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By Dr. Anese Barnett

Motherhood is beautiful, but let’s be honest, it also gets demanding. Between the schedules and routines, keeping up with laundry, preparing healthy meals, and meeting your child’s emotional needs, life can get overwhelming.

In the midst of a global pandemic, mothers have taken on more than usual as many have added virtual schooling to their “mental load” - the emotional and psychological burden of remembering all the family tasks like doctor appointments, grocery shopping, organizing, and checking off the never-ending to-do list. With more time home with the children, finding time to meet your own needs may seem impossible.

With little opportunity to prioritize one’s self and alone time, mothers are experiencing more anger and anxiety as a result of the pandemic's impact on school and social support. According to the 2020 State of the Motherhood Survey, 74% of moms are experiencing poorer mental health and feeling burned out since the pandemic has begun.

The same study has revealed that only 32% of mothers are able to find an hour to themselves and only 8% of moms get eight hours or more of sleep per night. Alone time and rest are critical tools for managing mental health and emotional wellness, which are scarce in motherhood. Often leading to being overwhelmed and burnt out, especially for those with younger and multiple children.

Overwhelm, burnout, and anxiety are emotions that trigger stress responses in the body like muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, and faster breathing. These responses poorly impact physical and mental health such as weakened immune systems and increased irritability. Although you may learn to complete your daily task in an overwhelmed state, irritability is likely to impact how you respond and connect to your children.

So, what can mothers do to prioritize their own mental health when the alone time for traditional self-care activities isn’t readily available? You can start by expanding your definition and practice of self-care with these three simple and effective tips.

1. Find your calm and Connect
Traditional self-care activities like bubble baths and journaling are effective because it encourages women to slow down. Slowing down can offset the negative impacts of stress responses by improving heart rate and mood. Mothers with minimal alone time can actually turn to their children as a way to slow down and make impactful connections with yourself and your family. Many of the grounding and meditative activities you hope to incorporate into alone time, can be done with children. When
you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask your children to join you on the floor for a two-minute grounding activity or moment of silence. The more you practice self-care with your children, the better they will become at regulating their own emotions-potentially releasing one stressor from the load of motherhood!

2. Leverage your support system
Scheduling self-care activities is an important way to prioritize yourself. In order to honor the time you need, you’ll need a support system who can care for your children during your alone time. Although having a large family or social circle is great, it isn’t necessary to schedule a self-care routine. You can begin by identifying 1-2 reliable people who you trust to care for your children. Then, spend one evening, perhaps before your shower, to reflect on what you need most. You may need support with meals, more rest, time with friends, or alone time to work towards your passions. Identifying your needs allows you to create a schedule and routine for self-care. This will help you to effectively communicate how your support system can provide efficient and reliable help.

3. Quit comparing yourself
Comparison traps are not unique to motherhood but they are especially damaging to self-esteem and the parent-child bond. Social media and the abbreviated stories we hear from friends can create a false belief about how well other women are able to balance the load of motherhood. Unfortunately, that often produces guilt and self-doubt about one’s ability to manage motherhood. ​What is often missing from the perfectly posed pictures on social media, is how hard it was to schedule that self-care, the difficulty of figuring out what she needed for herself, and the challenges with communicating those needs to her support system. To lessen comparison, remember that we are often only seeing the highlight reel to everyone else's' life. With less comparison, you can give authentic grace to yourself as you implement and evolve self-care practices that work for you.

September is self-care awareness month, an opportunity to reflect on how you can prioritize yourself. Motherhood has often been defined by neglecting self, to nurture children and family. With consistency, these three simple tips will help you break through overwhelm, embrace self-care, and redefine motherhood.

About the Author:

Dr. Anese Barnett is a maternal mental health therapist and mommy coach, passionate about helping mama’s design a life of joy and balance from conception through parenthood. She is also mom to a NICU warrior turned rambunctious toddler boy, who inspires her work daily.