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As a Mom, I Never Practiced Self-Care — Until a Cold Changed Everything

I really don’t know how to slow down, even when I can feel that I really need a break. I just push myself too hard. I know that’s normal, especially when you become a mom. And as a mom that works from home while taking care of my 4-year-old daughter, I have gotten down a routine that works — for the most part.

But one thing that’s not part of my routine? Self-care. Part of my problem is that I suffer from severe mom guilt, so I actually feel terrible taking time for myself even when I know I mentally and physically need it. That’s why, when I recently caught a cold for the first time in YEARS, it was exactly the wakeup call I needed.

A few months ago, within the span of a week, my husband, my daughter and myself got sick. I was the last to get sick after taking care of everyone else. The biggest difference when it was my turn, though? I still had to care for my daughter while kind of taking care of myself, and this illness hit me like a truck. While it is obviously a challenge when you find yourself sick at the same time as your children, one thing was painfully clear: I SERIOUSLY needed to take better care of myself and not wait until I get sick to realize that my health is just as important as anyone else’s.

When I got sick, I realized just how much I needed a break. I was suffering from classic mom burnout, and this was my body’s way of reacting to months of overdoing it. While it was only a cold, I felt completely exhausted, just not like my usual energetic self. It was a slap in the face. I hated feeling like this because it so wasn’t me. But in way, it was a blessing in disguise — because, for around a week while taking time to recover, I allowed myself to do something I never do: Take time to care for myself.

When I can tell that my daughter isn’t feeling well, I give her medicine, make sure she eats well, takes a nap, and just takes it easy in general. I let her cuddle up on the sofa and watch cartoons because I realize that she has to slow things down so she can feel better and get back to her usual self. So why is it so hard to accept that when it comes to taking care of myself, I need — and deserve — the same treatment?

For the week that I was sick, as difficult as it was, I gave myself permission to slow down. I told myself that it was okay to do nothing, and that by doing nothing, I was actually doing a lot; specifically, giving my body the rest it desperately needed. I needed to take care of my mind and body so that I could get back on my feet.

For me, this was about so much more than getting sick; it was a huge wake-up call that taking care of myself is not an indulgence, as I had viewed it in the past, but a necessity. I need to feel my best, not only for myself, but for my daughter. Feeling so run down just from your average cold made me realize that I can’t wait so long to take care of myself before actually getting sick.

So, what can we moms down to better take care of ourselves in general?

“For many moms, taking care of themselves is often an afterthought,” says health coach Joanna Wen. Joanna suggests that mothers should make sure to get enough sleep and exercise, as both of these play a role in maintaining a strong immune system. Also, she says, eating probiotic-rich foods is a big help: One of the most important things a mom can do is to eat a healthy diet that includes probiotic-rich foods. Probiotics help to keep the gut healthy, and since all diseases begin in the gut, this can be a powerful way to boost overall immunity and health.” And last but not least, make sure to schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.

Sara Madera, a career coach for working moms of Plan Creatively, also offers some fantastic advice that I am going to make a point of following. “Take 10 minutes a day of quiet time for yourself every day,” advises Sara. “It could be meditation, prayer, a moment over a cup of coffee before everyone wakes up, but give yourself that space to reconnect with yourself. This quiet moment can allow you to notice how you are feeling (run-down, anxious, high-energy), and to identify any feelings and their cause.”

It’s all about balance — carving out time to devote solely to your own care, whether physical, mental, or emotional, and letting go of that pesky, useless emotion called guilt.

Following a healthy diet and exercising is a start, but taking care of myself is about so much more than that. It’s about allowing myself time just for me. Time to go out with a friend. Time to watch a movie that I want to watch. Heck, time to just sit and be alone. By allowing myself a mental break, it will help me slow down and cool off. Learning to better take care of myself will hopefully make it easier the next time I get sick, because I won’t have let myself go months — heck, years — without taking time for me to just be.

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