Motherhood. At times it feels unmanageable, incredibly busy, deeply challenging. But it also has the potential to ignite deeper capacities a woman didn’t even know she had.
As a therapist working with pregnant women and mothers, I spend a lot of time helping clients find balance between their personal needs and the rest of their responsibilities to their family and careers.
Before children, a full night’s sleep, a visit to the gym and ample time to shower in the morning were just a matter of making time in your schedule. When you’re a mom, you have to get creative to make sure your needs are met while you satisfy the needs of your family. All of a sudden you’re using hours of the day you never knew existed, and working with partners and caregivers to schedule time for tasks that are easier done without kids. This can be a very hard transition. But it is one that can help you develop healthy habits and routines for you and your family.
Exercise is an area I have often found to be the first to suffer, the easiest to put on the back burner.
Make time to exercise
Mothers and/or primary care givers, you are the center around which your family revolves. Your health and happiness directly affect everyone else involved. When you are off kilter everyone suffers. So it is incredibly important for you and your family that you nourish yourself, body and mind.
After giving birth to my second son, I realized that life had just gotten twice as interesting. My older child had a schedule he was already used to, and he was not too excited about sharing my attention. My husband was able to help a lot during the early weeks, but had to return to work. I was left feeling overwhelmed.
For the first few months I was recovering from birth and using any extra space I had to catch up on lost sleep. However, once I had transitioned more into a normal routine I completely let go of exercise. As a result, I was often agitated by the end of the day and had a hard time carrying on a conversation with my husband without getting annoyed or just zoning out. It was like my brain was asleep. Before giving birth I had walked and exercised regularly.
I realized that I needed to reestablish an exercise routine before I totally lost it.
There is research that points to a direct correlation between exercise, increased brain functioning and stress reduction. It shows that the brain develops and processes best when the body is in motion. In the simplest terms, when you exercise you are not just benefiting your body – your mind is also given space to stretch and release. This is why many people like to take a walk to clear their head during times of stress or when making a big decision.
Exercise increases creativity and thoughtfulness and can reduce agitation. A 25-minute walk or run can change your entire outlook on the day. As a mom, it also is an opportunity to be alone with your thoughts and connect with yourself. The type of exercise is not as important as just being able to find a consistent routine with it. For example, if it’s easiest to do a yoga video during naptime, or have a dance party, that is just as good. The key is establishing something you can stick with.
Keep it simple … and steady
What I stress with my clients is not to push yourself into exercise that is too strenuous or challenging leaving you sore and tired. Instead find something that you enjoy and that feels rejuvenating. When I started exercising again, I took a walk every other evening after my husband came home from work. Now I run three times a week in the morning and do the elliptical machine at the gym once a week.
I have many examples of routines woman have come up with. Please ask if you would like to see some of them.
The balancing act of motherhood is potentially one of a woman’s greatest challenges. I encourage you to embrace it and reap the benefits of your own personal exercise routine.
Caitlin FloodMoore is a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, and a mother of two. Read her full bio here.