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Take care of yourself for a change!

Wouldn't it be great to chuck the to-do list and the diapers, and simply check out for a while? You'd focus just on your needs, from wake-up to lights-out, until you were refreshed, emotionally recharged, and ready to dive back in.

Okay, back to reality. You might not be able to do the slacker-mom thing wholesale, but you can make an ordinary day a mental-health day by infusing it with small hits of good-for-you moves, starting first thing.

Morning

Eat a mood-boosting breakfast. An easy three-cup version: one cup each of whole-grain cereal, skim milk, and sliced strawberries or a banana. "The combination of lean protein, whole-grain carbs, and nutrient-rich fruit allows the brain to form more feel-good chemicals," explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Ban the word "stressful." Describe a situation as "difficult" or "challenging" instead, says Scott Sheperd, Ph.D., a psychologist in St. Louis and author of Who's in Charge? Attacking the Stress Myth. "That small switch gives you the power to do something about it. Words not only describe emotional states -- they create them."

Sing with your kids at the table. Belting out a tune with other people improves your outlook and your ability to cope, according to research at the University of Sydney.

Hang the right air freshener in your car. Breathing in scents of cinnamon or peppermint can decrease frustration and increase alertness as you drive, say researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University, in West Virginia. Even a few sticks of cinnamon in a cloth bag will do.

For longer-term benefits, sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseed on your cereal; the omega-3's protect against depression.

Midday

Chat with a stranger. While picking up dry cleaning or waiting in line, strike up a conversation with someone. Acting extroverte -- talkative, assertive, adventurous -- makes people happier, even if they're not naturally gregarious, according to research at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Dream a little dream. A mental escape sounds nice, but if it's hard to get (and stay) in the groove, try this:

  • Head to a quiet corner (or the bathroom, even!).
  • Sit or lie comfortably, shrug your shoulders up, and let them sink back down.
  • Close your eyes, breathe deeply, then exhale.
  • Go for it: Bring back that afternoon on the lake, the breeze through the pines in the country...

You'll feel refreshed because even an imaginary getaway can trigger an on-vacation vibe, says Eric Klinger, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota, Morris and author of Daydreaming.

Say "maybe." Next time someone asks you to pitch in for a block party or preschool fund-raiser, do this reality check from psychologist Ellen McGrath, Ph.D., president of the Bridge Coaching Institute in New York City: From 1 to 10 (with 10 being "a lot"), rate the cost in time, energy, and stress if you say yes. Then rate the benefits of saying yes. If the benefits beat the cost, take it on. If not, decline nicely. Ahh. That felt good!

Take a tea break. A cup of black tea daily can help you rise above everyday stresses by lowering stress hormones and making you more relaxed.

After School

Give shout-outs. Thanking those who help you and your family -- your babysitter, work colleagues, neighbors -- has a bounce-back effect, improving your outlook and your relationships, as well as making you more resistant to emotional upset, according to research at the John Templeton Foundation.

Skip with your child. The steady rhythm naturally calms you and gives you a sense of being in sync with your body and the other person, Sheperd says. "It's like two violin strings getting in tune with each other. Plus, you'll feel like a kid again -- and that rejuvenates you."

Schedule a funny movie. Just looking forward to it can get the endorphins cranking, says Lee Berk, an associate director at the School of Allied Health Professions at Loma Linda University in California. "Afterward, these mood-enhancing effects can benefit the immune system for up to twelve hours."

Reach out. Emotional support isn't merely nice -- it's vital. A recent study at UCLA found that without it, moms of young children tend to have more mental-health issues. So that woman you've been chatting with at your Mommy & Me exercise class? Think of her as a potential ally (and you for her) beyond your immediate circle of family and friends, advises M. Nora Klaver, a life coach in Chicago and author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need.

Evening

Light a scented candle. The aromas of vanilla, green apple, and cucumber, in particular, have been shown to ease anxiety, says Alan Hirsch, M.D., founder and neurological director of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. "The odors may act as a distraction, or they may evoke pleasant childhood memories." Either way, take a whiff and feel better.

Share happy news. Spreading the word can expand your mood and your sense of well-being, above and beyond the effect of the positive event itself, according to studies at the University of Rochester in New York and UCLA. So end the day on a high note and call or text an old friend -- making sure it's someone you know will be delighted for you, of course!

Have a slumber party for one. Go to bed early tonight, no matter what. Even if you're not a new mom, you're probably not getting enough sleep. So put Dad on duty, play some soft music -- whatever helps you rack up the shut-eye -- and watch your attitude and your energy level improve.

Make these moves part of your life, even in bits and pieces, and you'll be more relaxed, upbeat, and ready to take on the world (or at least your corner of it!).

Stacey Colino, a Maryland-based mom of two, writes about health and psychology.

 

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