I keep hearing this buzz word, Self-Care. Take a bath, go for a walk, meditate, and count your blessings! I can’t tell you how many times I read in an article that the best way to self-care after a baby is get a mani-pedi, run a bubble bath and catch up on some Netflix! A lot of these ‘self-care’ articles breeze through ideas that might simply put a band aid on a much deeper situation. This is not to say don’t try those things. They certainly work for many women and are a nice needed break from routine. But as moms and as athletes, we also need to continually ask ourselves, “what am I really doing for improve my mental health?”.
After giving birth I didn’t give myself much attention. No one really told me I could take time for myself and that would be the most beneficial for the family unit. I noticed I often felt guilty for doing something for myself and yet resentful when I didn’t. I fell for the idea that sacrificing your own needs was how you measured love in motherhood, and I struggled to break that unhealthy habit. It took some trial and error, but eventually my self-care became more aligned with my needs, concentrated and more organized.
My idea of self-care began to change when I realized a bubble bath wasn’t really fixing my anxiety, or that my spouse was too scared to help with the baby, or that I even felt a cognitive dissonance with being an advocate of self-care yet never practiced it myself.
As someone who didn’t have close family nearby and couldn’t afford extra help, I had to radically accept that learning new ways of caring for myself were needed. While it would have been great to spend that extra time in the sauna after training, I know I could only allow myself the extra minutes to properly stretch and refuel my body. I had to learn to negotiate without feeling guilty for doing what I needed as an elite athlete.
So what was I doing for myself outside of sports? This was the tricky part. For me, it meant having an extra 30 minutes of silence at the end of the day to collect my thoughts and feelings. Am I closer to my goals? What am I doing to be more than a mom? Is my spouse giving me the attention I need? It meant making time each week to get myself closer to completing my doctorate, establishing connections with other professionals, and often taking a more simple route and quietly reading. It meant not giving up my drive and ambition for a better career. It meant making my mental health and therapy a priority. There are times when being a mom feels exhausting, when one feels like a failure or can't seem to calm their upset child, and it helps to have a higher feeling of self-efficacy through mastering other aspects of our lives.
There are no rules to what self-care needs to be, but it should make you feel good, align with your goals, and do more than give a 20 minute break from reality. And be mindful that it might not be every day, and it might not be consistent, and it might be interrupted, but that’s ok. I had to recognize that allowing myself this time to get myself organized made for a happier me when I was with my daughter. And isn’t that the point? For my child to feel safe, appreciated, and emotionally stable, I also need to feel those things.
Diana Redman is a mental health clinician and professional soccer player who is devoted to helping athletes with their mental health.