When you’re a mum, looking after yourself is no longer a priority. It’s a journey from boob-time, bottles, baths, bed-time and basketball practice. Becoming resilient is the key to survival. The problem is, maintaining this admirable emotional endurance takes work – mentally and physically. And keeping this kind of mental fitness up (in a world that doesn’t stop) is no easy feat.
In with the good, out with the bad.
Sounds obvious. But how often do you hold onto negative feelings over positive ones? Whether it’s jealousy, guilt, self-loathing or fear, we tend to let these feelings fester as a kind of protective function. Instead of dwelling on them, deal with them. Work out why you feel this way. Perhaps you’re angry because you haven’t spent quality time with your partner. Perhaps you’re having an ‘identity crisis’ because you secretly want to go back to work. Whatever it is, learn to talk about it. And find a way to solve it.
Rest. Really rest.
When was the last time you actually relaxed? No, sitting on the sideline of your daughter’s netball game for an hour doesn’t count. I’m talking not-a-care-in-the-world relaxation. If you can’t remember, we have a problem. Mum-life tends to be so manic that the thought of taking time out to rest is either inconceivable or irresponsible (so you think). Forget feeling lazy or useless or neglectful – stopping to recharge and reset is the only way to keep ‘doing’ without dropping. It doesn’t need to be a week in the Bahamas. Go for a long walk every morning; read a new book; or simply sit on the balcony and listen to the wind. And if you’re juggling three kids and a dog and it’s all just too hard, ask for help. Even having a half-day babysitter is enough to get you back in super-mum mode.
Go easy on yourself
There is, perhaps, no better statement to live by. Sadly, our culture is built around competition and unrealistic goals. “But she has two kids and a two-million-dollar house.” “Her children are better swimmers and students than mine.” “Why am I always tired when she works full time and takes care of four kids?” Living under a cloud of comparison does nothing for your self-esteem. You are a great mum; a strong mum; and a women! Dull those voices in your head that tell you otherwise. Struggling to get a grip? Talk to someone – your partner, your parents or a professional. Further, learn to celebrate others’ successes. Your friend’s children are conquering the athletics team? Be delighted for them. Down the track, you’ll have your own moments of magic (and hopefully your friend will share the joy with you).
Eat your way to emotional endurance. Food and mental health seem to be worlds apart. But they’re not. In fact, the better our mental health, the better we tend to eat – and the better we eat, the better our mood. You probably try to avoid ‘naughty’ food, but how often do you grab a custard tart and soft drink as you run from errand to errand? Eating sugar-rich, processed foods can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels and energy. Swapping them for wholesome choices that are nutrient-dense will leave you firing on all four cylinders. Better yet, you’ll sleep better, look better (help glowing skin) and come out better on the scales, too. If you’re overwhelmed by a diet overhaul, start small. Replace your sugary on-the-go snack with fresh fruit; or swap your Thai takeaway for fish and veggies. This level of taking care of yourself will give you the confidence you need to be the mum you were made to be.
Mental health check list for mums
Beyond Blue are encouraging new mums and their loved ones to check in – by doing a short mental health checklist. The quick test is set of 10 questions, based on The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), that can help you and your health professional get a better sense of how you’re feeling.