Are you self-nurturing?
Refill your cupboard.
Nothing changes a woman's life like a child, especially her first one.
Raising children is deeply fulfilling. Yet it's also intensely demanding. Compared to women who haven't had children, mothers are generally more stressed, more unhappy in their intimate relationships, and more prone to illness.
Most mothers are busy one way or another most of the time and hitting the red line on stress. They look around and wonder, where's the support?
Many mothers figure that feeling like they are running on empty is somehow their own fault, or simply inevitable and unavoidable. Well, neither is true. Mothers are not to blame for feeling run-down and blue, and there is plenty they can do about from the inside out -- even if their co-parent(s) and the wider world are slow to help.
The path is direct and straightforward: Do what you can to decrease the "bad" -- the demands -- and increase the "good" -- resources and resilience. Every mother is entitled to walk this path. With all that mothers give to their children and others each day, they more than earn the right to take good care of themselves.
(See Mother Nurture or the freely offered resources at NurtureMom.com for a full package of ways to refill your cupboard, including how to rebalance and replenish your body.) Here's a summary of some low hanging fruit you can start gathering for yourself today.
Use Mental Imagery to Release Stress
The accumulation of stress makes a world of difference, so it's important to do small things throughout the day to keep the stress meter in the "green zone." There are many ways to lower the sense of stress in your mind or body, even in the middle of a busy day. Here are some ideas:
Recall or imagine a relaxing experience, picking images of situations that are the opposite of the ones that are causing the stress. For example, when unable to solve a problem with a child, imagine successfully skiing down a challenging slope, or when feeling unable to break out of a sticky situation at work, imagine sailing freely under gorgeous skies.
Let Go of Feelings
The safest way to express emotion is to oneself, which doesn't reveal feelings to anyone else. As a start, and as best as possible, try to name your feelings. Additionally, feeling emotions fully helps to let them go. Try to own them, even the most difficult ones, inside your mind. Then, if it feels right, express them to someone else. Pick a person with whom it feels safe, tell him or her the purpose in talking, and ask for whatever would feel comforting, such as a promise to keep things confidential. This is not a request for advice, but for feelings to be heard and released. When speaking, try to sense that the emotions are leaving the body, that the listener is drawing them out.
Ride the Wave of Desire
Many times a day, there is probably a collision between the normal desires mothers feel as people and the realities of life with children. There is nothing wrong with wanting itself, whether it's our most fleeting wishes or deepest values. But trouble comes when you cling too tightly to your wants. If you sense this could be true for you, try to step back, be kind to yourself about your wants, relax and release any feelings about not getting what you want, and try to move on to a new want and a new plan.
Take in the Good
Since the cliché is that mothers are self-sacrificing, at first it might feel odd or even wrong to stay with beneficial experiences for a dozen or more seconds in a row. But if you don't take a little time with these good moments -- fun with a child, a good talk with a friend, the relief at the end of a long day -- they wash through your brain like water through a sieve. During your day, pay attention to positive events. These are not million-dollar moments, but the small changes of everyday life. Stay with those experiences a few seconds or minutes longer than normal. Let the body relax around the good feelings, be filled with them, and soak them up like a sponge.
In particular, try to recognize your own goodness -- as a person, and as a parent -- and then help this recognition become a feeling of being a basically good person. You are!
Note: This JOT is adapted from Mother Nurture, a book written for mothers -- focusing on typical parenting situations and gender differences that are experienced by many, though not all, mothers and fathers, and by parents in same sex relationships. Parenting is a complex subject, plus it intertwines with larger issues of gender roles and the long history of mistreatment of women; obviously society should do a better job of supporting families in general and mothers and fathers in particular, but meanwhile there are things they can do for themselves; alas, there is no room for these complexities in these brief JOTs; for my discussion of them, please see Mother Nurture.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (in 14 languages), Buddha"s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 25 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 14 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he's been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on CBS, BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine, and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter - Just One Thing - has over 100,000 subscribers and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.