When Small Acts of Self-Care Aren’t Enough

This is the second piece in our August Self-Care Series. Those moving through the process of resolving postpartum depression and anxiety are often reminded to focus on small acts of self-care. This might mean drinking tea while it’s still hot, taking a 15 minute walk after dinner, or making sure you have time to brush your teeth before bed. But what if those small acts of self-care don’t seem to be enough? What if you are still finding yourself run-down and irritable? Erika Mitchell talks about her strategies when small acts of self-care aren’t enough:

Lately I have been struggling to remember how important my small acts of self-care are. I keep putting my children’s needs in front of my own, then I put my husbands needs in front of my own and then come every other persons’ needs that I feel obligated to help in some way. Way down at the bottom of the list are my own needs. And now my little acts of self care just aren’t enough.

I find myself feeling anxious, frustrated and angry even when I remember to stop and do the little things for myself – like going to the bathroom alone, or making a cup of my favorite tea. I feel the thick, choking feeling in the back of my throat even when I sit down to work at the computer (which is a form of self care for me).  I am stretched too thin now and I need some help.

When I am at my breaking point, like I am today, I know I need to reach out for help.

I hate asking for help. It is a huge struggle for me and always has been. But on my journey with postpartum depression I have gotten better at it. It is still an effort and I don’t expect it to ever be easy, but I can do it now if I recognize my need in time.

Reaching out for help can come in many forms – some women reach out to online support groups, others contact Pacific Post Partum Support Society for some vital one on one phone support. Others reach out to friends and family. Most often I reach out to my husband. He knows I can often avert a descent into depression by taking a day to myself; a day of recovery and recharging. It usually starts with a good, long, cathartic cry in a hot shower. I follow my cry with a long nap because more often than not exhaustion is the root of my negative feelings. I also eat a good meal – I either go out and have something I wouldn’t normally make myself or I prepare food just for myself – something my kids would usually complain about eating. I read, I journal, I craft, I watch a show. I do whatever I need to do to recharge and I take as much time as I need to do it.

The key (for me) is to ask for the time to recover and to resist the guilt that often comes along with self-care. I remind myself of the crying, frustrating battles I’m currently having with my kids and I know that I will be a better mother when I am full again. But it all takes work. It takes reminders during the good times so I have the resources in place when the bad times come again.

And if the bad times come and my resources aren’t enough; if a cry and a good sleep and some soul recharging activities don’t reset me then I know (and my support people know) that I may need more help than I am able to ask for. My husband has the PPPSS phone number and he knows when things get really bad that he can reach out to them to work on strategies to get me the help I need. My doctor knows my history and knows I may need to consider medication again to get me through the dark times. My friends know they may need to check on me, to get me out and into the world again.

When the small acts of self-care aren’t enough it is time to look at the bigger picture, it is time to use the strategies that were put together when things were easier. It is time to use the support network you have built around yourself or use the resources you are aware of.
Now I am going to go and take care of myself. My parents are watching my kids, I just had a big, delicious lunch, and I’m heading to the shower and then bed.  I hope each one of you has the opportunity to recharge soon.

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