Self-care. How does that word make you feel? For the longest time, I catagorized "self-care" with "selfish" - in the list of things I shouldn't really do, or should only do if I had lots of time completely free from responsibilities. (Which never happens when you have children!)

But I've learned something over the last two years of walking through burnout and depression. You ARE responsible for taking care of yourself. No one else will. No one else can. And you know what? It's not selfish. It's part of being the best person you can be, so that you can have something to offer those around you. You are the mom. The world revolves around you. If you crash, you take everyone down with you! Isn't it better to take time for yourself now, rather than find yourself debilitated by depression, or leaving the field because of burnout, or hospitalized with a physical illness a few years down the road?**

I believe ALL moms need to focus more on taking care of themselves. However, this is especially necessary for moms overseas. Why?

  • Our support system is small or non-existent. No grandma to babysit while we go shopping. No best friend to take us out for coffee. Perhaps no Christian community to meet for regular fellowship and encouragement.
  • We're under huge cultural stress, making everything more exhausting.
  • Everyday life is harder. No air conditioning, unreliable eletricity, no convenience foods - you know the list.
  • There's fewer people around us that will notice the danger signs when we're not doing well.
  • There's more pressure on us, from locals and from supporters, to meet up to certain expectations and perform well.

That's a lot of stress on a mom, who ALREADY has enough stress in simply running the home and raising her children! I believe self-care is absolutely essential to survival as a mother overseas.

So what does self-care really mean? How do we DO it?

I am NOT an expert, but here are some things we have been learning. The outworking of these things will look different in each situation.

  1. Draining vs. Energizing Activities - Everything you do is either energizing for you or draining for you. It is different for each individual - for one mom, cooking is a fun hobby, while for another it is a stressful chore. For one person, large social groups are energizing and exciting, for another they are exhausting and draining. Obviously we can't avoid everything that is draining for us, but we can identify those things and make sure to follow them with "recharge" time. If cooking is stressful for you, figure out a way to take a break from cooking one day a week. If large groups are exhausting, make sure you can take some time alone after the event is over. Balance your draining activities with energizing ones, and eliminate any that you can.
  2. Self-Talk - I am finding this to be a huge need in my life. What are you saying about yourself in your head? "I can't keep on top of things no matter how hard I try."  "I'll never be good enough." "I'm such a failure as a mom." Sound familiar? Just this morning I realized that I forgot eggs at the store AGAIN and the words in my head were "Brilliant homemaker, can't even remember her whole grocery list." STOP! Talking this way about yourself (even if you never say the words outloud) is hurting not only you, but your children as well.
  3. Time to Create. You might be thinking, "But I'm not a crafty-type person." Fine. I'm certainly not! But we all need time to be creative. For some this means writing. For some it means drawing, painting, sewing, or craft projects. It might be cooking or home decorating or photography. Whatever it is, you need to have a creative outlet. Even if you can only squeeze in an hour a week, DO IT!
  4. Time to Meet Your Needs - As busy moms, especially in ministry, we often deprive ourselves of the most essential physical needs. This ought to be obvious, but ladies, we need to feed ourselves as well as our children! We need to get enough sleep to keep our bodies healthy. We all need exercize (unless we have a toddler to chase!) These physical needs should be a priority, even on busy, crazy days. But we all have other needs, emotional and spiritual, as well. Don't feel guilty about taking a hot bath, scheduling a coffee date with a friend, or spending the evening reading a good book. Identify what your needs are and make sure they're getting met on a regular basis! Obviously there will be weeks when everyone has the stomach flu, or you're packing to leave on furlough, that everything is upside down and there is no time for you. But don't constantly live in the 'maybe I'll have time next week' mode. Time for you will not happen unless YOU make it a priority.
  5. Time with the Lord. I shouldn't even need to mention this one, right? But it's SO easy as a busy mom to let personal time with the Lord get bumped out by more urgent things. Keep it a priority! And I'm not talking about the legalistic "have to read a chapter" that you can check off your to-do list. That is not life-giving or relationship-building. Do what you need to do to really connect with the Lord and be refreshed by Him: maybe praying the Scriptures outloud, journaling through a chapter of the Bible, reading a devotional, or listening to an audio message.
  6. Get Help. Maybe you need practical help - Are household chores taking all your time? Consider hiring local household help. Do you really need to get out? Find someone who can babysit and give you a break. Or maybe you need emotional help and support. Reach out to a friend. Find a mentor. Join an online community of women who can understand and give support. Find a counselor before you're desperate. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

A closing thought on what self-care is not? Self-care is not self-medicating your stress by spending mindless hours on Facebook or YouTube or reading novels, or whatever your escape might be. I'm not saying that doing something like that to relax is always wrong. But when you find yourself binge-watching a TV series to escape your responsiblities (and emotions), please do not call it self-care. Rather, realize it's a warning sign that you NEED to put some healthy self-care in place before it's too late!

**I certainly do not suggest that every case of deperession or illness is caused by lack of self-care. There are many other circumstances out of our control that can also cause these things. But let's be responsible to do what we can, and that means taking care of ourselves!**

So now it's your turn, ladies! What do you think when you hear the word "self-care"? Do you have some boundaries in place that allow you to take care of yourself? What do you find most helpful to you? Please share in the comments below!

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  • Guest - Dawn Nolt

    Excellent post, Melissa! It is so true that we often feel selfish if we think about ourselves or take care of ourselves, but it's so important. (especially for moms) Thanks for your practical advice... I would say you are learning well. :)

    I find going out for coffee with other lady friends (and NO children) is very refreshing. As a mom you never can be off-duty unless you go away alone, and then often I have a deadline and have to get back. To go out for coffee when the children will be in bed when I get home is so nice....I don't feel any rush to get home and take care of people. I admit, it happens on very rare occasions, but I love it!

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