By Brittany Carlson
Last week I did something that I rarely let myself do. I ate a big hot fudge sundae all by myself. It was delicious: peanut butter swirl ice cream and lots of hot fudge. I don’t regret it one bit.
It did, however, get me thinking about self-care and what it really means.
Does caring for myself mean I just do what feels good at the moment? Or is self-care something more significant than dessert?
It reminded me of a quote by Brianna West: “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
Of course, ice cream and hot baths aren’t bad things; they can help us unwind and bring comfort after a hard day. However, these things can’t ease the longing in our hearts or tend those parts of ourselves that matter most: our need to know others and be known.
Since COVID-19 shut down social gatherings, I’ve struggled with feeling sad, alone, and discouraged. Some of the things that make me most happy, such as traveling, visiting friends, and being part of my community, were suddenly taken away. On top of that, I suddenly had my children with me all day, every day. I realized I had to find new ways to take care of myself so that I could better take care of them.
Here are some practices that have helped me care for myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally during the past few months of social distancing, which I hope can help others as well.
- Daily quiet time with Jesus. A few years ago, my mentor mom, Margie, gave me a great plan for daily quiet time and encouraged me to get in the habit of doing 10-15 minutes a day, every day. Her plan stuck with me and I sit down to read my Bible and pray nearly every morning. The plan rotates through reading Psalms one day, the Old Testament the next, then New Testament, then Proverbs, and pairs 10 minutes of reading with a prayer topic, such as confession, thanksgiving, requests or listening (using a concordance to look up what the Bible has to say on a particular topic).
- A fitness and nutrition plan. Staying fit and healthy is something I strive to do because it makes me feel good, better able to cope with challenges in life, and gives me more energy for my kids (which is even more important now that we spend all of our time together at home). I use the BodyFit app because I enjoy trying a variety of programs and I like working out with videos of trainers. I also go hiking with my family every few days, since it helps my kids burn off energy, and the sun and fresh air really help us all feel calmer.
Eating well is also so important. Being home all day with nonstop access to my pantry has been a challenge for me. Every week, I make a meal plan with my husband that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, and minimally processed foods. The plan helps me shop for what we need and not get sidetracked by items that aren’t on the list. I do have the occasional treat, but I don’t feel bad about that because it’s occasional.
- Regular check-ins with friends. I became part of a virtual Bible study these past few months, and the women in that group have really helped me to deal with the new reality of social distancing. We start every meeting by saying “one up, one down,” which is one thing that is going well in our lives this week and one thing we are struggling with. We end every meeting by praying for each other. It has been so a lifeline for me to have friends that I can be honest and open with, who also challenges me to live my life as God intended me to.
- Doing something I love. I used to be part of a choir in college, but since then, daily life as a mom has pushed singing to the back burner. During the past few months, I joined two virtual choirs, which has filled my cup so much. Even though I rehearsed and recorded alone, just the knowledge that my voice would join thousands of others from around the world in the final product was so encouraging and uplifting for me.
What are you passionate about? What brings you joy? Try and find time to incorporate it regularly into your life, especially now that we are facing so many unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Talking about my feelings. I’ve had to give myself a lot of grace, these past few months, with feeling suddenly angry at our situation, or afraid, or just down. Talking with my husband and calling my family regularly to talk about my feelings has helped me realize these feelings are normal, and that they are important.
Find someone you trust and be truly honest about how COVID-19 has impacted you. Giving voice to fears, anxieties, and sadness can help lighten the burden and make way for finding solutions.
I hope some of the practices that have helped me can help other moms who might be struggling as well. It isn’t easy to care for kids full-time without any of the breaks that came with normal life, such as school, church nursery, and playdates. It isn’t easy to care for family members without the community of support we had before Covid-19 forced us all to keep our distance. Remember to give yourself grace in the days to come, and look for ways you can take care of yourself. Find ways to feed your soul.
And once in a while, go ahead and enjoy that sundae too.
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri), and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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