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Like most mothers, I’ve had my ups and downs, and to be perfectly honest, there have been quite a few downs. Happiness is tricky. We’re told that if we can just do everything right (stay organized, eat the right things, etc., etc.) and have the right things (the right house, the right clothes, the right hairstyle, and so on), that we will have stress-free lives and be happy. This is pretty obviously a lie. But I think that it’s actually hard to be happy. It takes work, which at least seems counter-intuitive. What I mean is that happiness can’t be bought and it isn’t just a function of the right set of external circumstances. The conclusion I’ve reached is that the biggest component of happiness is goodness (see Aristotle for more on that) and goodness requires work. In a way, this conclusion has been very comforting for me. It means that it’s not just a problem with my attitude. I have a tendency to feel guilty and that I’m being ungrateful when I’m not feeling especially happy. My conclusion also helps provide focus and makes it easier to ignore all the lifestyle junk people are always trying to sell us. On the other hand, this conclusion leaves one with the task of pursuing goodness with no immediate relief in sight. Thankfully, there are things that we can do to lift our moods and spirits while we try to stumble along the road to sainthood. The following is a short list of things that I have found helpful for improving my sense of wellbeing. But first, remind yourself that being a mother is hard and the work is very important. Now have a cup of tea and a piece of buttered toast or cake (preferably both).
Before we dive in, I’d like to urge you to see a doctor if it is possible you are feeling down due to a hormone or health related issue. Most doctors (including OBGYNs) cannot (or, in some cases, will not) actually help you with hormone problems. I went to see an OBGYN about my hormones once and he tested my levels on one day. That is not sufficient. Your hormones have to be tested many times throughout your cycle before anyone can see if there might be a problem. Seek out a doctor who knows about natural family planning (try http://www.fertilitycare.org/) because they have to know about how hormones work. Similarly, if you’re feeling low consistently, or feeling quite low, or like you’re not coping (a medical professional once said to me that just getting by is not coping – just getting by isn’t enough), talk to your doctor. It’s very hard to self-assess in these situations (I know from experience), so my advice is to err on the side of caution and go ahead and book the appointment if you’re in any doubt.
And so on to our list:
First, make sleep a priority. You will feel much better. Yes, I know that is easier said than done. And yes, I know that the evening is the only time you have to spend with your SO and to do whatever didn’t get done during the day or even to spend time unwinding and doing something you might actually feel like doing. However, studies indicate that sleep deprivation is actually quite dangerous. It just isn’t something that can be ignored to accommodate other things in our lives. This article is a really great discussion of the sleep deprivation mothers often suffer.
Try to have time to yourself that you spend doing something that is actually restorative for you. Consider taking a class, taking up a new hobby, reading (maybe even in a coffee shop!), going for a walk, or anything else that appeals.
Follow the advice given in Hello Dolly’s “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and get a little spruced up. I feel much better when I feel like I look nice. See my post on this topic.
Spend less time looking at screens. Screen time in excess of 5 hours a day has been linked with mental health and sleep issues (see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.10133/abstract). I find that if I’m staring at my phone or my computer, I have a much harder time managing everything else I have going on at that moment and am likely to get overwhelmed and irritable. It adds one more thing I’m trying to focus on and my attention is simply too divided. I also find that I’m more likely to feel guilty about the amount of attention I’m giving my children. The fact is, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything we need, let alone want, to do. And I find that for me, time on social media or looking at pretty things on Pinterest, is often a luxury I can’t afford. I recognize that these things can act as an escape, but the trouble is that they aren’t restorative. Screens are stimulating and the content of these sites scatters our attention. I find that I actually feel better if I spend very little time looking at screens. I feel more present and engaged and less distracted and overstimulated.
Try to spend time in nature. Find a park that will allow you to get away from the city and cars and go for a walk. In my more ambitious days I intended to take the kids out for a walk in a naturey area every day. I now live quite a distance from any such place and have less ambition. However, studies do indicate that it can have a profound impact on how we feel.
I hope these things make you feel better, improve your mood, and help you feel more able to take up your crosses. Now my advice is to have another cup of tea.