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When There’s Just No Time for ‘Self-Care’

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Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH - Blogs
By Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistJuly 2, 2018

I recently signed up for a walking challenge at work: 20 minutes every day for 3 weeks. Even with my crazy schedule as a doctor and mom, it seemed doable.

The first day went well. But the next day, and the day after that…no so much. I found that carving out 20 minutes for myself every day was really difficult. I ended up bowing out of the challenge after one week – and then spent a day or two feeling bad about myself.

What started out as a seemingly simple way to take better care of myself turned into something that, for a while, actually made me feel worse!

Self-care as a mom is an ongoing challenge, whether it’s doing something for yourself, or just stomping out the negative self-talk. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at with parenting – changing diapers, helping with homework, or navigating teen life – it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

If you’re a working mom like me, here are some self-care tips that I use to guide me on a daily basis:

Be kind to yourself. I’m harder on myself than I need to be. One way I try to get to a healthy perspective is to think about what I’d want for my daughter if she were in my place. I’d want her to enjoy the moments with her kids, not take anything too seriously, get rest, and have some adult fun. When I think about her, it’s easier to acknowledge what I need to do for myself. Enjoying life isn’t a guilty pleasure! And if I’m happier, I’ll be more successful at home and at work.

Say yes. I know that when I look back at my life, my memories are going to be about experiences, not the messy closets I had while the kids were growing up. If there’s an event you want to be at, like a friend’s birthday or wedding, then prioritize it and make time for it. Finding the time, energy, and resources can be challenging, but it’ll be worth it.

Say no. Be honest with yourself, and say no when you want to. I have a friend that hates doing art projects with her kids, but feels like she should. No, she doesn’t need to take that on if it’s stressful to her. The kids can get their free flowing, messy, creative time at camp or at school. She should do what she likes to do with them – play a board game or go for a hike.

Remember, it’s all temporary. When I think about how fast high school, college, and medical school went for me, it always makes me nostalgic about how fast children grow up. There may be seasons where self-care is challenging, but it won’t last forever. I just try to make it through and at least keep up with a few key appointments like my haircut, pedicure, and dental cleaning.

Look for small pockets of time you can tag as your own. When the calendar is full, look for little pockets of time that you can take back as your own. When I’m driving the kids around to activities, I always have some time in between activities while I’m waiting for them, so I use that time to read books on my phone. I see others doing the same – listening to music or a podcast, even knitting! It feels good to do something I enjoy, and when I’m intentional about claiming that time for myself, I get the sense of having cared for myself. Then, when the kids get back in the car, I’m rested and calm ready to be mom.

Delegate. While there are some things we all have to do that we’d rather not, if you plan a little you can get out of a lot stuff. I don’t like shopping, especially last minute running into a store. There’s something about the whole process of parking, finding stuff, and then standing in line that tires me out. I keep a running list on my phone of all the shopping I need to do. Then I’ll sit down order as much as I can online and hit as few brick and mortar stores as possible. For the weekly groceries, I make the list and do the cooking, but I let my husband do the shopping.

Self-care for moms is important, but it doesn’t need to be about doing more. Start by saying no when you can, and then look for ways to incorporate things you enjoy – even if they’re small things. And even when you can’t do nurturing things for yourself, try to at least make sure that your thoughts and self-talk are nurturing and kind.

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About the Author
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a WebMD Medical Editor. She is on the team that makes sure all WebMD content is medically correct, current and understandable. She sees patients at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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