Seven stress busters for busy mums
Every year, as the ads come out weeks before Christmas showing tantalising visions of happy families in beautiful (spotless) homes with dazzling (colour coordinated) decorations and sumptuous (hot) dinners, we promise ourselves we will capture the magic this year. ‘I will plan earlier, get organised, write lists, whatever it takes.’ However, while our Christmas spirit is willing, we don’t actually have any more time or energy in December, despite the doubled up workload we embrace. Sadly, the ads never mention that kids still have to be cared for (and they aren’t any more likely to pick up after themselves), washing still has to be done and bathrooms cleaned (do Christmas fairies do housework?)
So we bust our butts writing cards (home made, of course), organising clothes (and haircuts) for the kids to attend Daddy’s work party with Santa (as we moan about spouses not being invited to the ‘grown ups’ version) and perusing cookbooks (late at night) to make this the best feast ever.
A stressed mummy is hardly conducive to happy holiday memories, so it’s time to get a little perspective. Let’s ask ourselves, who is Christmas really for? The kids would probably think it was Christmas if they could eat bread with sprinkles and drink lemonade for lunch and little ones are often more intrigued with the packaging than the gifts. So why do we repeatedly succumb to this pressure of Christmas perfection? Instead, why not plan a bit of cheer this Christmas by chilling out, doing less and playing and laughing a whole lot more. After all, this is what little ones remember the most fondly.
Here are a few reminders about taking care of you that make good sense all year around, because after all, taking care of little ones takes a lot of energy whether it’s the jolly holiday season or not.
1. Eat well
Give yourself a head start in the energy stakes and maintain your energy levels until the afternoon by eating a nutritious breakfast; avoid empty calories – sweets and junk food will not sustain your energy and may cause mood changes as your blood sugar levels fluctuate. Opt for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit or vegetables, avocados, boiled eggs, cheese and crackers and include fish in your diet: deep-sea fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in DHA, a fatty acid important in maintaining the nervous system.
Studies show that a mother’s DHA levels become depleted as her body provides for the developing infant during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and low levels of DHA can lead to reduced concentrations of serotonin, which has been linked to depression.
2. Have a health check
You need to be in peak health to meet the needs of your little ones as well as the demands of your busy life, so take time to have a health check: thyroid disorders, low iron and vitamin D levels can all make you feel exhausted but a simple blood test will reveal if you need treatment.
3. Delete and simplify
Take a look at everything you do each day and make a list, then check which things you have to do, what you like or don’t enjoy doing, what can wait, where you can take shortcuts – then delete, delegate or simplify. Meals, for instance, can be simplified without resorting to takeaways. Use slow cookers, batch and freeze, organise a mama bake group, eat more raw foods. Do just one bigger job a day - rather than clean the entire house, just clean or tidy one room or shelf, by the end of the week it will all get done and if it doesn’t , as long as choking hazards are picked up, no small children will suffer because they lived in an untidy house; they won’t remember whether they wore clothes that were ironed or not and they won’t give a toss if they ate cheese on toast and fruit for dinner some nights or if they ate a picnic dinner in the bath. That saves clean-ups and mess goes down the plughole, you are multi–tasking so it saves time and everyone has fun.
4. Protect your mental energy
Learn your early warning signs that you are entering your ‘overwhelm zone’ – you feel extra tired; you start to say yes when you know you should have said ‘no’; your shoulders are up and tense; you are yelling too much; you are feeling anxious. These are all signs you need to stop and take time out, whatever that is for you and however you can manage this. It might mean sitting in the sun while your toddler plays outside or having an afternoon nap with your baby. Perhaps you could hire some help or invite a friend over just for one afternoon so you can go to bed while she cuddles the baby or plays with your toddler. Inviting a friend over can be great if your stress is affecting your mothering – it’s like having ‘supervision’ as well as support. You are less likely to have a mummy meltdown if you have company. You can take turns helping each other.
5. Reduce your negative self-talk, especially about how much you are achieving
If you feel as though you haven’t achieved anything all day/all week/all year – whatever, stop this negativity and try looking at your day as though you are making a movie of yourself. Follow yourself through your day and acknowledge everything you have done – so the floors may be scattered with toys, the benches might be piled with junk and you have no idea what you are making for dinner - but you have engaged with your baby, fed him, cuddled him, rocked him, smelt his delicious smell, you have sat outside with your toddler, listened to his chatter, seen the world through his eyes, survived the tantrum about the toast, listened to your mother on the phone as you wiped a toddler’s bottom with your other hand… maybe you even managed to have a shower among all of this - you haven’t achieved nothing! You have worked all darn day! So look at all of this as though you are watching a movie – and tell yourself – I am friggin amazing!
6. Ditch the guilt
Divide guilt into ‘piles’ - good guilt that motivates, and bad guilt takes you away from the present and if we dwell on guilt, that adds to our stress load. We tend to over compensate – often giving in when we should actually be setting boundaries or indulging our child when all we need to do is apologise, acknowledge what we have done that disappointed us and our child, and move on. Guilt can be a signal that we might need to do things differently, so instead of being overcome, try and work out what happened – why did we lose our temper, perhaps - and how could we do things differently next time?
7. Have fun!
Set yourself a goal to do one fun thing every day before lunch. If you are too stressed right now to be spontaneous, write a list and stick it to your fridge – your spontaneity will develop as you see the positive response from your little ones. Calendar in one day every month this year as ‘fun’ day – have fun as a family. Whether you have a baby or older kids, focussing on fun will mean you are more aware and you will soon lighten up and find ways of having fun more often than just once a month. Best of all, you will be modelling for your children so they will seek out fun experiences in their lives in a positive way too.
Pinky McKay is an International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author, with four titles published by Penguin including Parenting By Heart, Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Toddler Tactics. See Pinky’s books and sign up for her free newsletter at her www.pinkymckay.com