How to Create Your Self-Care Plan
If you are depleted and can’t remember when you last took time for yourself, I challenge you to start prioritizing self-care today. Make a commitment right now to create and implement a self-care plan. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do this:
Step 1: Let go of mommy guilt.
Being a good parent does not mean giving up your needs to meet those of your children. That is a faulty belief that, unfortunately, many of us hold on to. You do not have to sacrifice your needs to be a good parent! Let me repeat that, you do not have to sacrifice your needs to be a good parent! In fact, doing that impairs your ability to be the best parent you can be.
Here’s what helps me when I am struggling with mommy guilt: Stop. Then ask myself, What do I want to model for my children? What kind of parent do I hope they become? A parent who is depleted and overwhelmed and has lost his or her identity to parenthood? Or a parent who is full of energy, vitality, and passion, who is engaged and present and has a strong identity? Another thing that has been helpful for me is to directly challenge my mommy guilt messages. When I catch myself feeling guilty for doing something for myself, I notice what I am feeling, let it pass, and then say to myself, “I'm a better mom when I take care of myself.”
Step 2: Take inventory and prioritize.
Reflect on what areas of your life feel the most out of balance. Is it your health (physical), your relationships (emotional), your intellect (mental), or your sense of purpose (spiritual)? Where are you suffering the most and what needs the most immediate attention? Make a list and prioritize each area. My list looks like this:
Step 3: Make a list of self-care ideas for each area.
Choose at least three self-care ideas for each area and write them down. Choose things that make you excited and that speak to your soul. Even if you don’t know how it will be possible to incorporate them into your life right now, write them down anyway. Mine looks like this:
- Exercise for one hour a day
- Surf two times a week
- Go to bed by 10pm
- No screen time two hours before bed
- Schedule a weekly date night with my husband
- Write in my gratitude journal every night before bed
- Connect with a girlfriend/girlfriends at least once a week without kids
- Meditate for five minutes every morning before I get out of bed
- Listen to one episode of the “Cosmos in You” podcast per week
- Attend one Unitarian Church service a month
- Practice my guitar for a minimum of 20 minutes a night
- Add images to my vision book and look at it every night before bed
- Read a non-fiction book about something other than SPD
Step 4: Start small
This is the key. You have to start small otherwise it is too overwhelming. Pick one self-care idea from the first category on your list and commit to doing it for two weeks. There is a wonderful app I have been using called habit list that is helpful for setting up reminders and keeping you accountable for habits you are trying to build into your life.
If you find yourself feeling so overwhelmed that you cannot figure out how to incorporate your self-care idea, remind yourself that in order to be the best mother and partner you can be, you have to take care of yourself first. For me, exercise was the first area of self-care I wanted to incorporate. It’s my main anxiety reliever.
When my boys were not sleeping through the night, there was no way in hell I could wake up early and exercise before they woke up. Once they woke up and the day got started, it felt impossible to find time in the day to do it. I felt discouraged until I realized that I had to dial it back. Rather than trying to exercise every day, what if I started with three days a week? Rather than feeling like I had to exercise for an hour, what if I started with just 20 minutes? This seemed much more doable.
With this mindset, it became easy to incorporate exercise back into my life. I worked out a schedule where, three days a week while I had our babysitter, I would go out for a 20 minute run while my boys were napping. Over time, three days turned into four, then into five, and 20 minutes turned into 30, then 40, and then an hour. Now that my boys sleep (thank god), I am able to get up at 5:45am five days a week to get my workout in. But, it took me awhile to get there. Remember, the key is to start small!
Step 5: Add a self-care activity from the second category on your list.
Again, start small. For me, I really wanted to focus on my marriage and build in quality time with my husband. But scheduling a weekly date night just didn’t seem doable. So, I decided to scale it back to two date nights a month. That seemed doable and it was.
Two and a half years after becoming parents, my husband and I finally started prioritizing time as a couple and it made a big difference. Two date nights a month helped us feel more connected. We stopped bickering as much and we both felt happier. When my younger son got on a good sleep schedule, we were able to start our weekly date nights. We even started having our babysitter come on Saturday mornings for a few hours so we could go surfing together and grab breakfast afterwards.
Having this time together did wonders for our relationship. It took deliberate, thoughtful, and conscious effort to make it happen. But once it was scheduled, it became a non-negotiable part of our life. When you're in a state of overwhelm, as parents of young children (especially parents of young children with special needs) often are, it takes focused action to create balance in your life.
Step 6: Keep going down your list adding in one self-care activity at a time from each category.
I keep my list in my journal and I like to check in every month to see which areas I am feeling good about and which areas I need to give some more attention to. I keep my self-care activities in my Habit List app where there are built in reminders to keep me accountable.
My goal is to feel balanced. When one area of my life starts to feel a little neglected, I shift my focus. For example, recently I noticed that while I was doing well physically and mentally, I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed and I wasn’t feeling spiritually connected. I had taken on too much and realized that I needed to let go of some commitments so I could refocus on my emotional and spiritual health. This not only helped me feel less overwhelmed, it also helped me feel more present and more connected to my kids and husband.
I cannot possibly stress enough how important it is for you to take care of yourself. Having a child with special needs puts additional stress on your marriage and on your life in general. Having quality self-care in your daily life helps mitigate this stress and enables you to be present, connected, and responsive to your children’s needs.
- Self-care is any intentional action you take to care for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
- Self-care is your first line of defense when you are in a state of parenting-induced overwhelm.
- When creating your self-care plan, start small. Pick one thing you can do this week to give yourself some reprieve.