As mothers, we know how to keep our kids from dissolving into a tantrum: Not overscheduling them, getting little ones down for naps on time, keeping a regular bedtime, and making sure they are well fed. If we do our best to stick to these habits, it's more likely that meltdowns will be kept to a minimum.
But we typically aren't so good at preventing our own meltdowns. Just as children are prone to falling apart when they're tired, hungry, or overstimulated, mothers are too. Unfortunately for us, there's often no one making sure we're getting enough sleep, eating well, and sticking to a routine in which less is more.
Instead, our heads are filled with advice from peppy parenting magazines: "Plan a girls' night out!" or "Schedule a weekly date night!" All intended to give us the precious "me" time that will restore us.
But when I follow such advice, I find my evenings end up as packed as my days. And before I know it, I'm running on autopilot and can't enjoy any aspect of my day from the stress of trying to fit in everything - including the "relaxation" part.
Sometimes in an attempt to take care of ourselves, we listen too much to the outside world about what we should find relaxing instead of listening to what's inside of us. And the more I tune in to what's inside, the more I see that, for me, recharging means cutting things out rather than taking on more.
This is especially true in times of transition or uncertainty, like when a partner is traveling, a new school year is beginning, or the holidays are upon us. These moments can crowd the calendar -- and the space in your head. And, like the toddler who stays too long at a playdate, the mother who spreads herself too thin may find herself melting down despite her best efforts to build herself up.
Recognizing that you're in a period of rushing around is the first step to slowing down and taking care of yourself. The second step is taking a moment to figure out what you can eliminate.
I cancel anything that is unnecessary to give myself more time in the day. Then I assess my to-do list and make sure it aligns with my priorities for the day. I am also careful to protect time to exercise, even if it means waking up before the children to get in a few minutes of restorative movement.
These small changes bring the quiet that is necessary to hear the voice inside me that knows what I need. And then I can listen to her.
This article originally ran on the Seleni Institute website and is reprinted here with permission. Seleni is a nonprofit organization providing clinical care, research funding, and information to transform mental health care and wellness for women.