Mini Maintenance Activities for Your Mental Health
In honor of Mental Health Awareness month in May, I wanted to offer some thoughts on a topic that I’ve been working on personally through this pandemic. As a therapist in Washington DC, I spend my days working with clients and talking about the concept of self care. Yet, I have to admit–As a mom, I secretly hate it when I get the advice to focus on “more self care.” Why? Because it feels like another area that moms need to perfect, take on, master, include in their list of daily activities, and otherwise figure out how to do well.
I’m not kidding! When my children were small, I used to cringe physically when I’d even hear the words–self care. Over time, I learned to use those moments of irritation and resentment as guides. They offered me direct physical signs that I needed to find my own way into a few moments of time for myself rather than doing so much for others. I also claimed those moments as my own. They were my own private lessons into what specifically I might need in that moment. I got over the anger that I had “to do just one more thing,” which included taking care of myself. I learned to develop what I call “minis,” which are quick, easy maintenance activities that are just for me as a mom.
I know that this pandemic is hard! Many of us are working to save our jobs or businesses. Most parents are heavily involved in the schooling of their children at home, while feeling scared about their future. Time is both compressed and slowed down, which is a difficult combination. During this pandemic, I’ve been relying on those minis to make the most of the moments that I commit to caring for myself. They have become a lifeline for me. They remind me of who I am, what I care about, and what I can accomplish in a day, and in my life. They help me launch my days with more energy. They help me feel my strength and calm. They help me connect better with others. And they don’t take very much time, which is not in excess in my life nor in the lives of most working parents. Here are a few of my take home ideas for you to adapt into your own lives.
1. Morning moments: I like to wake up each morning and “go.” I like to jump into the day with all that needs to be done right away. It’s just the way I’m made. However, I’ve found that it doesn’t allow me to be my best self, and certainly doesn’t help me be the best mom version of myself. During the pandemic, I’ve relied fully on starting my days with a morning moment. I pour myself a hot morning beverage, and do the following: read, write, meditate or think. Some people suggest 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of writing and 10 minutes of meditating. I’ve condensed it to 10 minutes total on busy days.
2. Work in your 5’s: I’ve been working a ton during the pandemic in order to support our therapists and clients well. My days start early and stretch into the evening when I see clients virtually. In order to cope with long hours, I’ve amped up my efforts to boost my work environment. I use the 5s’s – Support & Soothing Strategies for Parents & Couples during COVID [sight, smell, sound, touch, taste] to make sure that I’m surrounded by comforting strategies. Work feels more supportive when I’m paying attention to what my body and mind need.
3. Do Intervals: When my 2nd son was a baby, I was desperate to resume exercising regularly. However, I had a toddler, an infant, a business, a husband, a home and much more. Fortunately, I had a full life. Yet, I had absolutely no time! I knew exercise was my lifeline to energy, yet I struggled to find a way to work it into my schedule. I had a coach suggest that 30-90 second intervals for a total of 10-12 minutes was proven to be just as helpful as a full workout. That was my answer. I was a recreational runner before my kids came. So I started doing 30,60, 90 second interval stroller runs. Eventually, I built up to long stretches and joined a neighborhood moms bootcamp. I focused on what I could do in those brief moments and just showed up for myself and tried. So far, my pandemic workouts consist of only 10-30 minutes of HIT exercises when I have time.
4. Take Breath Breaks: I despise the advice, “just relax,” or “take 10 deep breaths.” I don’t give this advice to clients, because I know that we need more nuanced strategies to cope with different levels of stress. However, I have come to learn that there are different types of breathing for different levels of stress. When we are slightly escalated and tense, we can rely on deep breaths to let out some tension. When we are moderately escalated and upset, we need more active and intentional breathing strategies. I like the cooling breath method [https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-cooling-breath-shitali-pranayama-3566761] and long deep breathing exercise, where you simply exhale longer than you inhale.
5. Take 5: I work with child clients in my practice on a Take 5 Plan, which holds a list of their social triggers and calming strategies to use so that they can keep playing well with others. As parents, we need a Take 5 Plan for ourselves when we need respite from our families, our roles and our busy lives. This plan contains a list of your top 5 triggers and your top 5 quick strategies to use in those moments when you want to scream your head off. Mine are sitting on the back porch, turning on soft music, lighting a candle, doing a quick car meditation, and thinking of something I want to cook.
6. Create Nightly Comforts: At the end of a long day, find a few things that feel like they are just for you. Have your favorite book on your nightstand. Wrap yourself in that super soft blanket. Try to rely on comforts that create positive energy or soothing experiences rather than keep stress flowing. For me, I have to remind myself that a show at the end of the night is fun, but not relaxing. However, I always find a good book to be comforting.
Remember, you don’t have to do all of these or any of these for very long. Notice when you are irritated and use that to inform you about what you might need. Start small, and add time and activities as you can. Be kind to yourself~ You’re doing great!