the weekend comes around, I’m not an exhausted mess of firing nerves who just needs to vegetate in bed. Instead, I’m actually ready to spend quality time with my partner and kids. We try to go on mini-adventures such as hiking and visits to the nearby lake, but other times, it’s building a pillow fort and camping out in our living room. Either way, we’re definitely having more bonding (screen-free) time than before.
Making Dietary Changes
In addition to carving out some me time in the day, and deciding to learn how to say no, I’ve also made changes to the way I eat. I’m not saying I’ve said goodbye to the occasional serving of ice-cream, but, on the whole, I’m trying to adopt healthier habits, and include my family as well.
The reason behind it was simple. If food has such an impact on our overall well being, then it could also help mitigate the effects of stress (or make them more pronounced).
I try to keep myself from going over the top with meals. After all, what’s the good in putting a three-course dinner on the table every evening if it’s going to leave me drained and unable to enjoy my family’s company? Instead, I’m focusing on balanced and nutritious recipes, which are easy to prepare and made with healthy ingredients.
The one drastic change we’ve made, however, is minimizing the amount of processed sugar and carbohydrates we eat. Though I have a sweet tooth, I’ve decided that I don’t want my children to copy my bad habits. So, instead, we try to eat more fruit (which is rich in antioxidants) and save dessert for a once-a-week treat. There is the occasional complaint, but on the whole, we’re slowly getting used to the change.
Why My Self-Care Routine Is More Than Just for Me
In the end, I’m aware of how difficult self-care for mums can be. The day only has 24 hours, and there’s only so much one can do during that time. I also know that our own mothers may have felt guilty about focusing on themselves instead of dedicating every atom of their strength to their family.
But when I think about it, I realize that a happier, healthier me, a me who understands that self-care isn’t selfish, can and will contribute to my family being happier and healthier as well. After all, loving one child does not mean less love for another. So why deny that same bottomless resource to myself?