As a Life Coach to mamas, I’ve seen a lot of burnout, including my own.
When new clients come to me, one of the first things I ask them to do is to compare their energy level to a cell phone battery. Unsurprisingly, most mamas are functioning in the “red zone”, which is 20% and under. Many have been functioning on so little for so long that they almost don’t even notice. They’ve adapted to being tired, rundown, resentful, and exhausted most of the time, and I have too.
We care so much, and put enormous pressure on ourselves to succeed at the most important job in the world, while also juggling careers, friends, partners, and aging parents—not to mention the turbulent state of the world.
In the age of technology, we always know when our devices need recharging and make every effort not to let them get too low, yet we seldom do the same for ourselves.
It’s leading us down the road to burnout, and the strongest antidote is self care. My favourite definition of self care is simply: choices you make to take care of yourself. It means being your own nurturer.
Because of this trend towards burnout and martyrdom I’ve been witnessing, I wanted to dig deeper into the idea of self care. It often gets sold to us as manicures, spas, girls’ trips, wine and chocolate. Those things are great, but they’re only a few pieces of the puzzle. They are certainly not sustainable, nor a daily ritual for 99.9% of mamas out there. I think of self care as the consistent practice and a culmination of small steps made to reinvest in yourself.
And since as a Life Coach I don’t ask my clients to do things I haven’t done myself, I decided to put myself to the test.
So I committed myself to 70 consecutive days of self care, and I decided to use social media to keep me motivated and chart my progress. I would post what I did for myself, every day. If I didn’t my Instagram community would hold me accountable.
Why 70 days? My mom, Mimi, who was a self care guru, died last summer. I scheduled my challenge to begin just after the one-year anniversary of her death and end just before what would have been her 70th birthday. In this way, I would not only learn to care for myself better, but also honour my mom’s legacy.
My mom didn't find self care until later in life, when my brother and I had left the nest. She found it again even more poignantly after her cancer diagnosis. One of her big life lessons to me was not to wait: taking care of yourself can't wait. It means saying no, it means maintaining boundaries, it means letting go, it means moving, stretching, reflecting, and sitting in solitude while your battery charges.
I knew it would be hard work. I knew I’d have days I would want to hide and quit. However I was surprised by how many people contacted me that they were “following along” on my Instagram journey. It felt like not only a tribute to my mom, but to all the mamas in my community, cobbling together their own self care and reinvesting in themselves.
Here are my 7 lessons I learned, after dedicating time to ME, for 70 days straight:
Lesson 1: Alcohol + Food Does NOT Equal Self Care
I learned quite early in my 70 days that chocolate, wine, and chips were an easy “out”. I quickly took them off the list as a dedicated self care activity. I needed to push myself to get more creative. A glass of wine, connecting with girlfriends, or having a bath sure with a glass was fine; but wine in and of itself didn’t count. I found myself reaching for alcohol and food to fill a void, to deal with a hard emotion or to curb boredom. According to my personal definition, this wasn’t showing up as my own nurturer. There’s been so much interesting research around motherhood and alcohol, which I won’t recount here, but it gave me pause. Food (specifically treats) was also the same: fine to be enjoyed while doing self care, but not self care in and of themselves.
Lesson 2: Slivers of Time are Precious
One of the most surprising aspects of my challenge is that I committed to two rituals which I’ve resisted for many years. I’ve never been a journal writer, but I found the 5 Minute Journal. It’s something you fill out as soon as you wake up and before bed. I’ve been able to consistently journal, something I never thought possible. Similarly, I’ve learned about micro-meditations, which can be as simple as taking 3 deep breaths, observing the noises around you or feeling your feet on the ground. Simple, quick, effective ways to orient to the present moment, which can be done in the few precious minute between dropping kids off at school and starting my work day.
Lesson 3 : Being Humble Means Asking for Help
The only way this challenge was possible was for me to lean into my community. In laws, babysitters, community programs, my partner, the works. I scheduled one night a week (calendar invites from here until eternity) so that I knew once a week my partner was on duty. I needed to accept that I can’t do it all, nor is anyone actually asking me to, and accept help. That took a lot of just saying yes, and working out the details later.
Lesson 4 : Don’t Knock It Till You’ve Tried It
I tried a lot of things I really usually steer away from: kundalini yoga, a new form of therapy for me called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing), crystal meditations, head massages, and the list goes on. Some of them resonated, and some I probably won’t ever do again. But that’s the gift: trying something, expanding your horizons gives you more information into what does and does not fill your tank.
Lesson 5 : Every Day is New Year’s Day
One of my great friends taught me this when it comes to fitness: every day is a chance to start again. When a few days passed, especially being on vacation with my whole family, and self care fell by the wayside, instead of abandoning ship. I started again. I also learned the value of “rupture & repair” in my relationship with others and with myself. There’s always a chance to build resilience and strength when you make a mistake, by admitting it, apologizing and moving forward.
Lesson 6 : Simplify and Say No
During this challenge I realized just how often I say “yes” with a pit in my stomach or knowing I might renege or cancel. Instead I practiced saying no, and honouring that a simple, smaller life feels more in line with my current situation. As an extroverted introvert, I’ve also come to terms and made peace with enjoying my own company.
Lesson 7: Self Care is the New Normal
Now that I’ve gone down this path, I can’t go back. If I have a day where I haven’t been able to carve out any moment for myself, I feel old anger and resentment building. I find slivers of time to nurture myself by listening to loud music, stretching on my yoga mat, drinking a hot tea, or reading 2 pages of a book in peace. I am clear that this is an investment in my mental health and well-being. And that it is non-negotiable, everyday. The consistency of 70 days allowed me to flex and build the muscle to prioritize myself, over everyone and anyone else, and to actually feel zero guilt about it.
At the end of the day, what I learned is that practicing self care is demonstrating to my twin daughters that I matter too. I will always be here for them, but I need to take my own space to be a happier, more fulfilled person so that I can be a happier, more fulfilled parent.
Giving everything at the expense of my own health and well-being is not the message nor the modelling I want to do for my children. We are raising the next generation of parents, after all.
I thank my mom Mimi for her legacy, for her tsunami of love that keeps rippling, and for giving me the guidance to set a self care example for my children, so that they learn to regulate, recharge and nurture themselves as they face the inevitable vicissitudes of life that come their way.
Check out my journey for some inspiration and ideas of how to practice self care in your life: daily, weekly or aspirationally: instagram.com/getsagecoaching