The Routine of Self Care
Hey, y'all. How have you been? No, really...How ARE you?
Me? Well, I think things are starting to make sense again, as much as that's possible. By that I mean, I'm regularly in the vicinity of other people and I have a schedule that involves a healthy amount of work life, home life, and being out and about. I've given hugs, shaken hands, and seen live music. I'm embracing the change of the seasons and even looking forward to Willow's first toddler winter.
I'll spare you the unpleasant details but will say that this sense of 'normal' comes after having crawled out of a very dreary postpartum depression haze during an unprecedented global pandemic. There's been so much to be grateful for and find joy in and yet I couldn't see that things were ever going to get better for me or the world.
I share this with you because I know I am not the only one who's mental health has suffered during this last stretch of time. Prolonged isolation is just not a state that us human kind are meant for. Even those who 'don't like people' or consider themselves willfully introverted, glean a certain basic need of belonging from walking past people on the street. And yet, without any warning or opportunity to prepare, all organic connection came to a screeching halt and we were left more than ever to listen to the audible silence of our own thoughts. Surely some silver lining is to be had from this but no doubt, the gladness to be back among others is profound and nearly unanimous.
I've missed you all dearly.
Not only that but all of the activities, habits, and routines that structured our lives as we knew it was put on pause. The coffee house you went to on Sunday to work a little and people watch, the shops you perused out of boredom or for retail therapy, the gyms you went to to blow off steam, the bars and restaurants where we met up with friends, and the yoga studios and wellness centers where we relieved stress and connected with people on a genuine level.
Now, for many of us, it's time for life to resume and to get back to a routine specifically as it pertains to self care and mental health. This is the hard part. We remember how hard it was to form those good habits in the first place and all of the hours of our days are already accounted for so where and how will we fit it in?
Here's a plan to try...
First - Prioritize. Make a list of the things you do with your time and determine where each activity lies on your list in order of importance. These are both the activities you already do and the ones you want to do but aren't. What aren't you doing that you wish you were? What are you doing that's not a good use of your energy? You might begin by asking yourself throughout the day, 'Is this important? What is the value of this experience, activity, conversation?' Some activities are everyday necessities (cooking, eating, showering, yoga, reading), some are occasional tune-ups (massage, social outing, adventure), and some are the rare treat (vacation, spa day, shopping spree). Prioritize accordingly.
Second - Eliminate. Surely there are some things we do with our minutes that just don't serve much of a purpose. These are fillers or 'empty time calories.' Scrolling social media, channel surfing, idle conversations to name a few. Make a point to notice yourself doing these things and redirect. Take a look at your list of priorities and do one of those towards the top instead. Ex: I plopped down on the couch and opened my phone to look at Facebook with no objective. Whoops, that's not what I mean to be doing, I'm going to open up a book instead.
Third - Schedule. As a new mom, I learned quickly how important it is to put something I want to do on my calendar or it just won't get done. I have seriously put 'shower' in my google calendar - that's where it's at for me sometimes. So, whatever it is - a coffee date, a yoga class, a walk outside, a hot bath, a phone call, a few deep breaths...Put it on your schedule and set an alarm.
Fourth - Commit. Good intentions count for something but follow through counts for much much more. To put it simply - yoga, exercise, and eating well only work if you do them. It's too easy to keep doing what you're already not doing so make a solemn promise to yourself that you are going to show up, make good choices, and do what you say you're going to do. Do it. Right now. Make a promise :)
Fifth - Support. (This is the last step, promise.) What happens when a kid gets sick, there just isn't enough time, or the excuses are starting to pop into your head? You have a partner, a friend, a therapist, an online support group that holds you accountable to your commitments, will watch your children for a few hours, or give it to you real when you're making up reasons why you're not as important as everything else. So who are those people in your corner that you're honest with and trust? Who will actually show up and have your back when you need help? Maintain those relationships so they're healthy and that support goes both ways. Be careful not to take that for granted.
So if you're struggling to get back into a self care routine and your mental health depends on it, I hope you can find this message useful. Don't let yourself become an afterthought or a last priority. You have to be well physically, mentally, and emotionally to care for your family, be good at your job, and prevent future health problems. We are meant to do more than survive, we're meant to thrive and enjoy.
As a final thought - if you are struggling to keep your head above water, please reach out to a professional. No matter how much experience you have 'keeping it all together' or the expectation you have of yourself to not need any help, everyone needs extra support sometimes. I know it is helping me immensely.