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Postpartum Realness: The Trouble with Self-Care

Self-Care (n). the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.

Read that again. No, really. Read it through again.

I don't know about you, but a get a visceral reaction from reading through that definition as certain words within it seem to leap off the page and prick me right in the heart. (And that was just a 3-second Google search definition, y'all). First of all, it is striking to consider 'self-care' as a noun. As a principle to be practiced, not an action itself. This lets me know that just because you claim "self-care" doesn't mean you're necessarily doing anything at all. Then there's the definition. Right out of the gate: The Practice. Yep. Google, in all of its wisdom, reminds us that this is something to be actively worked toward. It is not a passive, nebulous idea of whether we feel "ok" or not, but based on action-oriented behaviors to PROTECT our WELL-BEING and HAPPINESS. Wow. In real terms, this definition reminds me of what is at stake in NOT being intentional with our self-care.

Now onto the trouble with self-care. So many moms love the idea of self-care but struggle to effectively put it into practice. The reason behind this? Typically, there are so many people and things vying for our attention that it is difficult to step away, either mentally or physically, from our responsibilities to make time for ourselves. (Cue: Mom Guilt). The paradox becomes how to take care of everyone and everything while simultaneously carving out time for ourselves. Both are important. Both are necessary. The truth is, however, the world doesn't stop turning because mama wants a bubble bath and a face mask. So we put off the bath for another day and hope that tomorrow will magically afford a few extra minutes to indulge. Spoiler alert: It won't. This is where many moms become defeated into a feeling of "why even bother?". Over time, the unattended-to self-care needs coupled with the never-ending taking care of others' needs can lead to or exacerbate conditions like postpartum depression or anxiety.

The trick? Make. Time. I know, easier said than done....times a million. But the harsh reality is no one will make the time for you. Dishes will always be there, laundry will forever need folding, and YOU, mama, will forever be waiting for it all to let up to give yourself the time you need. Back to our definition, self-care is the art of PROTECTING one's own well-being. Therefore, if time isn't made, our general well-being is at risk.

The good news is that self-care doesn't have to be drastic. This does not always need to involve essential oils, trips to the spa or a new set of acrylic nails. (Note: If you are offered these options, however, TAKE THEM!) The biggest misconception around effective self-care is that you have to invest a large amount of time or energy into it. That is simply not the case. In my own experience, some of my most effective moments of self-care involve stepping away from the kids to take 3 deep breaths or allowing myself during nursing sessions to think my own thoughts, instead of planning what comes next for the kids. Self-care is just that: caring for YOUR self, your energy, your thoughts, your dreams. Setting boundaries. Communicating your needs to your partner or support system. Taking a break when you need it. All of these small choices add up to feeling clearer in your thinking and boosting your mental and physical energy. THAT is what it's all about. If that means a weekly session to paint your nails, do it! If you need more of a daily fill up of meditation, quiet time or deep breathing, do it! It can even mean gently telling your anxious thoughts that they can visit you for 10 minutes a day and then they are kindly asked to leave. Give yourself what you need! We know exactly how many ounces of formula our babies need and precisely how many sleep hours are recommended for their age, so go ahead and figure out what YOU need to thrive as well.

Again returning to our definition, this is a practice. It requires some patience and maintenance. It is ever-evolving and can be fine-tuned at any time. But I encourage you to take inventory of what self-care truly looks like for you and how you can overcome the obstacle of making it happen. Remember, goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. Think: is this self-care goal Specific? Measureable? Attainable? Realistic? Time-oriented? It may not be enough to think, "I need to focus on breathing more" but instead try, "I'm going to set my timer 5 times a day, stop what I'm doing, and take 5 deep breaths". See?! You've become action-oriented, put a reminder to help you out, and now have a specific and attainable goal for yourself.

Allow yourself to remove the pressure of doing this "right". Do what feels good for you. Take a look at the times you feel best and try to recreate those conditions as much as you can afford to throughout the day/week/month. It is the small steps that add up to our wellness. Our mental health and overall well-being is sacred and deserves to be protected. YOU deserve to be preserved and protected, just as much as we do for our children. And remember: they're looking to you to set that example. So go ahead: make that example one of fiercely protecting your happiness and well-being as much as you can. You will never regret it. Good luck, mama!

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