Only after becoming a mother of twins in my mid-thirties and feeling close to burn out, I discovered about the term “self-care.” It was mentioned nearly in every talk I had with my close circle and health experts. However, it took me a while to understand the real meaning of self-care. In the world we live, in terms like this, it becomes a fancy buzzword and can be easily overused to lose its real meaning. Today, for me self-care is about prioritizing your mental, physical and spiritual health. All three of them. This also requires a lot of responsibility for yourself, but first and foremost showing self-compassion is the key to a sustainable self-care.
“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”Kristen Neff
1 Self-care Realization and asking for help
It starts with a sign that nudges you to seek help. After a long sleep deprivation and demanding job situation, I lost the connection with my body and mind. I was not really listening to my needs. In other words, I was not prioritizing what I really need for that day or moment. I was fully dedicated into my work and family life. At the end, it was a habit to de-prioritize my own health. It was also an easy way to avoid the real issues with my own health and take action on them.
Once you get the symptoms of burn out or other issues with your health, then the “getting help” part can happen in different ways depending on the symptoms you have. Sometimes it is reading or watching experts and executing to improve on your health. Sometimes reaching out for professional help from a coach or psychologist. These are personal situations but the essence is to reach out for resources that can help you walk this path of self-care. I took all the necessary actions from people I can trust.
2 Sleep like babies as a mother’s self-care
The sleep deprivation was very much hitting me as a working mom. That was one of the main reasons that I was gaining weight and getting irritated from simple issues or even non-issues. After reaching out for help I realized that first and foremost I really have to definitely prioritize any availability for sleep and rest. Only then I realized that the quality of our night sleep is one of the most important factors that tells about how the day will go.
‘’Most people don’t realize that sleep is a keystone of health. When we’re sleep-deprived, it’s really hard to eat well or to have the energy to exercise. It’s hard to think straight. It’s even hard to stay in a good mood or have a positive outlook on life.’’@DRMARKHYMAN
3 Exercise: the path to self-care
It is not always possible to start a full-fledged exercise program; especially if you are just starting to take care of yourself after recognizing the necessity of self-care. I prefer to monitor my activities and make sure I keep moving in a minimum amount according to my situation. While doing this, I also found out that it is good not to set the bar high and give myself too high targets for daily exercise. In my journey nature walks and yoga played a huge role to reconnect with my body. I even took a Yoga Teacher Training 100 hours class to deepen my practice.
4 Good food good mood
Food is one of the best ways to take care of body, boosting our immunity. Here is the part I still struggle with meeting the definition of self-care. For a while I thought spoiling yourself and indulging yourself is self-care. And other times, I was always feeling guilty of what I ate. In the end, I learnt that self-care happens when you have a balance in your life. By now, many of us know about the benefits of eating real food (non-packaged/ non-processed). More ironically, we try to do our best to provide our babies, kids or family as much as healthy food as possible. While doing that, I noticed that I was doing just the reverse for myself. Then I found out that I need to balance it; I need to do what is best for my body and for healthy living.
5 Connections in a mother’s self-care journey
Socializing and having meaningful connections also proved to be a way of supporting your mental health. This means for our self-care practice we need some actions to take as well. This is not easy for people living abroad. Thankfully the supportive Delft Mamas groups and expat communities help a lot to build meaningful relationships abroad as a starting point. That is of course not enough, so it is really needed to regularly book a flight home and see those loved ones that knows you the best.
6 Mindfulness and meditation
One of the ways to balance my spiritual health and reconnect with my soul and body was to learn about mindfulness and practice meditation. Science already proved how mindfulness makes a person more resilient and meditation gives you the power to stay calm and have more control of your life. You can do it alone to have a “me-time” or even practice it with your kids!
7 Setting healthy boundaries
Practising self-care also means giving ourselves some further attention and some new responsibilities or habits to achieve. We need to work on making time and prioritizing ourselves. While doing this, it is hard not to feel guilty about it and try to set healthy boundaries with family, work, and friends in your life. In other words, I had to learn to stop being there for every other person that reached out to me.
Most importantly, as mentioned, just stop judging yourself for not being 100% healthy and present for yourself and family. Appreciate the progress you make in every step of your life. I constantly struggle with prioritizing myself even though I learnt a lot in the last 4 years since my kids were born. Little did I know, I also experienced that even a small progress makes you feel better and stronger to take the next step.
I did not mention many other self-care activities, habits, treatments that also helped me in my self-care journey. It is still making me feel good if I try a new massage place, or have a special hair treatment. There are many things to do to nourish your body, soul and mind. At some points it requires to be guilty/selfish because it requires to put yourself first. This means sometimes you might feel like you are into too much indulgence. Again, balance and self-compassion is the key to do everything for yourself, and be that person you want to be for yourself and for your loved ones.