Updated: Jun 27, 2021
You probably ask people multiple times a day, "How are you doing?" Do you ever ask yourself? Are you taking the time to think about your health - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally? If not, take a look at the Dragon Mama Self Care Check-In.
If you're anything like me, you go to bed thinking about what you need to do the next day, and wake up thinking about it. Most of the time, my "to-do list" involves what needs to be done for the kids and the house, which usually includes things like feeding, cleaning, and learning. Sometimes there are special activities, day trips, or some kind of lesson. Yours may involve all these things, plus work outside the home.
For a long time, I felt very overwhelmed by all the things I had to do for three little ones who needed me for everything, especially when I was experiencing Post Partum Anxiety. On occasion, I may have had a pedicure lined up or a special lunch with someone, but I didn't think about everyday things I could do that bring me joy. It never occurred to me that these type of things could help my anxiety. I still don't prioritize or schedule it as much as I should, but I do take time for things that bring me joy much more than I used to.
Now, that is not to say my everyday duties don't bring me happiness on their own. You can't look at my 2 year old's little face without feeling joy, and watching him learn new things daily is very rewarding. I love listening to my 7 year old read chapter books and teach me about dinosaurs. My 5 year old's sense of humor always brings laughs and smiles my way. Even cleaning can be very cathartic for me. But, moms should also intentionally add things in their day that bring them joy besides caretaking. Prioritize and schedule things that are good for your soul. This is not to say you can't do these activities with others or for others. If you are an extrovert, many of the activities can be done with your spouse, kids, and/or other family or friends.
Here are 10 ideas to bring more joy to your soul.
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Listening to Music
According to an article in John Hopkins Medicine, "Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory." We all have music that just puts us in a good mood. Anyone else a *NSYNC/Britney fan?? Just me? HaHa. I often find when I am driving and listening to music my mood is boosted. If this is true for you, don't limit your music intake to when you happen to be driving. Turn on some music while you are cooking, cleaning or exercising. If you find yourself in stressful moment with the kids, turn on some music you all can enjoy. My kids love a good impromptu dance party.
Reading a Book
Getting lost in a good book is one way to forget about your worries. I am a big fan Nicholas Sparks books. Reading exercises your brain just through the act of reading the letters and contemplating their meanings. Putting pictures together in your mind. Predicting outcomes. Some books also teach us new skills. But perhaps more importantly, reading can immerse us in the life others and creates empathy for others. Or perhaps as James Baldwin alludes to, you may understand yourself better, knowing there other humans with the same thoughts, feelings or experiences.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
Did you know there was such a thing as horticultural therapy? Read more about it here. There are so many reasons gardening is good for us. Mentally, we can learn new techniques, respond to problems, expand our cognitive abilities etc. Being out in nature has also shown to improve ones' mood. Physically, we work on the dexterity of our hands, perhaps build our strength carrying materials, build endurance working outside and more. But the point here, is that it is good for the soul. We plant something from a seed and nurture it. We watch it grow and bloom into something new, which may even bear fruit. For some, this is a connection to God and what we believe he created and entrusted us to care for. For others, it is a connection with the universe. If you have never gardened before or don't have much outdoor space, you can start small with herbs, a flower box or even hanging tomato planters.
If you believe in an immortal soul, you may believe in a higher power or God. I find prayer to be a means to 1) show our gratefulness and 2) seek comfort and remain hopeful. First, a prayer of thanks, is an expression of gratitude. According to an article published in Psychology Today, psychologists have found, "feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems." Meditation if very similar. The second type of prayer we often say are for intercessions. If we are asking God for help, it means we believe there is hope. There is hope that God will intercede and hope is often a component of joy. I found this quote at hopegrows.net and I think it sums it up perfectly.
To have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way. It not only can help make a tough present situation more bearable but also can eventually improve our lives because envisioning a better future motivates you to take the steps to make it happen.
During meditation, you focus on the present moment using techniques such as breathing to focus on the present moment of calmness and clarity. The idea is, you remove yourself from all the outside noise for clear thinking. When you practice meditation and become better and better at clear thinking you pave your way to make conscious choices for your life. Additionally, when you focus on the now, depression and anxiety tend not to be as prevalent as they tend to focus on the past or future. You may then be able to feel peace, gratitude and joy during your meditation.
Planning something you love
For me, I love vacations. I'm equally as excited planning for vacation as going on vacation. You may love planning parties or playdates, designing crafts for your kids, lesson planning, drawing up blueprints for an addition to your home or planning sporting events with coworkers. An M.D writes in Psychology Today, "Anticipatory joy is often greater than the joy brought to us by experiencing the very things we anticipate." I don't know if I would go that far as to say the joy is "often greater," in planning, but is at least equally as exciting most of the time. The journey to get somewhere can be as joyful as the event itself. For example, for many, planning for babies' arrival is very exciting, as is their arrival. Planning your wedding can be as fun as the day of the event. The season before Christmas is full of anticipatory joy. So soak in those moments where you can plan something joyful. I have some tools that may aid you in planning joyful activities for your family. Read here and here.
It feels good to help others. We know that. Sometimes it is hard to find the time because as parent you are literally taking care of others 24/7 for no pay already. And, the little ones aren't really very appreciative. But, you may a volunteer program that includes work that really brings you joy. For example, I loved planning events when I was a Wish Granter for Make A Wish. Yes, it was emotionally hard. Yes, it was benefitting someone truly deserving. But, I enjoyed doing that type of work. No one ever said that volunteering only counts if it is unenjoyable, a sacrifice or selfless.
If you have watched Legally Blonde you know that exercise= endorphins=happy people. I'm personally not a big fan of exercise, so this isn't really what I would chose for this category of self care, but it does have so many physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Yoga is particularly good for self care. Kaitlyn Hochart, explains, "Practicing yoga can help with body awareness, flexibility, strength, mobility, and balance. It also requires you to shift into a more relaxed state, which can help decrease stress, increase focus, and promote a stronger connection with yourself." (Source.) I linked a video for Yoga Beginners below.
Writing things down is so powerful, on a number of different levels. First, by writing down your thoughts and emotions, you can understand them more clearly. Sometimes if you write down your anxieties on paper you will actually realize 1) what they actually are and 2) that they are unlikely to happen. (Of course we know the often quoted statistic that 85% of what we worry about never happens.) We can also make a plan on how to deal with the happening if it were to occur, instead of the worry just circling in our head. Second, writing down happy thoughts can be powerful as well. Gratitude journals are all the rage right now, and studies show they do work. When you write down what you are thankful for, it really puts small issues in perspective. Moreover, gratitude releases dopamine. (Source.)
Spending time with an animal
Of course, if you love your pet and you have a connection with your pet, spending time with them would logically bring you joy. But, even if you don't have an animal companion, spending time with animals can still beneficially affect your soul. Therapy dogs bring happiness with their tails wagging into hospital rooms. Horses have been used in helping kids dealing with trauma. At my University, they used to have puppies you can pet to reduce stress during finals time. According to Marwan Sabbagh, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: “Simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate and, possibly, in elevated mood.” (Source.)
I hope you have some time incorporate one or more of these ideas into your routine if you have not been taking time for yourself lately.