Motherhood and Mental Health: Why Self-Care is Essential

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By Tricia Moceo, Guest Contributor

I adore my kids, but I don’t always adore motherhood. I’m a full-time blogger, recovering alcoholic, and a grateful mother of two. My demanding 1-year-old and independent 8-year-old keep me on my toes. Add job responsibilities and dedication to my recovery - most days, I’m exhausted. From negotiating bath time with an unwilling hostage to regulating on my wannabe teenager, feelings of defeat overcome me often. As mothers, we are constantly at the hands of our, sometimes ruthless, dependent children.

Motherhood can be overwhelming and our pride can stand in the way of self-care, ultimately causing more stress. The most rewarding and important job on the planet - motherhood is not for the faint of heart. It is quintessential that we continuously make time for taking care of ourselves. The most important piece of advice I’ve received “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Stable mental health is the foundation for cultivating a loving, happy home for you and the little ones you cherish.

Get Enough Sleep

The baby is crying, dishes are piling up, endless laundry covers all corners of the house, and sleep seems impossible. It would be fair to say that a mother’s work is never done. The key to maintaining your mental health is to find balance. A large body of research has shown that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in your mood. Try going to bed around the same time every night and ensure you are getting sufficient sleep. Adequate sleep is not only important for your health but also reduces stress and improves mental clarity. Personally, I have created a bedtime ritual that includes shutting off electronics, restricting caffeine intake after 3 pm, and meditation before bed. This routine prepares not only my body but my mind as well, for sleep.

Nourish Yourself

What you eat nourishes your entire body - your brain included. Moderate amounts of carbs can increase serotonin, a chemical directly correlated with a calming effect on your mood.  Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, and flaxseed) are known for improving mood and enhance cognitive function. Research has shown the direct impact a balanced, healthy diet can have on your mood and overall wellbeing. If you are in eating disorder recovery, asking for support from a trusted dietitian or other health care provider can be very helpful in providing emotional support as well as helping you to make nutritional choices that support your recovery and overall health.

Practice Self-Care

Most of us have heard flight attendants stress the importance of putting on our own oxygen mask before attempting to put the mask on anyone else. In more practical terms, we cannot tend to the needs of anyone else if we have not met our own needs. Parents, in recovery especially, are plagued by the guilt and shame of exposing their children to their unhealthy behaviors in active addiction. More often than not, we try to overcompensate by setting our needs to the side. I am especially guilty of this. I have neglected asking for help, with a babysitter, to make a meeting. I even justified not having sponsees because it would take away time from the kids. Ultimately, I only caused further suffering to myself and my children. In order to preserve our sobriety and keep our family together, it is critical that we put our sobriety and mental health first to take care of our needs so we can be the best version of ourselves for our children.

Be Present in the Moment

The neverending to-do list can be overwhelming and then the mom guilt creeps in. How do we possibly find the “time” to live in the moment? Mindfulness is rooted in ancient Buddhism practices. The goal of mindfulness is enlightenment which refers to awareness, attention and remembering. Raising awareness, raising attention to, and remembering the goal can help the individual manifest their own ideas. Mindfulness meditation is especially beneficial to individuals in early recovery and others struggling with mental health. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions.

Mindfulness comes in many forms. The idea of "living in the moment" is hinged upon mindfulness. Stepping back, taking an objective view, and accepting things exactly as they are, is the best way to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating, moving meditation (yoga/tai chi), and mindful breathing is other ways to implement this practice into your daily routine. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions. Parenting requires awareness, balance, and control which can be cultivated through many meditative practices. Chaos and meditation cannot coexist. Meditation cultivates awareness and disrupts unmanageability.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Over the last year, I have found myself grounded in planning out my week and asking for help when needed. For as long as I can remember, I would pride myself on “doing it all on my own.” Little did I know this was a mirage, shackling me to the bondage of victimization and unnecessary stress. I have a list of friends that don’t chastise me when I ask for help with the kids to make a meeting or meet with my sponsor. They rise to the occasion and I get to suit up and show up to do the same for them. I sit down Sunday nights and plan out my week. I find that making a to-do list and executing it weekly encourages a deep sense of accomplishment and eliminates chaos. Studies have proven that children thrive in discipline and structure. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

The truth is, there’s no secret step-by-step guide for parenting nor is there a quick fix formula designed to help us maintain our mental health. Trial and error can be the foundation upon which we learn how to best parent our children. Practicing mindfulness can help you find more patience and less judgment when dealing with your rambunctious children. We can learn to pause before responding, spend less time apologizing, and more time enjoying every second with our children. We get the opportunity to teach our children valuable lessons through being the example. We learn to pride ourselves on implementing a more loving and less condemning methodology.

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Tricia advocates long-term sobriety by writing, providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.