“If mama isn’t happy, NOBODY’s happy”
Everyone in my household has known this phrase to be true for as long as we’ve been a family.
But now there’s science to back up the idea~ meaning that it isn’t just a hillbilly-ish phrase that happens to apply here.
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Maternal Mental Health put on by Breastfeed LA with featured speaker, the super smart, researcher wiz Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett.
They covered a lot of topics, but it all boiled down to this: ~ the mood of the mama affects (or sometimes infects) the mood of the entire home.
Research shows that everything from birth interventions to previous traumas and exposure to violence to immigration status can not only play a role in maternal depression, but can also have long-lasting effects on the health of the infant.
And it’s not just mom’s and babies~ some effects that can last into adulthood, and pass on generationally. It was fascinating and terrifying and left me with an overall feeling of deep amazement for the way life works.
I always love when science actually backs up things that I thought to be true, but more than that, I loved Dr. Kendall-Tackett’s presentation.
She could tell a funny story and make volumes of facts and figures not only interesting and entertaining, but also very relatable to people both with and without a PhD after their name.
Probably the coolest thing I learned was a wonderfully huge new word~ psychoneurobiology, which basically means that what we think in our heads~ the stories we tell ourselves~ they matter.
Not just in a woowoo kind of spiritual way, but in real and tangible ways~ ways that can be measured scientifically.
Our mental health actually affects the way the systems in our body operate and that affects our physical health.
And as moms, our health, including our mental health, affects our children, and scarily enough, it could even affect their children.
So, not only can our mental problems mess up our kids, but our grandkids too.
Learning things like that can be somewhat depressing. It can add pounds of pressure and guilt to our already loaded down psyches, which is rather ironic and extremely unhelpful if you think about it.
And think about things, I do.
Some may say I cross the line into over-thinking, but that’s another story…
Anyhoo, in an effort to take better care of myself and the people around here, I’ve been thinking about how I can avoid flipping out, which will hopefully lessen the ways I mess up generations to come.
Like all moms, I juggle a lot of stuff, and not just my stuff~ other people’s stuff too. Some of it is actually my responsibility because kids are in fact still kids, and I have a job and a mortgage and teenagers who drive.
But other stuff is just stuff I somehow latch onto, and it sucks my joy and energy and causes me all kinds of stress when there’s often nothing I can do about it, no matter how fierce my attempts at control.
Then, there’s just the hormones of being mid 40’s and having crazy cycles and the fact that I struggle with things like emotional maturity and communication.
My attempts at healthy honesty are sometimes referred to as brutal, and I definitely don’t naturally speak in “non-violent communication” lingo...but I do keep trying because it matters.
Also, I know the alternative of not communicating leads downhill to stagnancy and detachment and that’s not the kind of relationships I want to be in or the life I want to live.
The point is that I know that I need to take care of my mental health, and I’ll bet you do too.
Everyone has their own secret recipe for self care, but there are some basic ideas that I think can work on a widespread scale.
Here are my top tips that keep this mama happy (or at least less grumpy)
1) Move My Body on a Daily Basis
If I’m not taking the time to breathe and stretch my body, then stress and negative energy gets all bottled up. I need to get it moving along, or it will eventually blow in an explosion of unpleasantries that make everyone, including me, want to hide.
You don’t have to be an athlete and you can even hate things that consistently involve sweating~ like running for instance (I do) There are a bazillion ways to get the benefits of moving your body and even if you’re not particularly great at them, they can be fun to play with.
I like dancing, hiking, kayaking and even sports like tennis and badminton (which can be adapted to have fewer or no rules)
For my regular movement, I try to go to yoga class a couple times a week because I honestly know I’m not disciplined enough to do more than 5 minutes, let alone an hour, on my own. I also try to walk my dogs daily, either with someone whose company I enjoy or on my own, sometimes listening to walking meditations with the perky and positive Erin Stutland. She’s known for saying that movement in your body creates movement in your life, and it’s true.
It may not prevent all of your urges to flip tables, but I encourage you to try getting your bootie out of the chair and moving in whatever way makes you smile. You might just like it.
2) Find Solitude to Create and Think
I’m a pretty outgoing person and I love to visit, chat, entertain, be entertained and generally be social. But, at the end of the day (or at any time, really) I need some solo time. Being alone with my own thoughts helps my sanity immensely and is also the time when I am the most creative and productive.
I have teenagers rather than toddlers, so it’s a very different scene than it once was. They no longer follow me into the bathroom, but they also don’t take naps either. They like their time alone as well, but it’s not on a set schedule and they’re known to pop in at any time with whatever request came into their brain.
“I don’t want to interrupt you, but I just have this one question…” they say, and it’s almost 100% likely that the question is completely random and unrelated to whatever I was working on.
Once concentration is broken, my mind generally wanders all over before getting back to where it was and my deep work cycle is broken, making everything take longer and be way harder than it actually needs to.
Since I work from home the majority of the time, and our 3 kids who live here all have alternative school schedules, I really have to be both flexible and disciplined about making sure I get some uninterrupted stretches of time alone.
The other day, I shooed all the kids out of the house with the suggestion to go get fro yo. I was actually booting them for a few hours so I could work, but they were happy for cold sweets on a hot day, so it worked for everyone.
In the time they were gone, I actually got more work done than I had in twice as much time the day before. I’m not even kidding.
I don’t need a lot, but a little alone time does me well. I need time to rest, to zone out and talk to myself, but also, because I like to create and my making money is how we eat, I need time to kick butt on my work.
3) Take Time to Connect with People
Sometimes we get the least amount of real time with the people who are closest to us. We’re all so busy, it seems and everyday life with kids and jobs and adulting is prone to sucking up most of what we have.
If you don’t talk to your partner and kids about more than just chores, school and work, chances are, your relationships are going to start being strained.
And if we don’t deal with it, it can leave us tired, bitter shells who only discuss (or argue over) who didn’t wash their dishes instead of what our hopes and dreams are. That’s no way to stay in love or to stay connected as a family.
When I find I’m only connecting over complaining, or my main contact is to delegate housework, I know I need to make a conscious choice to move back towards love and joy. That may mean I need to go back to step 2 and take time for myself before I’m in a good place to connect with others, but I do need to make sure that it’s a priority I act on.
Bonus Tip~ Sleep and Snack Like a Toddler
OK, I know that daily naps aren’t easily obtainable for many of us, but the fact is that we need sleep. Lack of sleep increases the risk of depression along with a host of other health issues. When we’re tired, we’re more sensitive and cranky and overall, more likely to be miserable butt-heads.
I know that I’ve skipped countless hours of sleep over trying to work on never ending to-do lists as well as just worry and stress, and I will most likely do it again. But, I also know that sleep is freaking delicious, and I’m a much better person when I have enough of it.
Same thing with food. If I skip eating to power on with whatever “important” thing I’m trying to do, I’ll probably move to hangry, then all all out crazy woman, or at least a more fierce than necessary version of myself.
So I keep snacks nearby and try to remember that real meals matter for me too, even if there’s no one else needing to be fed at the moment. Stable blood sugar helps stabilize moods and that makes life easier and better for everyone.
While none of these things will make me magically happy all the time or take away all of my stress and worry, they all do contribute in positive ways to my overall mental health. And they add up. The cumulative effects of my being proactive are as easy to spot as the repercussions of my neglecting to do the things I know can help.
Since every home deserves a happy mama, I encourage you to try the steps above and see if they can help. As always, be open to what works for you, and go with that.
Please share in the comments any ideas that help you. We’re all in this together, and I love to learn from each other.
Wishing you the best mental health possible~ because it matters.
Writer, Artist, Empowered Living Advocate, Wanna-be Organic Gardening Foodie, Travel Loving Life Explorer, FunSchooling Facilitator / Former Goat-Herding HeadMistress for our Mostly Happy Homeschool, Semi-Crazy Chicken Lady and Mamacita Extraordinaire to a couple of Cage Free Kids.