‘I am not a machine’ is a mantra I have been found muttering under my breath. Reminding myself of my human limits, encouraging self-compassion in place of self-criticism.
However, perhaps, in another way, I do need to liken myself to a machine. Daily shuttling kids around in the car, I respect that it requires fuel to do the job. I book MOTs lest I end up needing rescuing from the hard shoulder (again). Yet, at times you’d be forgiven for thinking I valued the needs of my car more than my own.
Over the years of being a therapist, I’ve spoken to thousands of mothers whose wellbeing has taken a back seat. Burnout and depletion is something we descend steadily into as our gaze is fixed upon the needs of others, overlooking our own.
I’m going to take you through a quick 5-step MOT that will stop you feeling so overwhelmed.
One. How are you, really?
Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. Try not to judge yourself for the feelings that arise. They are waves moving through you. Trying to change them halts that process. Feeling is productive! It’s our human way of making sense of and responding to the world.
Manta: I am feeling…., and that’s okay.
Tip: Try bullet journaling as a way of noting your feelings and seeing how they ebb and flow. If you’re feeling consistently low for two weeks or longer, speak to your GP.
Two. Who are you speaking to?
How many people in your life see beyond the ‘I’m okay’? I recommend that you have two or three people in your life who get more than the surface answers. Talking is therapeutic, enabling someone to offer the kind or rational voice we need.
Mantra: If vulnerability was a weakness, it would be a lot easier!
Tip: Take small steps of openness to grow in confidence.
Three. How are you spending your time?
If you lived every day in the same way you do now, would you be living a fulfilled life? How might you compartmentalise or re-prioritise your days so that you can find a bit more life-giving balance?
Mantra: How we spend our days, is how we spend our life.
Tip: Place boundaries around work and social media usage if possible. Taking time to disconnect enables us to be more efficient.
Four. What do you need?
If you met the needs of those you love in the exact same way you meet your own, how would that feel? The more you give out, emotionally, mentally and physically, the more you need to refill yourself in order to avoid depletion and burnout. You need energy to laugh, to rationalise anxious thoughts and to invest in the relationships that matter.
Mantra: It’s hard to give what I don’t have.
Tip: Address people-pleasing traits with The People Pleasing Course, and practice placing healthy boundaries around your resources.
Five. How are you speaking to yourself?
You drop a mug on the floor. As ceramic shards dance around your feet, what are you saying to yourself? The language and the tone of your inner dialogue informs your self-esteem.
Mantra: If I wouldn’t speak to someone I love like this, it’s not good enough for me either.
Tip: When you find your critical inner dialogue gaining volume, imagine what a compassionate friend might say, and introduce a second dialogue.
Note these questions down and set a reminder in your phone to check in with yourself often. This is about valuing yourself as an equal, it’s about respecting yourself as you nurture those around you. If the last two years of turbulence has taught me anything, it’s that I may love wildly and deeply, but my burnt out, depleted, irritable, resentful self does not communicate love ‘well’. I care for myself so that I can continue to care.
It’s not ‘me first’, it’s simply ‘me too’.
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