Self-care strategy #21: Managing moods by eliminating time wasters & doing what really matters

Quality time with my son at the Audubon

I used to waste my time watching re-runs of the same TV programs over and over again, and getting sucked into reality shows like the Real Housewives. Let me assure you, there is nothing real about them. My husband would remind me they would have a negative effect on me. After watching an episode I somehow would become more irritable and grouchy. After much convincing, I realized that the characters in these shows are not representative of real moms in America (or anywhere). I’m actually a bit embarrassed by the fact that I used to be interested in these women’s opinions. Most of the real moms I know are hard workers (whether inside the home, outside the home, or both) and really, truly care about other people in their lives, besides themselves. They are not narcissists only doing what is in their own best interest, but are able to balance self-care with care for others. These women of the Real Housewives seem to be interested in one thing only – themselves! So, one major time waster I’ve managed to eliminate is to not waste another minute watching these women flaunt their self-serving behaviors on national television. I am going to take the next step now and not mention them again.

Let me just clarify that there is a difference between self-care as I talk about on my blog, and self-serving behavior. The latter involves doing only what’s best for oneself without regard to the negative consequences or effect on others.

Moving on…I was reflecting on how the heck I have time to work two jobs, commute 10 hours a week, and do my writing, which is my passion, on top of trying to spend quality time with my husband and son. Believe me, I do have my days when I am not pleasant to be around. Last night was a good example of that. I came home after a 12-hour day, and I just wanted to be left alone! I was pretty irritable and raised my voice to the tune of “leave me alone already!” It happens. I started to feel guilty after experiencing thoughts like “I’m a bad mom and wife.” What I did make sure to do before I locked myself in my room for some peace and quiet was to kiss my son good night and let him know I love him very much but “Mommy’s tired and I will not be able to read you a story tonight.” Today, I will need to apologize to my husband for acting out the way I did. I figured he’s a grown man and can handle my mood swings from time to time. Hope I’m right!

So after a restful sleep and some reflection I’ve come up with 5 major time wasters. Once you’ve recognized these time wasters, it’s important to eliminate them from your life and instead opt to spend time and energy on what really matters to you. This is an important step towards improving mood and well being because it gives you the opportunity to focus on activities that are meaningful and add value to your life, instead of zapping it away.

  1. Watching or reading “junk” shows or magazines. I like entertainment, who doesn’t? However I’m becoming more selective of what type of material I expose myself to by questioning its impact on my life. I ask myself, is this content important or adding some type of value to my life? Is it inspirational and motivating? Is it intellectually stimulating? Is it worth my time? If the answer is no, I don’t bother wasting another minute on it.
  2. Thinking about people who are no longer a part of your life. I found myself wasting countless hours and energy reflecting on why someone is no longer a part of my life. I questioned my role in the separation. It brought me down. The reality is I’m not sure what happened, and unless someone directly communicates with me, it’s a waste of time to try to guess. It’s also a waste of time to take it personally and automatically assume you’re the one who did something wrong. The reality is that a relationship is a two way street. It takes two people interested in making it work and willing to do that work, not just one.
  3. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. I am infamous for this one. I’m learning to start letting go of things I have no control over. It’s a long and challenging process to learn this new behavior, when I’m accustomed to worrying about EVERYTHING. What I’ve found is that it’s a major waste of time. The reality is when bad things happen I have survived and only grown stronger from those experiences. It’s amazing what happens when you let go. Good things start happening. You also get the chance to find out who your true friends are during your most difficult times. Though I love all my friends and family, I can honestly name only a handful of people who have been there for me during my most challenging times. These are the people I trust. These are the people I choose to focus my energy and time on.
  4. Working harder than anyone else, whether at work, home or other areas of your personal or professional life. I am constantly working on balancing how much time and effort I put into something or someone, vs. how much effort they put in. Though I have a strong work ethic and really value relationships, I also value myself enough to set limits and boundaries when I need to do it. For example, I recently noticed at work that I was scheduling way more clients in one day than was doable for me or for anyone. After catching what I was doing I let my boss know what was going on and she confirmed that I was doing too much. No wonder I felt stressed and exhausted on those days. I’m lucky to have a boss who is reasonable and empathetic, and I know others who have bosses who might say to “grin and bear it.” I’m lucky to work for a reasonable and understanding person (who’s also a working Mom herself). I think that also makes a difference.
  5. Spending more time online than offline & interacting with people face to face. There is absolutely no substitute for actual, live interpersonal contact with someone you care about. I know online resources are helpful for keeping us in touch with people from a distance, but it’s taking away from the in person connections that are also important. Though it seems I’m probably online all the time, I actually take breaks from it and practice being in nature, scheduling gatherings with my friends, going to yoga, doing meditation, and putting that phone away from time to time, with the ringer set to off. It really makes a difference in my mood when I know I’ve spent quality time, face to face, with my loved ones, and with myself!

The dishes are never done!

I came home from work last night, and washed dishes. I woke up this morning, and I washed dishes again. Not sure about other mamas out there, but doesn’t it seem like the dishes are never done? Not only are the dishes never done, but the laundry basket is never empty either. Come to think of it, the floor is never completely clean (so please don’t eat off of it) and the furniture is always a little bit dusty. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my house is never really clean! I admit it. I’m not a perfect housemaid. Nor am I a perfect mama. God no. I have my moments of insanity. There are times I raise my voice, and shall I dare to admit – throw out a profanity or two along the way. I might just be willing to admit that there are times I close the door loudly. Just sometimes.

I feel no shame or embarrassment here. It is just the simple fact that there is never enough time! As long as there is a house, and there are dishes and clothes to wash, there will inevitably always be something needing to get cleaned. I’ve simply let go of the fact that something will always be dirty and I’m willing to admit that I can’t keep up!

Now, if I were a stay at home Mom perhaps I’d have more time for dishes and laundering, but is that really what I want to be doing with my free time? Really? I’d rather sit here and type this lovely blog update for my fellow mama friends. Now of course if I had a full time maid I wouldn’t need to worry about it. But really, how many people in this world have that luxury? Not too many, unfortunately. So if you do, I’m jealous!

So I came up with a list of mama care activities that are really important. Here are 4 signs of burnout and 4 activities to remedy that burnout – quickly!

Burnout warning signs:

  1. You notice a massive headache starting to come on.
  2. You notice you’re starting to raise your voice louder than usual.
  3. You feel exhausted.
  4. Your irritation and frustration towards others increases.

Burnout remedies:

  1. Go for a walk. This really works. Whenever I start to experience the above signs, I put my sneakers on. They’ve become an item I can’t leave the house without. Walk anywhere. Just go. Getting up, getting moving and away from the source of stress is important. But don’t forget to come back! Also, it’s important to notice if there’s a pattern emerging of always needing to walk away, but let’s save that for another blog post.
  2. Stop and sit. The picture above reflects the importance of making time for rest and relaxation throughout the day. Even just five minutes a couple times a day can help diffuse anger and get your blood pressure down. Focus on what’s right in front of you. I noticed this lovely nook on my walk one day. Use your senses: look, touch, smell, listen, feel. See blog post about this excellent grounding technique here.
  3. Call, write, text, message, or see a friend. With so many ways to get in touch with others these days, it’s easy to reach out and connect. Pick a friend who makes you laugh or is a good listener. Keep their contact information listed somewhere handy – preferably your phone. Put your top 3 friends/confidantes in favorites. Even if it’s just a one second text, I often find my mood lift when I can have a moment of healthy interaction with another.
  4. Do something fun. Forget the laundry and forget the dishes. Leave them for one night. Go out for ice cream. Watch a movie you’ve been meaning to watch. Read a good book or magazine. Play a game. Make love. Do something that interests or excites you. There will never be enough time in the day so make self care a priority!

What are your burnout warning signs and remedies? I’d like to hear, so please share!