Self-care is the big buzz word this year, this chronic reminder to women that you don’t do enough for yourself. This directive to find time for yourself, to carve out time out of your busy day for a bubble bath or getting your nails done, only creates a great sense of lack.
If your days are already full with childcare, homeschooling, or working, the idea that you can and should be able to make time to get a massage is laughable at best and shaming at most.
Dealing with an invisible load
For women who already struggle to do all the things, it feels like one more task on an impossible long to do list. Women already carry the brunt of an invisible load— all of the tasks that are on your mind weighing on you daily, like making doctor’s appointments, whether or not it’s trash day, what new pieces of clothes your toddler needs for summer, etc– and turning off your brain to enjoy mandated “self-care” is a bit problematic.
I know it’s not that you don’t desire time alone or to care for yourself; of course you do! And you deserve it, mama. The way you care for your family, your home, and your work demands that there needs to be some rest to counter the busy.
I’ve found a method to really care for myself and my future that does not involve skincare products, going shopping, spa day with girlfriends, etc. (although those things can be nice too!) These self-care methods are free, readily available, and will radically change the way you view your life and your mental load. Ready?
A different form of self-care for Mamas
I hesitate to even call this self-care because it’s really a life tool for creating the future that you desire. I use these methods on myself, with my coaching clients, and even have shared a kid-friendly version of them with my kids (start them at a young age, right?)
The Thought Shift
Remember how I mentioned earlier that even if you get a break to do something enjoyable, you may find it not so enjoyable because of the invisible load? Here’s why.
Your brain creates neural pathways that are like well-worn paths. It’s simpler for your brain to think the same thoughts over and over because they are recognizable and produce the same results consistently over time. This is both a blessing and a curse.
If you find yourself having the same thoughts over and over it’s because your neural pathway is super deep and rutted; you’re not quite trapped in that path, but your brain thinks it is! To take control of your thoughts again and form new pathways (and ultimately make it possible to enjoy your “self-care” when you get it), you must:
- monitor your thoughts
- introduce a pattern interrupter
- change your thoughts
This is a skill to develop because the more you practice it, the more your thoughts will improve and also positively impact your life. When life feels out of control, this is a tool to help you take back the reins. Let’s look at how each of these three steps work.
Monitor your thoughts
Every day your brain is incessantly chattering. Many of your thoughts are repetitive, negative, and not actually moving your life forward. The good news is that you’re the captain of your ship, and you can determine what thoughts get to stay and which ones get the boot.
With my 8 year old daughter, who struggles sometimes with mild anxiety and normal childhood fears, we call this “putting the orangutans back in their cage.” Have you ever watched orangutans at the zoo?
Several years ago, my family and I were visiting the zoo. We sidled up to a viewing window and saw a large orangutan hanging from a tree. He looked at us, then dropped upside down, started peeing, and caught it in his open mouth. (SORRY, for adding that disgusting thought to your brain!)
This orangutan was out of control! He was raging his own party, and given the chance to escape his enclosure, would’ve surely caused mayhem throughout the zoo.
Whenever my daughter is having negative, scary, or repetitive thoughts, I remind her that she is the zookeeper, and it’s her job to keep those unruly orangutans in their enclosure. This reminds her to pay attention to her thoughts and be more aware. You may try this with your kiddos, although it certainly works for adults too! Bonus points for practicing compassion (toward ourselves and others) when we become aware of those thoughts.
The key here is that you are monitoring your thoughts and paying careful attention to what’s rattling around in your brain.
Have you examined your thoughts closely and thrown out the ones that aren’t helping to positively move your life forward?
Create your future instead of living in the past.The Streamlined Life
Everyone is 100% capable of getting their thoughts under control. Sometimes you might find you need a bit more help, especially with repetitive thoughts. That’s why the next step is especially helpful.
Introduce a pattern interrupter
Did you know that you can stop a behavior quickly and fairly easy? Whenever you have the same thought over and over, you can “interrupt” the thought by using a pattern interrupter. This is any activity that disrupts what you’re doing and must be sustained for 11 seconds. That’s it! This gives your brain enough time to sidestep the pothole and move on.
For example, let’s say you chronically dwell on how you’re not a good mom. This thought visits you all the time, whether you’re playing with your kids, at the dentist, or trying to sleep. It’s not that you’re a terrible mom, but you just feel like you can’t figure it out. And unfortunately, once that initial thought rolls in (I’m such a bad mom because…) you have a hard time stopping!
Instead of allowing your brain to get carried away with negative or unhelpful thoughts, employ the pattern interrupt.
It can be either physical or mental, but it should be surprising and something that you don’t typically do.
Pattern Interrupt Options:
- repeat a mantra that is the opposite of your thought pattern
- jump up and down
- give yourself or someone else a hug
- sing a ridiculous song
The point is that you’re interrupting yourself, so you can choose anything you like that will stop the previous thought and give your mind a break. So let’s see what that specifically looks like:
- thought: I’m a bad mom
- pattern interrupt: singing a couple lines of the Barbie Song (you’re welcome)
- once the pattern is broken, introduce the new thought
Change your thoughts
There are a couple ways to change your thoughts. The most obvious way is to introduce the thought you want to have by mentally stating the opposite or positive form of the previous thought. For example:
Instead of “I’m such a bad mom!” change it to “I’m doing the best that I can and my best is good enough!”
Another option is to think of a time previously when the opposite was true of the negative thought. So in the case of the “bad mom” thought pattern, remember a time when you were really on your mom “A” game. This is a reminder that your thoughts may state that you’re always a bad mom, but that’s not actually true. Finding examples to support your new thought will help your brain create those new neural pathways.
What this looks like:
- “I’m a bad mom” thought
- pattern interrupt
- remember a time when you were really proud of how you acted as a mom
- use that memory to create a new thought
- new thought: “I’ve really been an engaged and loving mom before, I am now, and I will continue being a great mom into the future.”
The important thing to remember is that you must believe the new thought.
The more you can believe your new thoughts, the quicker your mind and body will catch up to the change and normalize it.
This ain’t yo mama’s self-care
So to wrap this up, I’ve introduced a tool to help you stop negative thoughts and create the ones you desire. You can use this to create mental space, stop the monkey brain chatter, and to design the future you desire. This is more than self-care, this is life design. It can be done anytime, anywhere, and I promise that regularly using this tool will change your life.