As a working mom of two toddlers and currently expecting baby #3, life is crazy. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual and like popcorn, things are constantly popping up in our daily lives. Many of the parents that come into my office share feelings and themes related to feeling overwhelmed, overscheduled, lonely, and disconnected. They often tell me they feel like they’re failing and feel unsupported. Trying to navigate kids, parenting, schedules, work, relationships and societal expectations can be daunting. So, how do you prioritize your own mental health amidst the chaos of life?
Something I practice in my own life and teach parents during parent coaching sessions is the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask first. We cannot show up for those around us unless we first show up for ourselves. Below are tips that we know are common sense, but are not always common practice and can help manage your mental health:
Sleep: How much sleep are you getting? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you sleeping too much? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers sleep recommendations based on age. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep hygiene can pay a toll on your mood, leading to irritability. With little sleep, we make careless mistakes and display poor problem-solving and reasoning skills. We may even find ourselves engaging in mindless eating (emotional eating) or not eating enough. Lack of sleep can increase symptoms of anxiety symptoms (and anxiety can impact ability to sleep!). On the flip side, getting enough sleep can actually help us better take control of our anxiety rather than it controlling us.
Nutrition: To keep things simple, think of your body as a vehicle. Vehicles need fuel in order to run, same goes for our body. Food is fuel for our body and it is important that we pay attention to our “tank” and don’t let ourselves run out of fuel. We need to be fueling our bodies with food that makes us feel our best. How often are you eating? Do the foods you eat make you feel tired and sluggish or satisfied and energized?
Movement: Do you move your body for 30 minutes a day? Your mind and body are intimately connected. And while your brain is the master control system for your body’s movement, the way you move can affect the way you think and feel. Finding the right type of movement depends on you. Movement isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, whether it is yoga, running, HIIT workouts, cycling, walking, swimming, gardening, etc., some type of movement is essential for your mental, emotional and physical health. The key is to choose activities that get you moving and something you enjoy. Any kind of movement, done consistently, positively impacts your mental health.
Water: How much water are you drinking? According to some nutritionists, they suggest drinking half your body weight in ounces daily. However, some other research recommends eight 8oz glasses of water a day. Again, this is not one-size-fits-all, but I strongly encourage you to be aware of your water intake. More times than not, we confuse hunger with thirst, meaning we think we are hungry, when really, we are just thirsty and need water. Dehydration can impact how you feel physically (i.e., headaches, fatigue) and this can impact your mood and behavior.
Self-Care: This term floats around regularly, but it is more than a buzzword. As I previously mentioned in the beginning of this article, parents especially need to put their oxygen masks on first before they can assist those around them. Doing the above (getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, and drinking water) is self-care. We often sacrifice our sleep or workout to meet the needs of our family or coworkers (and maybe because we feel guilty prioritizing ourselves). Beyond prioritizing the above, I would encourage you to make a list of 5 things that bring you joy, whether that is taking a bubble bath, meeting up with a girlfriend for drinks, going on a date night with your spouse, binge watching Netflix, going for a walk, reading a book, or listening to a podcast. It’s not only ok, but it is recommended, to make sure that you do things for leisure or pleasure in order to recharge.