I think many mums agree that self-care is important. We know that when we look after ourselves, we’re better at handling stress, challenges and change and we’re more resilient when things go wrong. When we protect our wellbeing, we have more to give our families and others.
However, knowing is only the first step. Thinking about self-care doesn’t make a difference to our wellbeing. We need to take action. But making self-care happen is often easier said than done.
One of the biggest obstacles to self-care that mums face is time.
When someone says “you should take some time out for yourself”, we laugh and contemplate how seemingly impossible that is.
Lovely mum, I need to tell you, that fitting self-care into your busy life is not impossible.
I know it seems that way. I’ve felt like that too.
When time is your biggest obstacle to looking after yourself, then focus on realistic self-care. That means, realistic for you.
Self-care is any activity that you deliberately do to nourish your mind, body or spirit. This can be done in 5 minutes, rather than 5 hours. It doesn’t have to take much time at all.
If you start small and keep it realistic, you’ll build a habit of investing in your wellbeing. Then, as your circumstances allow, you can increase the duration or frequency of your self-care activities.
Give yourself permission to focus on your wellbeing in the little moments throughout your day. Even one little moment at day is a great start!
To get you started, here are some realistic self-care ideas that can be incorporated into the things you’re already doing, so you don’t have to find extra time in your day.
12 Realistic self-care ideas that can be incorporated into what you’re already doing
1. Swap your usual personal products for something a little luxurious
Great products can make you feel amazing (or even just slightly less tired and frazzled!). Look for skin and hair care products that smell beautiful, feel lovely or are simply enjoyable for you to use. They don’t have to be expensive. I love using Frankincense essential oil on my face, followed by a beautiful moisturiser. I’m also currently using a delicious smelling raspberry exfoliating scrub. Every time I use these products I breathe in the fragrances and feel good.
2. Improve your sleep
You may be struggling to get 7-9 hours sleep but you can improve the quality of the sleep you do get with some simple changes:
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible
- Keep your bedroom at the ideal temperature for sleep, according to research; 15 – 20 degrees Celsius
- Stop using technology an hour before you sleep, or use apps and settings to reduce the blue light emitted from your devices (I’ve been using f.lux on my computer and have noticed a difference when I’m working late at night)
- Make sure your pillow supports your neck to be in a natural position
- Avoid caffeine late at night
- Lower the light in your house up to 3 hours before bedtime. Less light creates more melatonin (the sleep hormone)
- Use essential oils to help you relax and fall asleep. I find Lavender and Cedarwood work well.
- When you first get into bed, take a few slow deep breaths, where your exhale is twice as long as your inhale.
- Use sleep affirmations to focus your mind and let go of the day – here’s a great article that provides examples.
3. Make healthy eating easier
You’re already grocery shopping and eating, so swap out your current choices for something healthier. Have fresh, unprocessed foods available in your house for when you’re hungry or prepare healthy snacks in batches. We love to have plenty of healthy muffins in the freezer and are always stocked up on fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts. If you’re already preparing healthy snacks for the kids, then also prepare some for yourself. Don’t buy foods that you’d rather not be eating, so you’re not tempted in a moment of weakness or extreme hunger! Plan your snacks ahead of time because it’s always easier to make better choices when you’re not under pressure.
4. Be present and really connect
We’re built to seek connection, to feel loved and to belong. It impacts our wellbeing in many ways. It’s also important that we have people we can talk to when things are difficult.
To really connect we need to be present in the moment. That means when you have the opportunity to connect with someone important in your life (a friend, family member or anyone else that you have a valued relationship with), minimise distractions (like technology) and share honestly and authentically with them. Ask about their life and really listen to what they’re saying (and aren’t saying). These things deepen connections and are good for you!
5. Complete daily activities mindfully
Mindfulness is deeply restorative and can help us feel calm and grounded. It also helps us to slow down and experience how thoughts and feelings can pass through us. Mindfulness might seem time consuming, but when it’s incorporated it into your daily activities, it can be realistic self-care. Even 2 minutes is worthwhile.
Mindfulness is all about being present and fully aware of what you’re doing and where you are, without judgement. You can practice mindfulness while making a cup of tea, brushing your teeth, hanging out the washing, walking down the street or from one room to another.
For example, folding the washing mindfully would involve noticing:
- The temperature of the room and the noises around you
- How your body feels as you stand or sit to do this task
- The texture, colours and patterns of the fabrics
- How the clothes smell and feel in your hands
- The way that you fold them, and how they look in a pile.
When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your folding.
6. Wear things that make you feel good
Unless you’re going to spend the day in your pyjamas (no judgement!), you’re going to spend some time getting dressed. When you do, consider choosing at least 1 thing every day that makes you feel good. It could be your favourite t-shirt, your most comfy jeans, a warm pair of socks, a fun necklace, some simple make up or your favourite watch. Whatever makes you feel confident and more like yourself. Consider getting rid of anything in your wardrobe that makes you feel drab or not so good about yourself.
7. Hug more and for longer
Hugs are powerful. Hugs from someone you know and trust can:
- Balance out your nervous system
- Reduce stress and physical tension in your body
- Help you feel safe
- Boost your self-esteem
- Strengthen your immune system
- Deepen relationships and build even more trust.
Hugs lasting 20 seconds or more have the most significant effect on our oxytocin levels, which in turn reduces stress levels and boosts our mood. But any hug longer than 6 seconds has been shown to be a mood booster! Mum life is full of hugs, so keep on hugging, hug more and hug for longer!
8. Lower your standards
I’ll admit that I’ve often prided myself on having high standards (mostly for myself, rather than others), but in motherhood, these standards became the source of so much pressure and stress. And for what?
We hold ourselves to much higher standards than we hold anyone else to. It’s often unnecessary. In fact, research has shown that your standards can determine your happiness.
Author and neuroscientist Robb Rutledge found that, “happiness depends not on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”
In many cases, a lower standard would still be perfectly acceptable. For example, having eggs on toast for dinner when you just don’t have the energy to cook, vacuuming less often, saying no to another social gathering on a busy weekend, not ironing unless you really need to or letting the kids play in the backyard instead of taking them to a play centre. Realistic self-care is not having to do everything and accepting that perfection is not required.
9. Don’t do something
Not only does this one not take any additional time, it actually saves you time!
Most of us would have at least one thing on our plate that we could eliminate. If it didn’t get done, no one would be greatly impacted or perhaps even notice! For example, I love the look and feel of ironed quilt covers and pillowcases but these days I don’t bother (except for my guest room!). Not one person has complained! (In fact, my husband always thought it was a little ridiculous.)
Alternatively, you could say no to something, so it doesn’t end up on your plate in the first place! I’d consider that saving time, just like I consider finding nothing to buy when I go shopping saving money!
10. Forgive yourself for mistakes
Mistakes are inevitable in motherhood and if we can’t forgive ourselves, we’ll continue to carry around guilt and shame. As a result, we feel unworthy, keep punishing ourselves and reliving the mistake, and let if effect our decisions and self-concept. Over time, this can impact on your relationships and physical and mental wellbeing.
Extend yourself some self-compassion. You’re only human and many others have probably made the same mistake, or struggled with the same thing. You’re not defined by your mistakes. Decide you will let it go, acknowledge what you’ve done and focus on what can be learned from the situation. Ask for forgiveness from others also if necessary.
It’s helpful to identify if your mistake is linked to a limiting belief about yourself. For example, you might be telling yourself that you’re a bad mum because of the mistake you’ve made. I love this quote:
You’re not a bad mum, and your fate is not sealed by the mistake you made. You can choose how your story ends. Forgiving yourself is a critical step.
11. Start the day with a positive thought
If you’ve ever been woken up by a whinging and complaining child, then you’ll know that what happens in that first moment has a significant impact on your day.
Starting the day with something positive can change everything that follows and a positive thought requires so little time and no equipment!
Your positive thought could be:
- An affirmation
- Something you’re grateful for
- Your intentions for the day
- Something you’re proud of
- Someone you love
- Anything that makes you feel happy
- Something you’re looking forward to.
If it helps, write your positive thought on a piece of paper or find a picture or item that represents the positive thought, and place it where you’ll see it when you wake.
12. Move more
I’m not just talking about exercise here. All movement is helpful, because we were designed to move. The more you move, the better your body will function. Plus you’ll think, feel and connect with others better.
Utilise every opportunity for movement in your daily activities and find more! You’re already moving when you play with the kids, clean, cook, garden, shop or go to work. To increase your movement try:
- Taking the stairs
- Parking a little further away
- Rearranging things in your kitchen to require more movement
- Standing up and pacing while you’re on the phone
- Taking public transport
- Choosing active games to play with the kids
- Simple exercises like squats or lunges while you wait for the kettle to boil
- Stretch for a couple of minutes every morning and night
If you feel like you have no time to look after yourself, change your focus to realistic self-care. You deserve to be well. Your self-care is important and you need to take action to make it happen.
Will you make a commitment to your self-care, lovely?
Which of these ideas will you implement in your life this week to start building the habit of self-care?
P.S. If you loved this article you might also like: 5 Myths that stand in the way of self-care