It’s ok to need to take care of yourself too!
Hey all you moms……who’s ready for summer? As we begin to unfold from an extended period of isolation, home or hybrid schooling, canceled activities or modified sports amid a national pandemic, I’ve found myself adjusting from a mindset of survival to living again. And guess what…. it’s harder than I thought it would be! While many have been acutely aware of the significant impact that Coronavirus had on their mental health over the past few months with fluctuations between anxious and overwhelming thoughts and fears to heavy feelings of isolation and depression, many still are just now emerging to a sense of “what just happened and what do I do now”. While we work to feel as if we are living again, we are equally aware that we are not yet thriving. So now what?
A recent study of moms with young children experienced clinical levels of depression and anxiety during the last few months: 34% of moms with children under the age of 18 months, 42% of moms with children ages 18 months to 4 years, and 44% of moms with children between the ages of 5-8 years old. Holy cow! That means that currently 1 in 3 women are suffering with symptoms of excessive worry, feeling overwhelmed, having crying spells, uncontrollable anger, experiencing shame for not handling this crisis better, isolating from others, or an inability to engage in daily life tasks. In fact, this list could go on and on!
Though you may not be feeling the heavy sensation of depression or the chaotic mindset of anxiety described above, many moms are discovering that they just don’t feel like themselves. A recent New York Times article described this sensation as “languishing”. It’s the perfect word to describe the point between hopelessness and joy. When the common answer to “how are you?” is just to say “ok”.
On many levels this information is not totally shocking to hear given the massive changes that mothers experienced over the past year. We were suddenly expected to take on full time roles of parent, teacher, child care provider, chef, housekeeper and even entertainer! And many women did this in addition to caring for others, working their regular jobs and even while being sick themselves. We had to plan holiday celebrations, birthdays and even graduations all while maintaining social distancing and having limited access to resources and supports. The levels of multi-tasking that moms complete on a regular day are heroic and in the blink of an eye were suddenly taken to a whole new level! Combine that with the newer expectation to “get back to normal” …. what does that even mean?
The purpose of highlighting this issue is to let you know that you are not alone, what we experienced was traumatic, impactful and there is no need to suffer in silence. Even if you never previously experienced life in such a stressful way, the larger impact of this national health crisis is far reaching and causing trauma to some who previously felt very safe and secure in their lives. While our primary roles as mothers are to care for our children and family members, it is important to make time to also care for ourselves.
Studies show that those who engage in immersive activities tend to feel a better sense of emotional regulation and ability to cope with the current chaos and ongoing changes in life. There is no pressure to learn a new language or start a new hobby, simply allowing yourself to devote time to something you already enjoy will work…. even if it’s a Netflix binge night! Additionally, setting boundaries and prioritizing your need for uninterrupted time to focus on anything has been proven to increase focus and achieve a sense of joy and accomplishment. Lastly, focus on achieving small goals for yourself. Cleaning a closet that has sat unattended for far too long, taking a much-needed walk outside, or playing a new game with your children all count as achievements. Remember, this is your life and you get to set your own goals! Whatever gives you a sense of hope and joy…just give yourself permission to do it!
Whether you decide to seek professional therapeutic support or just utilize your current support network of family and friends, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your recent experiences and honor your ability and strength to survive in the midst of chaos. All moms deserve a medal at this point, so make sure to give yourself yours!
Dana Donahue, LCSW, PMH-C is a staff member at Inner Courage Counseling specializing in maternal mental health. She, and all of our staff, are here to help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!