How to be kind to yourself
People are always telling me that I am too hard on myself. That I am stronger than I know. That I should be kind to myself. And for the longest time, I haven’t had a clue what they mean.
I don’t feel strong. I feel like I must be great at deceiving people because they think I’m strong when I know for a fact I’m not. Furthermore, my level of self-criticism is thoroughly justified. I am not as strong as they think I am. I am not brave. What’s more, how on the Earth do you go about being nice to yourself?
Change your internal monologue.
Well firstly, I need to get those thoughts straight. It is not acceptable or justified speaking to myself in the manner I do. I need to have more respect for myself. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. My self-criticism is only perpetuating my depression and anxiety. The way I speak to myself is under my control and I need to change it. I’ve spoken before about positive self talk and why it is so important. If I am really struggling with being hard on myself, I say positive self talk out loud.
Accept what others say at face value
If someone says, “You are stronger than you realise,” the chances are, they mean it. They aren’t talking about the battles in your head or areas that you perceive yourself to have weakness. They are talking about the actions they see you doing despite battling your thoughts. Of course, we meet people in life who just say stuff because they like to fill silence or like their own voice, but isn’t it easier just to accept they said something kind and move on. Do you think they went home and analysed what they said to you?
Goodness, I told The Muddled Mum she is strong today. I really shouldn’t have done that because I saw her crying last week so I know she is vulnerable. I also know that she fed her daughter a happy meal twice last weekend. She should be able to parent better and have the strength to get through the day. And come to think of it, she is signed off sick to try and get over her mental illness. What a sign of weakness! She should just recover by herself and get over it.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never ever thought like that about an enemy let alone a friend! So why carry on thinking that everyone else thinks like that about me. It is a pointless waste of my time and energy. If someone says something kind, accept it. Even if you struggle to believe it yourself, believe that they mean it and they believe it.
Focus on what you did do – not what you didn’t
I often berate myself for not hoovering or putting laundry away or cleaning the floor or … one of the things I just didn’t get round to doing. I actually stopped writing lists because they became a way for me to criticise myself. Not once did I ever think – wow, look at all the things I did accomplish. I chased my tail all day trying to get everything done whilst also entertaining my toddler and at the end of it all felt angry about the one job I had missed. WHY?! Isn’t that just ridiculous. Since when did I become such an awesome planner that I knew exactly how long every task would take and account for unexpected events (like a toddler not napping). When did I start to think there are 72 hours in a day and I should be able to do it all. And do it all really well. I’ve had to really manage my expectations as a parent and learn to accept that I can’t get it all done. My house is not as tidy I would like. There are toys strewn everywhere despite me constantly picking them up. It’s OK. It’s normal. Focus on what tasks you did do and remember that the most important task every day is to look after yourself and your children. Did you make it to the end of the day alive? Good. Well done! The rest is just a bonus.
Allow yourself to relax. And schedule it in.
As a mum, it can be really, really hard to actually allow yourself to unwind. Even when I am sleeping, I have one ear listening out for Boo. There is always a ticker tape of tasks running through my mind. Once I feel I’ve got one thing in order, there is always something else to take up my time. It means that relaxation doesn’t just happen. I have to tell myself that I can stop now and have time off. It really helps if I get organised first. Have a quick tidy, make sure the big jobs are done, get those pesky jobs sorted that you’ve had on the back-burner for 2 weeks (who am I kidding, more like 6 months). Feeling like things are in order helps me give myself permission to have time off. When my mind starts to fill up with 1000 thoughts, I remind myself that I’ll get to it later. It is OK to have time off. Being a mum is a 24 hour job but everyone needs breaks. When was the last time you really took time to yourself and didn’t think about work (as in parenting, housework, your job … all of it). It’s not healthy to always feel like you are running from one situation to the next. Practise having time out. Even if it starts as 15 minutes a day. I also find that when I have quiet time, it gives me a chance to settle and order my thoughts, meaning that I feel happier and re-energised. I can give my child more attention after I have sorted my own thoughts out.
I don’t work full time so I feel like it is my responsibility to ensure the house is in tip top condition. Because the house is rarely in this state, it is yet another way that I can give myself a hard time. But really, I may not be in paid employment as much as my husband, but that does not mean I am sitting around all day. Far from it, I am trying to tidy, clean and provide engaging and stimulating activities for my toddler whilst also battling mental illness. It’s not paid employment, but it’s bloody hard work. Realising this and accepting help from M meant that I no longer felt the burden was mine alone. It is our house, it is all of our responsibility to make sure it is the kind of place we want to live in.
Ask for help.
I find this really, really hard. I am happy to ask for help where my mental or physical health is concerned, but when it comes to asking for help in any other aspect of my life I am rubbish. I feel like such a burden to everyone around me that I don’t want to ask more of them.
But when you think about it from another perspective – their perspective – you are someone they love who is struggling and instead of letting them help, you are shutting them out. This means that they worry more about you and feel awful that they can’t help. But they can, you just have to ask.
Do things you enjoy.
Did you know, it is completely acceptable to enjoy your life? I know right! When you become a mother, your focus shifts from your needs to that of a tiny fragile life. It can be easy to forget to readjust and put yourself back in the picture. Today I am off to an event. I am going because I will have a really good time. It will be good for my self esteem, mental health and well-being and it will be fun. It’s taken me a very long time to realise that I can do that. Just because I am a mum, it does not mean that I have given away my right to enjoyment. I don’t only get to seek enjoyment from toddler-centred activities. Sure, I have fun on play dates but I’m always distracted by needing to look after Boo. I also love playing with Boo at home, creating sensory activities, getting messy or cooking. But I’m still in parent mode. I am allowed to do things that are solely for me. As is my husband. We also can do things together that focus on our relationship as a couple. We are allowed to, and we should. There’s no way you can be your best self, if you give nothing to you.