“I am barely caring for my health. I barely wash my hair and just pile on dry shampoo. I do not work out and usually eat snacks on the go instead of sitting down for healthy meals…”
“(I) want to scream or cry most of the time.”
“I’ve had a lot of progress with my mental health and physical health, but I feel very turbulent emotionally.”
“Wish this was multiple choice. I don’t really have time for taking care of myself. I do the basics to survive and that’s it.”
“I’m not (caring for myself.) Often feel extremely depressed.”
Nearly 3,000 parents, mostly Moms (97%) managing their careers (86%) have participated in our study since March of 2020. And in the most recent survey wave, 86% cite doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ at self-care. Which is worse than when Covid hit. Although Moms placing family care, above self-care isn’t new, the conditions are.
Pandemic living continues to upend our plans, childcare and health. Yet, everything from business trips to birthday parties, are back on the calendar. There’s more mental load and even less discretionary time. So, anxiety and depression continue to rise. Leading to disconnection, hiding or in some cases, numbing.
Although the barriers are significant, you don’t have to resume your old schedule. You can choose a different speed to protect your mental and emotional health. But first, learn to interrupt harmful patterns and reward yourself for positive momentum.
Emerging from Self-Neglect is Hard
“Nothing (for my self-care). (I’m)…exhausted all the time and constantly behind.”
“I never really have time to myself except to take a shower. And I take a quick shower.”
“Currently trying to recover from COVID for the second time, another two weeks of interrupted childcare & work.”
“No idea…. I’m in survival mode.”
Many surveyed Moms recognize the expectations for their time are unrealistic. But they still own most of the childcare and household work, with few options for relief. They’re drained and find it difficult to reengage in anything for themselves. Whether it’s catching up with a friend, showering or taking a few deep breaths. So, how do we choose the activities that serve us?
Because Your Brain Can Play Tricks on You
Dr. Charmain Jackman, Clinical Psychologist and mental health advocate said, “When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, your brain tells you, nobody cares about you. Or you’re not that great socially or you’re a hot mess.” If you’re already feeling low, it can spiral into making it harder to do anything to help. She added, “Your brain will tell you all the negative things that you fear. And you need to radically resist that.”
When asked, ‘what do you do, that makes you feel like you’re caring for yourself?’ surveyed Moms had a lot to say. Everything from getting mental healthcare to honoring their feelings. But many struggle to make space for basic hygiene, nourishment, and sleep. While others have begun to protect their time by asking for help and setting boundaries.
Care for Your Body
“Getting a shower once a week and eating once a day.”
“I shower every so often, sleep, cry and get emotional.”
“Showering. If I even got to do that or had the energy.”
“Working out, eating regular meals, getting enough water, getting time to talk with others about something other than logistics or work.”
“Taking longer shower‚ I do guided meditation to sleep. Visit my family when I can. Take vitamins to calm my nerves. I’m going to try to pamper myself with at least a manicure twice a month.”
And Your Mind
“Therapy and meds.”
“Recently started depression meds.”
“I went to the doctor recently and got meds they have helped a lot but I want to do more.”
“Telehealth therapy sessions during workday.”
Reestablish Healthy Habits
“…Cooking and baking more. Drinking less. Family movie nights.”
“I joined AA via Zoom. I plan to continue that.”
“Sleep, putting on clothes and make up, leaving the house, having time to myself.”
Take More Space for Yourself
“When I’m not being consumed by kids and depression, taking my medication, taking time for myself at the end of the day or during some point of the day. Going for a ride alone with complete silence. Or journaling my thoughts and feelings.”
“Doing something that feeds my soul. Like crafting. Doing something I choose to do unrelated to kids.”
“To have time to read and workout or simply enjoy a cup of coffee without interruption and not at my work desk or in a rush, because I need to attend to someone.”
“Getting dressed in clothes that aren’t sweats and having connections with other adults. Exercising helps too but I can’t seem to fit that in due to the mess that I will have to clean if I don’t pay attention to my kids.”
And Unapologetically Seek Support
“….Making sure to ask for help instead of trying to do everything alone. And remembering to feel positive about what I have done and let go of feeling negative about what I failed to do or did poorly.”
“Taking naps. Getting regular haircuts. Playing video games. Watching Netflix. Sharing parenting and household responsibilities with my husband.”
Rebuild Social Connection
Are you avoiding something you love? Overseeing crowded calendars and logistics can feel daunting. So, we may cut activities we enjoy. But seeing friends, family or people in your community, can improve how you feel. Charmain said, “Remember the good times you’ve had in the past, to give an activity a chance. I’ve been in that place where if I’m rushing and know I’m going to be late, I almost don’t want to bother. But I still go anyway. Sometimes, that’s just when the party is starting.”
And Reengage at Your Own Pace
Whether it’s a work event or family gathering, create different rules for yourself. Charmain added, “And it’s okay to not be there for the whole time. Some people didn’t like social situations prior to Covid. But I have found people experience a real benefit to having social connection. It’s part of who we are as human beings. And it can be a dose of happiness and joy that you didn’t expect in that moment.”
Determine New Rules That Work
Moms were under duress long before Covid. And you don’t need to keep an exhausting lifestyle. Charmain suggests we experiment, “Think about what will make it easier for you. What will make it more fun? Can you take someone with you or plan to do something after, so you don’t feel like you’re going to get stuck there? Create a scenario around it that makes it okay in that moment. And recognize, if you feel like it’s going to be too much, that’s normal. We’re all adjusting to things that are part of reentering the world.”
If You’ve Been Coping in Maladaptive Ways
In our study, many cite using legal or illegal substances, to handle stress or sadness. And whether it’s drinking, smoking or cookie dough ice cream, they share the desire to slow down or stop. Charmain said, “The data shows an increase in alcohol and substance use during the pandemic. And relying on substances or other unhealthy forms of coping, may feel good temporarily. But they often cause longer lasting problems.” And most Mothers in our survey, regardless of how they’re managing life’s challenges, want healthier habits.
Notice and Name the Behavior
Charmain explained, “If you are in that situation where you’re having excess food or 3 glasses of wine every day after dinner, then name it. It’s about being able to be honest with yourself. And maybe you’ve gotten feedback from a partner or from a kid. So, whatever the behavior is, name it and notice how it’s impacting your mood or behavior. Like your ability to get up in the morning.”
How about the other side of untangling self-destructive behavior? She added, “You have to want to change. And come to the place where you decide, ‘Okay this is not serving me. And it’s actually making my life more complicated.’ So, you have to recognize that it impacts your life or work, and then want to do something about that.”
Disrupt The Patterns
Changing behavior and improving your health, doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Charmain said, “People definitely went for more substances during COVID. And it may feel really difficult to untangle from that. But there are resources. Whether it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, therapy, helpline or calling an Employee Assistance Plan, which many employers provide; for support. I encourage your readers to be brave and interrupt the unhealthy pattern.”
It can feel overwhelming to change entrenched routines or acknowledge emotional distress. Especially if you need help. But it’s possible. And there’s a powerful way to unwind what you want to adjust.
And Reward Yourself with Something Better
Charmain said, “Whenever you’re going to take away an unhealthy behavior, you have to replace it with something else. Or you’re just going to lean into that thing again. So, don’t say ‘I’m going to stop drinking’ and let that be the end of the sentence. Say, ‘I’m going to stop drinking but I’m going to take up yoga.’ Or ‘I’m going to stop drinking but I’m going to take up walking’ right?” So good.
She added, “Be aware of your trigger points. So, maybe it’s whenever there’s a crisis at work or for one of your kids. Notice when you reach for that behavior. And make it harder to access. So, for example, don’t have alcohol or your favorite snacks at home. And replace it with something positive.”
You’re not alone. Many of us are making micro or major adjustments to how we live, work, grieve, process, and develop our potential. So, if you’re ready to upgrade how you care for your wellbeing, now is the time. And as always, you’re in excellent company.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Charmain Jackman!
Follow Charmain’s great adventure on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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Dr. Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.Tags: anxiety, depression, isolation, Manage Stress For Moms, mental wellbeing for Moms, Moms Self care, numbing, self-care