Mothers, more than any other group of people it seems, are repeatedly told that they need to prioritise ‘me time.’ And for good reason – you cannot look after your baby if you are feeling under-nourished yourself.
However, especially if you’re sleep deprived, ‘me time’ can feel a bit daunting. One new mother said to me recently, “I don’t actually know what I want to do? I know I’m meant to use it to nourish myself, but I just feel a bit stuck. I’d rather do the laundry, or something that feels productive. I just can’t relax enough to read a book or a magazine and I feel as though I haven’t really got anything to say to my friends because I’m so tired, so I don’t want to call anyone.”
This can be a bit of a vicious cycle, as the less you enjoy things you used to do, the more tired you feel and the less you are then able to enjoy life. Breaking that cycle can feel difficult and it’s especially hard if you find you are unable to do things that you used to enjoy.
Many women tell me how upsetting they find it that they can’t physically do activities that they enjoyed before having a baby – sports such as running or activities such as going to the cinema or out for meals crop up a lot. Even if your body is able to do these things again, finding enough time and energy to do these things can feel like a herculean task. It takes an especial amount of energy to get back into a habit that has been lost, so it’s not surprising that finding this energy is especially hard for tired new parents.
And I think that the crucial thing to remember in all of this is that word ‘energy’. Before you had a baby, you probably had developed routines and structures that reduced the amount of energy needed to do things that nourish you – you had built them into your life so you didn’t need to think about them so much. For example, once you have been to a gym class once or twice, it’s much easier to go back. You know where you are going, where to park, what to take and what to expect. It requires less thought to do it.
Having a baby disrupts both those energy-saving routines AND your sleep. A double whammy to your energy levels.
So when you’re thinking of ‘me time’ it might help to think that it takes energy to enjoy ‘me time’. It takes more energy than it did before you had a baby, because you can’t take it regularly. It might take more energy because you might not have something to easily slot into the time you have available. It might take energy to consciously let go of the neverending list of chores. It might take energy to rid yourself of the anxiety about leaving your baby with someone else. IT TAKES A LOT OF ENERGY!
I’m aware that might all sound a bit hopeless, and you might feel like you want to give up now! That’s not my intention. If you recognise that it is going to take energy to get that much-needed nourishment, then it makes it easier not to be disappointed if you are given an opportunity to have some time for yourself and you don’t know what to do with it. If you find that you’re struggling with ‘me time’, please don’t see that as a failing. That sense of not knowing will pass again, but you might need some strategies to help you through the early days. Here are some ideas:
1.Find something you can pick up and put down easily.
This makes it easier not to feel that sense of disappointment or resentment if you have to give up your ‘me time’ for whatever reason.
Some people develop new interests that are easier to pick up and put down (knitting, crafting, doing 10 minute fitness dvds, having hot baths, blogging, taking short walks by themselves). Finding an activity where the energy you need to find to do it is relatively small compared with other activities you might choose also means that you are likely to feel less disappointed if your time is cut short.
2.Develop ‘energy-saving’ systems.
It can be very easy to put yourself off spending the energy to look after yourself, so do whatever you can to put systems in place that reduce the energy required.
For some people that means getting into the routine of going to fitness classes, for others that means having their swimming gear ready in a bag so that they can pick it up at the last minute if the opportunity presents itself.
3.Learn how to cat-nap.
I hated being told to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ when I was a new mother, so I totally sympathise when mothers tell me how difficult they find it to sleep when their baby sleeps, or even if someone else is looking after the baby. I know how hard it can be to switch off your brain when it feels as though you have a precious moment of uninterrupted time to yourself. Surely that would be a brilliant time to catch up on a chore that has been bugging you?
It takes energy to go to sleep. That might sound nonsensical, but look at any over-tired baby and you will know what I mean. If you are overtired, it can be much harder to calm your body and brain, and shut out any distractions. It might take a meditation podcast or some other ritual, but give yourself permission to put aside whatever task might stop you from sleeping and use your energy to relax your brain. Even if you take a 5 minute break with a relaxation cd, that will refresh you more than doing chores.
I realise that all of these are easier said than done (did I mention that it takes energy to put these things in place?), so you might not want to try them all at once. Maybe think of it as spending a little bit of energy in the short-term to give you more energy in the long-term. And as I say, if you remember that it takes energy to start any activity (no matter how pleasurable it might be), then it can be easier to be gentle with yourself if you don’t manage that activity, rather than feeling as though you’re failing in some way.
As ever, I advocate being kind to yourself and figuring out what is going to help you soothe you, emotionally and physically. If you’d like to talk to someone to support you to figure out what would most help you to relax in those precious moments, a solution-focussed, one-to-one session or two might just be what you’re looking for. I’d be happy to chat if you get in touch.