Why self-care for sensitive mothers is not optional

Helping professionals are trained in the importance of self-care in their jobs, because it’s understood when your job involves giving to others, you're at risk of burning out. You risk compassion fatigue - a condition where you’re so exhausted from caring for everyone else that you stop caring, because you literally have no more in you to give.

Mothers are at risk of burn out and compassion fatigue too, because their primary role is to care for others

From the moment you have kids your heart expands monumentally, opening you up to intense states of love and joy, as well as fear and sadness when those you love are hurting. Your capacity for empathy and compassion increases tenfold, and with it, your sensitivity.

Being sensitive to others is a gift. It’s a relational intelligence that can be applied in so many situations in your life. Being able to sense another’s needs, feelings, and what’s going on for them, so they feel seen, validated, heard and understood is the ultimate expression of love. 

But that same sensitivity, if not managed well, can also lead to burn out.

I believe that self-care for mothers is not optional, especially if you are sensitive.

Signs of compassion fatigue / burn out to look out for

Long before you reach burn out, there are always a number of telling symptoms that arise, which is your body’s way of {loudly} telling you your core needs are not being met. Here are a few consistent red flags to look out for: 

  • You stop caring.
  • You start resenting everyone and everything, especially when they need something from you. 
  • You isolate yourself, pushing away company and connection. 
  • You may binge eat to numb yourself.
  • You can’t tolerate excessive noise. 
  • You blame others for what’s not working in your life, especially those closest to you.
  • You feel depleted, exhausted and drained.
  • Your sense of humour vanishes.
  • The tiniest thing brings on tears. 
  • You blow up over anything and everything. There’s a sharp edge to your voice.
  • You feel physically tense.
  • You may become accident prone. 
  • You resent your nice-ness and your anger simultaneously.
  • You feel overwhelmed and paralysed by stories of fear and negativity in the world. 
  • You start to believe the stories. 
  • You question what you’re doing. 
  • You question your worth. 
  • You can’t cope with ordinary things.
  • Simple decisions feel overwhelming.
  • The world turns grey. 
  • And that precious light of yours? Perilously close to being extinguished. 

It happens not because you’ve done something wrong. It happens because you care so much. Possibly too much. And because you’re human and you've got such a huge heart.

When you start to read symptoms as information, as a barometer of your state of wellbeing, you realise your body is trying to help you out. To give you information so you can make different choices. Like saying no. Like blocking out time in your calendar to do nothing. So you have the space to listen to your own needs and attend to them. 

It’s important to remember how much you’re able to give is directly linked to how much you have in your tank.

Just like your car, you run beautifully when you have ready stores of available energy, when you’re nourished and filled up. But when you’re empty, you won’t function until your tank is refilled. 

You may think what refills you is receiving love, validation and attention from the people closest to you. Ironically, when you're in a cycle of burn out, that’s when your loved ones are least likely to meet your needs, because you’re not yourself and you are very likely taking your resentment out on them. And the truth is your loved ones don't always know how best to meet your needs. They've got their own life and stresses too.

It comes down to this: no one is responsible for filling up your tank but you. It’s a basic truth of being an adult. And if you are sensitive, I’m guessing your emotional needs are higher than someone who’s got a defensive brick wall around them and feels very little. Learning how to re-nourish yourself is a crucial part of managing your own emotional wellbeing. 

You may be thinking it’s selfish to focus on yourself.

It’s surprising just how many women have absorbed a belief that putting themselves first is selfish.

Taking action on your own behalf doesn’t make you a lesser person. So often we feel we’re letting our children and family down if we aren’t doing everything for them. But that's when mother guilt blurs mother into martyr.

In my counselling training, I was taught if someone is stuck down a deep hole, what do you do? Do you jump into the hole with them, with both of you now stuck, unable to get out? Or do you stay at the edge, throw a rope down and help the person get out of the hole safely?

You can’t help others if you are not okay yourself.

And so now we’ve got that out of the way, I hope you can see how important it is to let go of any outdated notions of selfishness, and just look after yourself in the way that you need. 

Sometimes you need to apply some of that beautiful love you give so freely to everyone else back to yourself.

How to break out of overwhelm

Initially, it may feel counter-intuitive to give yourself the level of attention you normally reserve for others. It starts with pulling back a little, or a lot, depending on how depleted you are.

Give yourself permission to take time out. Listen to your body. Be very, very kind to yourself. Get lots of sleep. Eat healthy food, go for gentle walks in nature, take a swim in the ocean, absorb some sunshine. Get a massage. Listen to soothing music. Go see a movie, by yourself. Take long baths when your kids are asleep. Journal your thoughts and emotions. Switch off the news for a while. Play. Get your partner, grandparent or friend to mind your children while you take a break. Ask someone in your family to cook the meals for a week. Take a day off. Speak to someone who cares. Try to minimise the amount of stimulation and noise in your environment.

Please don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help.

And if after caring for yourself you're still struggling, visit your GP, book a session with a counsellor, psychologist, therapist or other helping professional. Someone who’s trained to listen and care, who has no connection to your life. It can make such a difference.

If you prioritise self-care into your life you will protect yourself from burning out. It's a must for sensitive mothers. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel for it and how much more capacity you’ll have to give love to those in your life. But don't take my word for it, try it yourself and see what works for you.

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