This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links (at no extra cost to you). Please see my disclosure for more information.
As you’ve probably heard by now, “self-care” is currently having its time in the spotlight. There’s a ton of information out there about how to do it and how to find time for it.
But what actually is true self-care? And what is it not?
Self-care specifics look different to each person. It depends on your needs, lifestyle, and amount of spare time, among other things. However, the underlying principle is pretty much the same – it’s time spent taking care of yourself, because you need to fill your own cup before you’re able to fill the cups of those around you.
In other words, when momma’s not happy, nobody’s happy.
I’m not talking about the new “self-care” of today, where you pamper yourself with a new purse or a pedicure. Believe it or not, that’s not even what self-care is. This is a great place to start – let’s figure out what self-care is and what it’s not.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is about being disciplined in nourishing your body and your mind. It includes getting enough sleep, eating well, and moving your body daily. A healthy body and an alert brain will help you tremendously in your productivity, time management, and personal growth – and it has the added bonus of making you a less crabby momma, too 😉
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m constantly harping on taking care of your body. I believe that it is the easiest, simplest way to make a change in your life. There are SO many benefits. If you take care of your body properly most of the time, you’ll:
- Feel calmer, more relaxed, and more joyful
- Become more productive and better at managing your time
- Experience a multitude of physical and mental health benefits
- Put less pressure on yourself to do it all
- Start enjoying your kids instead of being crabby all the time
- Get to enjoy the added benefit of happier kids because that yelling, stressed out mom is gone.
If you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or completely burnt out, chances are good that it’s because you simply aren’t taking care of yourself properly. You need to make your own basic needs a priority so that you can properly fulfill your many roles and responsibilities.
(Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there are seasons when you truly do have too much to do, and you’re doing all the right things, but you’re still a stressball. Taking care of yourself during these times is exceptionally important, though – it will help you get back to baseline more quickly.)
What is Self-Care NOT?
Self-care is often associated with things you can buy – a massage or pedicure, a new purse, or whatever. But this isn’t true self-care.
The new “self-care” is often associated with consumption or material things. It’s presented as a luxury rather than as a basic priority.
Buying things for self-care purposes (food, gym membership, essential oils to help you sleep better) can be useful, but the important thing to remember is that self-care should NOT be synonymous with a treat-yourself mentality.
As busy moms, we need to ensure that we don’t forget our basic needs and that we stay focused on moving ourselves forward. The new “self-care” often distracts from our true needs – we get so focused on the need for “alone time” that we watch TV instead of sleep, indulge in a glass of wine instead of drinking enough water, or grab fast food in an effort to do something more “self-care-ish” in the 30 minutes it might take to cook at healthy dinner for our family.
Are you starting to see the difference between true self-care and new “self-care”?
The point is that self-care actually cares for your physical and mental health, whereas “self-care” is about self-comfort or self-indulgence.
In this post, I’m going to cover the most basic of physical needs only (taking care of your body will give you mental health benefits as well), and I’m going to break it down into what I feel are the most important categories:
- Get enough sleep
- Drink plenty of water
- Properly fuel your body with healthy food
- Move your body
The reality is that you can’t move to the next level of self-care (doing those things that you really enjoy and want to make time for) if you’re not working on this foundation later first.
I’ll cover what these categories will do for you and how to make time to do them (or find easy ways that don’t take any time at all), even though I know how busy you are!
#1 – SLEEP
Oh, sleep. This one can be the most challenging because it just takes too much time! It’s one of the first things to go when life starts to get crazy. Sometimes it seems like there are much better things to do with your time than to waste it sleeping. And sometimes the only time moms can get some peace and quiet is during those post-bedtime hours.
Sleep deprivation isn’t just a problem for moms with infants, although they do tend to have it worse than moms with kids who sleep through the night.
I used to find myself coming downstairs after putting the kids to bed and sitting on the couch playing games on my phone, reveling in the quiet. Eventually I realized that this was the root cause of my daily bad mood, so now I just go to bed right after my kids. It’s a sacrifice, for sure, but it has changed my days entirely. I no longer slog through my days, snapping at my husband and kids, because I’m too tired to function properly. I feel physically better too. I can’t put my finger on it, because it’s not like I had any true “ailments” before, but I just feel good again.
Why It Helps
Sleep has soooo many benefits. Here are just a few of them:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Improves concentration and productivity
- Helps with anxiety and depression
- Increases immune function
How to Do It
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Heck, you can even start with 15 minutes earlier. Just try to get in bed a little bit earlier than you have been. Those few minutes can make a big difference.
- Get up before your kids. I know that this seems counterproductive – how can you get MORE sleep if you’re getting up earlier? Well, hopefully you’re going to bed earlier 😉 Waking up before your kids allows you to get into the right mindset and feel more awake before you’re thrown into breakfast-making, shoe-finding, and getting out of the door in time. It allows you to start your day as YOU – not a mom, wife, or whatever other role you have.
- Take a nap. When you have a spare second, lie down on the couch and snooze. You only need 15 or 20 minutes, and it can make a huge difference in your day. On days when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, I nap while my kids are playing right in front of me. Or I throw on a TV show, which gives me 23 or 24 minutes.
- Set your own sleep schedule. You know how your kids always seem happier when they go to bed and wake up around the same time every day? The same goes for you! Do your best to keep a constant schedule – it will make you feel much more rested!
#2 – WATER
I used to feel tired and sluggish every single day. Even if I managed to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep, I would still go through my days in a fog. I always thought there was something physically wrong with me. I knew I had low iron, but iron supplements never seemed to help.
Eventually, once I started setting goals to drink a certain amount of water per day, I realized that this was one of the biggest reasons behind my exhaustion – I wasn’t drinking enough water.
It’s not a miracle cure, but it certainly helps me feel like an actual functioning human being most days.
Why It Helps
Your body is made primarily of water, and, simply put, you need water for it to function. Beyond that, water:
- Flushes out waste and toxins from your body
- Regulates body temperature
- Helps your cognitive function and your mood
- Cushions your joints, spinal cord, and other body parts to keep them safe
- Aids in digestion
- Improves circulation
- Keeps your skin free from breakouts and prevents wrinkles
How to Do It
- Set your water in a high-traffic area, and take a sip every time you see it. This is my preferred method. When we’re homeschooling, I take my water into the living room with me, but every other time during the day, it sits on my kitchen island. Whenever I walk through my kitchen, which is right in the middle of my house, I have a drink.
- Set alarms on your phone for water breaks. And then actually drink water when your alarms go off 😉
- Make it fancy. Use lemons, oranges, cucumber… Whatever makes your water taste good to you.
- Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. This way, you can drink whenever you feel thirsty.
- If you’re a nursing mom, fill up a glass of water every time you sit down to nurse, and drink up. Your body, especially, needs the extra hydration right now.
#3 – FOOD
We all need to eat, but eating healthy meals and snacks that fuel our bodies and minds is sooo much easier said than done when we’re busy chasing after (and feeding) kids.
To be perfectly honest, I still go through many of my days not eating well enough – or not eating enough, period. On those days, I find myself shoving whatever food I can find into my face at around 4 p.m. because I’m so shaky that I can’t make it until dinner. I make bad choices (usually sugary foods, because they’re the ones that get rid of the shakiness the quickest), and then I’m not hungry at dinnertime, but I eat anyway because we sit down as a family every night.
Not good for my blood sugar, not good for my ladylike figure.
Beyond my own waistline, I also want my kids to reach for cucumbers and strawberries instead of potato chips and cookies, so I know that I need to model healthy eating for them.
Why It Helps
There’s a lot of truth behind the saying, “You are what you eat.” If you typically eat healthy, whole foods, your body will be healthy. The reverse is also true. Why do you need to take care of your own body by eating healthy foods? Some reasons:
- Lengthens your life
- Positively affects your mood
- Increases your focus
- Reduces the risk of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in particular)
- Lowers risk of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and ADHD
- Helps you sleep better
How to Do It
- When you’re packing lunches for your kids, pack one (or a week’s worth) for yourself too. I cook dinner every night, and I usually make myself a quick breakfast as well. Lunch, though? Lunch is where it usually falls apart for me. Sometimes it feels like leftovers take too long. So prepping in advance can be a lifesaver.
- Portion out your leftovers right after dinner so that you can easily grab a container and heat it up. This tip goes hand in hand with the previous tip – it’s another way to make good choices at lunch.
- Buy healthy snack options for everyone. Then, when you get home from shopping, wash and cut up some fruits and veggies, so they’re quick and easy to grab. Keep them in the front of your fridge so they’re the first thing you and the kids see when you open those doors.
- Keep a couple of healthy snacks in your purse at all times. My go-to purse snacks are meat sticks and crackers.
- Meal plan. If you don’t know what you’re eating and when, it’s too easy to order pizza or run through the Taco Bell drive-through. If you plan ahead, you’re more likely to cook (and to remember to pull meat out of the freezer in the first place). I’m a huge fan of these freezer meals because I can spend a few hours on a Sunday prepping and have 20+ meals in my freezer to pull out and heat up quickly and easily.
- Stop eating leftover food off of your kids’ plates. Just don’t do it anymore. I hate wasting food. It costs me money, and there are starving people right here in my own town who would benefit from the food that I end up throwing away. But the mindless habit of cleaning the kids’ plates isn’t good for you. Neither is forcing your kids to eat beyond what their tummies want. I try to only feed them things that work as leftovers, like soup, taco fixings, or pasta. If the kids don’t finish, I can stick their food in the fridge for the next lunch or snack. Chicken nuggets? They don’t reheat so well, so I rarely buy them.
#4 – EXERCISE
Exercise is great for so many reasons. Not only will it help you look your best, but it will also help you feel your best. It’s a natural energy booster, so it’s perfect for those days when you just can’t get going. And it’s something productive that you can do when you find yourself with a few spare minutes.
Admittedly, I’m not the best person to be giving advice on exercise because this is my number one struggle when it comes to taking care of my own body. I don’t like it, so it’s hard to make or find the time.
However, I do understand the importance of moving our bodies every day.
Why It Helps
There are countless studies that show the incredible health benefits of daily exercise. Exercise can:
- Boost your energy and, therefore, your productivity and focus
- Improve your mood
- Help with weight control
- Increase your cardiovascular health
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers
- Strengthen bones and muscles
How to Do It
- Go outside. Taking a walk or going for a bike ride or hike outside gives you the added benefit of fresh air, which is good for your whole body (especially your immune system), makes you happier, and gives you more energy and a sharper mind. It also beats monotony, reduces stress, and gets you some vitamin D.
- Get a gym membership… If you have the support system in place, sometimes it helps to get out of the house to work out. If you work, you can head to the gym during your lunch hour.
- …Or don’t. YouTube is full of quick workout videos. Or you can walk out of your front door and go for a quick walk. As for me, I don’t have time or funds to get a gym membership. Plus I just wouldn’t make the extra effort to leave my house and drive somewhere to exercise. Do what works best for you and your family!
- Find ways to take extra steps during your day. You can use the upstairs bathroom at work or at home. Or get into the habit of standing when you’re on the phone or checking social media. Or have a quick dance party in your kitchen.
- Involve your family. Go on family walks, hikes, or bike rides.
- Remember that every little bit helps. Don’t have 30 minutes to take a walk or do a yoga video? Do it for 20. Don’t have 20 minutes? Do it for 10. You get the idea. It adds up over time, and these small amounts do matter.
#5 – BE PRESENT
This one is a bonus. Beyond the above physical self-care needs, staying in the present is one of the best ways to care for yourself mentally.
Even when it feels like life is overwhelming, and you can’t possibly get everything done, try your very best to stay present.
Brief breaks in your day to focus on what’s going on in your life RIGHT NOW can make you more focused, more productive, and happier. It makes you more appreciative of what you have. This inner joy is the truest form of non-physical self-care that there is.
Why It Helps
Mindfulness, intentionality, and being present in the moment can:
- Decrease stress and calm your mind
- Bring joy, gratitude, and appreciation
- Make you an overall happier person
How to Do It
- Be intentional when you’re doing things you love. Whether you’re reading a book, sitting by the fire with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, or soaking in a hot bath at the end of a long day, remember to stop, take notice, and ENJOY what you’re doing. It’s also important to pause and be grateful and soak in the moments when the kids are huddled on the couch together reading a book, or when your daughter is doing a “set-up” with her stuffed animals on the couch, or your son is diligently sorting his Pokemon cards.
- Find times in the day where you’re easily able to take a quick pause. For me, this is usually either right after we’re done with our schoolwork or right after dinner, when everyone is settling down for the night. Focus on these quick, quiet moments, and be grateful for your health, your home, and your beautiful family.
- Just be. Forget the to-do list for just a minute. Truly look at your spouse and kids when you’re talking to them. Notice the fact that your Christmas cactus just bloomed or that your tulips are finally coming up after a long winter.
There you have it – true self-care. It’s so important to take care of yourself physically before you worry about what you think “self-care” should look like based on Facebook’s portrayal.
My life got a lot easier (and my mood and productivity seriously improved) once I started making a regular habit of getting to bed earlier, drinking enough water, and eating more healthily. Exercise? That’s still a work in progress for me, but I AM working on it 🙂
You definitely still need to do things for yourself beyond these basic physical needs. Moms need their own friends, their own “thing” (hobby, activity, etc.), and their own time. I just wanted to remind you all that self-care starts with the basics – if you don’t have these needs met, you won’t be the mom / wife / boss / employee / sister / friend you need to be. And those relationships are some of the most important things there are. Take care of yourself!
Which of these five aspects of self-care do you need to work on most? Which do you think you do best? Share below!