How to Implement Self-Care When You’re Stressed
At different times in my life, I faced significant obstacles – an abusive marriage, homelessness, paralysis, multiple surgeries, child custody, bushfires, being locked down overseas, a cyclone, repatriation etc.
Sometimes I was great with self-care, other times not so much. When I wasn’t, everything else in my life suffered.
Self-care isn’t taking a bubble bath or doing the groceries on your own, it is much more than that but it took me years to realise it.
As a mother, I threw myself completely into it and lost myself, as many other mothers do as well. I struggled through, at times being great with it and other times, not so great.
In 2019, I dedicated my life to finding myself again, focusing on and looking after myself. It was incredible for numerous reasons including my mental and physical health but also the impact it had on my kids.
The example I set of putting myself first had a profound impact on them.
Dedicating that time to myself and focusing on self-care, my goals etc was more affordable than most think and changed everything in my life.
I got back into dance and the gym, travelled extensively, won custody and went on to have two more kids after we repatriated from the Solomon Islands in mid-2020.
With those babies came Post Partum Depression and numerous health issues. However, once I implemented my self-care routine, boundaries, therapy and other strategies, I saw significant improvements, as did my family.
Self-care is essential for an abundant life. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make time for yourself today.
Stop Putting Yourself Last!
Too often we (especially mothers) put ourselves last. Our kids get everything they need, if we are going through custody all our money goes to that and if we are in a relationship, we often put their needs before ours.
What it teaches our kids and everyone else is that we don’t matter. We don’t care enough about ourselves so why should they? Plus, it sets the example for your kids of what to be like as an adult.
Remember, actions speak louder than words. Your kids and others will follow your example and actions.
So start taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority.
Here are my tips for self-care on a budget, during obstacles.
This post contains affiliate links to products and services which helped me and I use.
1. Get To Know Yourself
How can you determine what self-care is for you and what you need if you don’t know yourself?
At the time of writing, I’m 38 and can look back on relationships I’ve had, decisions I’ve made, my obstacles and my successes and I see clear patterns. When I focus on myself, follow my heart and am true to myself, I achieve amazing things.
I don’t always live in alignment with myself and when I don’t, my life falls apart.
Take some time and get to know yourself, what you love, what you want to do, and envisage the life you want. The vision I had for my life since I was a kid was to live by the ocean, travel a lot, get paid to write and raise my kids to be independent, confident, and free.
I’ve been fairly successful at achieving that over the years and am working on making it even better. Right now, we live a few houses from the ocean, travel regularly, my income is mainly from my writing and my teens are mostly independent.
My toddlers are not independent, but I work with them on age-appropriate tasks.
Our life is what it is because I know myself, what I want and how to make it happen.
The times I struggled most is when I put others’ needs before my own and ‘compromised’ instead of doing what I know works for me and my kids. There was no compromising though, it was all their way because I wasn’t strong with my boundaries (more on that later).
When you know yourself, what you want and what is best for your family plus you are strong with your boundaries while being compassionate and open-minded too, true compromise is possible.
Without being clear on these things, you’ll get bulldozed by others to fulfil their needs and wants instead.
2. Visualise Where You Want To Be
Have a really clear vision in your mind you can draw on when needed. For me, I knew I needed full custody of my older two kids and a protection order when I left my marriage, and I wanted us to be able to travel.
After going on my favourite trip ever in 2018 (a dive trip in the Solomon Islands), I had it. There is a particular place called Mane Bay where the villages come with their canoes, everyone is playing, jumping off the boat, the kids are swimming around with us, it’s amazing.
Whenever court and stress got overwhelming that year or I began to worry I wouldn’t get full custody, I brought this place to my mind.
Here, at Mane Bay, with all the kids, I could visualise and feel my kids there playing with them. Swimming, jumping, laughing.
In my visualisation, I stand at the dive deck of the boat and watch them. That was my vision, my peaceful moment that helped ground and focus me.
You need something you can use at any time to take your mind off the awfulness of what you are going through. This image I used in my mind was real because I had been there and I knew once we got custody, we’d go there.
While we haven’t gotten to Mane Bay yet, we did do other parts of the Solomon Islands and other travel though. My kids feel more at home in the islands, especially Vanuatu than they do anywhere else.
3. Keep Healthy
Looking after your health is self-care. What that looks like is up to you (and likely your doctor). It’s not about being a specific weight, it’s about being able to do the things you love in life, extending your life expectancy and doing what you can to have good physical, mental and emotional health.
When going through stressful events such as divorce, custody, difficult pregnancies, moving house, natural disasters etc my health dropped. My weight fluctuated and got to levels I did not want to be but no matter how much I worked out and watched my eating, nothing helped.
Despite that, I focused on eating healthy, getting sleep where possible (insomnia was common when stressed) and remaining active.
Being healthy and active was not always easy when I was stressed out. Find activities you enjoy and schedule them in, going to the gym isn’t the only option.
Running, yoga, dance, team sports, anything is good.
Focus on how you feel after you’ve done the workout, hike, yoga session or whatever it is you choose to do. That feeling is more motivating for most than trying to force yourself to work out an hour a day.
When it comes to food, it’s not a reward so please don’t use it as one. Ice cream and other junk won’t make you feel better long term.
Even though many of us have been conditioned to reach for certain foods when we are stressed or upset, this isn’t a good strategy. Learn more about food and eat the way that works best for you.
For me, that means a mainly vegetarian diet which is also gluten and dairy free. Sugar is kept to a minimum and I drink mainly water, herbal teas or kombucha.
4. Reward Yourself
Whenever I discuss finances, I stress the importance of having a little of your own money. For years I have recommended 10% of your income be yours to do whatever you want with.
Maybe that amount is too high for you right now. That’s ok, pick an amount that suits you. Have an account that money goes into an account for you and use it for whatever you want.
One of my big mistakes when going through my stressful times has been putting aside all my money for one thing e.g court/repatriation/setting up a house again etc. At some point, I’d snap and spend.
More often than not it wasn’t a huge deal but a few times I felt extremely guilty. When I made sure to stick to my own advice, life and finances were much easier.
Being focused is good, having something for yourself is important too. Check out how to get the money for court.
If you want a nap, take it (provided the kids are taken care of). So many times I reached the point of exhaustion, especially as it got closer to court dates.
There were nights and days where I got no sleep. In fact, there were a few where I was up for 48 to 56 hours straight.
At this point, I didn’t drive or cook because I was concerned my body would collapse and felt it wasn’t safe. This is not healthy, you cannot function this way, and your body needs rest.
I was so wired that even sleeping tablets didn’t help. Get rest when you can. You need it.
When going through obstacles we are on high alert, in survival mode. So if at some point in the middle of the day you feel the need for a nap, take it and do not feel guilty!
6. Create A List Of Things For You!
That’s what the year of me was about, creating a list of things I want to do, then actively doing them. Within the first 6 months of that year, I got my diving certification, had 3 overseas trips for work, learnt some dance and read books from my list.
My kids thrived as well doing dance classes, learning languages, going on trips with friends and family if I had to travel without them. They even had a ski trip with my parents when I was in Fiji for work.
Having that list and a focus on myself enabled me to be calmer, focused and a better mother. I also created an ideal morning and evening routine.
For me, those two routines make a huge difference to my life and they work together. The even routine requires the house to be clean, my to do list for the next day sorted, our outfits, breakfast, water, vitamines etc all ready to go in the morning.
Then, in the morning I drink water, workout, read, journal, meditate, do EFT tapping, get sunlight, take my vitamins and a few other things before I start any work. Doing this has been life-changing. I achieve more in a shorter time frame because I an energised and focused.
When I focused on doing things I wanted to do, my health and my life, stressful events work out and everyting else falls into place as well. For example, with court, I got custody and the protection order but at the same time was living my life in 2019.
All of that happened because I was focused, visualised what we wanted. Mindset matters and has a significant impact on our lives.
Often when we are stressed, we stop doing all the things we love and lose ourselves. Make a list of things for you then schedule them in.
What I do for Self-Care
Throughout the article I’ve shared a variety of things. In case you are struggling to find things, here is a list of things I do that are important to me to feel fit, healthy, strong and like my life matters.
By doing these things, my kids have seen my example and do similar. At 14 and 15 years old, they are better with their confidence, intelligence, self-care, compassion and boundaries than I ever was.
Paralysis and multiple surgeries in 2015 was a wake up call. As were my two recent pregnancies that had numerous health issues.
Things I do to take care of my health include:
Eating well. I know the right foods to eat and focus on ensuring my diet encompasses superfoods, fresh produce, protein, iron etc.
Drink 2 or more litres of water daily. I aim for 1L within an hour of waking and try not to be drinking a lot of water too close to bed time otherwise I’ll be up all night.
Working out. I have a home gym and live near the ocean so I have specific workouts I enjoy doing in the gym as well as standup paddleboarding, hiking, snorkelling, swimming and other outdoor activities. Indoors, I enjoy yoga, pilates and some dance.
Vitamins. There are a few vitamins and supplements I notice help. Since that is something that can vary significantly based on your body, I won’t list what I use specifically. If you want to check if you are deficient in anything or could use a boost in something, consult your doctor, naturopath and nutritionist to ensure you are doing what you need based on your body.
Time alone. Despite being quite the extrovert, I get worn out. With 4 kids at home, teens and toddlers, it can be exhausting mentally and physically. I need time alone for my mental health.
Sleep. This is difficult with the two youngest as the 1 year old wakes at times or if 1 child gets sick, all 4 get sick one after the other. However, where possible I do what I can to ensure good sleep including having my room at the right temperature, comfortable sheets and pjs, an eye mask etc.
Singing and dancing. I don’t do this around people but I have noticed when I can belt out tunes while driving or get time to dance randomly with my toddlers, it boosts my overall mood.
Therapy. This is done as needed, so it’s not all the time but if I feel the need, I will always get professional help, as do my kids.
Travel and Experiences
I’ve travelled alone and with my kids, both are fulfilling for me. Trying new things, discovering different places and travelling are all essential for me.
Being in one place too long is boring for us and too long without travel has an extremely detrimental impact on my kids and I. We noticed this most over the past few years, like everyone else. But also when we had to prioritise paying for residency, a course and moving states.
When all the money and a lot of my time went to that, we weren’t able to enjoy travel or some of our hobbies for longer than anticipated.
Find hobbies you love and make time for them. Travel, see the world and experience life.
As an ex-hairdresser and beautician, I do a lot myself. At times, I have neglected my skincare, hair care and other beauty treatments because I am busy, tired, overwhelmed or struggling with my mental health.
When I do take care of my skin, hair and body, I feel much better about myself and it shows.
Making the time to do a proper skin routine morning and night, as well as regular face masks and other treatment matters to me. As do pedicures, manicures, cutting and colouring my hair, using products I like instead of whatever is cheap etc.
Rather than viewing these things as ‘nice to do’ I started scheduling them all in as essential. They do make a difference to my overall confidence and mental health so I prioritise them.