Take care of the rest of you2. Care for your body. What do sleep and good nutrition have to do with feeling like you're a smart, functioning member of society? Plenty. "Moms routinely underestimate what those first six to eight postpartum weeks will be like -- they're survival, and that's it," says psychologist Andrea Bergman, Ph.D., who teaches at St. John's University, in Jamaica, New York. "I see moms who are used to all-nighters and deadlines and who think they'll be fine, but they forget that when they used to do that, they were making up for it by sleeping for ten hours on weekends."
After her own daughter's birth, Bergman says she lived on chocolate-chip cookies -- and was routinely wiped out. So before her second child was born 20 months later, she planned ahead by stocking up on ingredients for easy-to-fix nutritious snacks like yogurt shakes.
"By paying more attention to my physical needs, I was able to do more for my mental needs," she says.
3. Focus on favorites. "Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do all your old activities -- that can make you even more stressed," says Stephanie Ross, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. "Just pick something really important that you still want to do."
When her daughter Julia, now 3, was born, Ross missed having lunch with colleagues and feeling in the loop about work life. So she made a standing weekly date to have lunch with two work friends throughout her four-month maternity leave. What fuels your brain? Meditating? Painting? Tracking your favorite collectible on eBay?
4. Cut out the fat in your life. Like foods that have a lot of calories but don't give your body much nutrition in return, "fatty" activities can consume a lot of time without giving much back to your mind. Examples: old committee posts, compulsive cleaning, watching TV just out of habit. Another mental drain: viewing maternity leave as "vacation." If you plan to clean closets and tackle other long-postponed drudgery, you may only wind up feeling frustrated and more overwhelmed.
"Ask yourself what you do out of habit that you can eliminate so you're not wasting time on activities that don't have meaning or give back to you in some manner," says Christine D'Amico, a life coach, coauthor of The Pregnant Woman's Companion, and mother of three, ages 7, 5, and 2, in San Diego.
5. Start small and stick with it. For D'Amico, writing had always been a pleasurable outlet. "I had gotten away from it when I married. But so many changes in pregnancy and then early parenthood were taking me by surprise," she says. By putting a few thoughts on paper every day, she eventually found she had enough material for a book. "I saw early on that as a mother, you don't have time to make great strides in intellectual or mental development. Instead, you need to trust that the two or six hours you spend on your pursuit each week will actually add up. This is true whether your area of interest is learning a new language, building an artistic talent, or taking classes one at a time toward a degree."
6. Talk about something other than kids. Traditional support groups for moms are a godsend. But their conversation tends to center on (no surprise here) children. Bina Carr sought out adult talk by joining a book club in her Toledo neighborhood and now meets at members' homes to discuss a book someone has chosen. "It's given me a kick in the pants to start reading again," says Carr, whose three sons are 7, 5, and 2. "I really missed that part of my brain."
Because the members are mostly moms, no one blinks when she doesn't make every session. But she likes it so much that she's joined a second book club.