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Shoshana Bennett: Getting Sleep, Taking Breaks and Throwing Out That Superhero Cape

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It’s my job to take care of everyone else.
I shouldn’t need help.
I should be able to take care of my baby by myself.
If I say “no,” that’s selfish.
They’ll be disappointed in me if I refuse.
If there’s time leftover for me, then I’ll take it.

Even if only one of these statements rings a bell for you, you probably put others’ needs and wants ahead of yours, most likely at your own expense. You know how the flight attendant instructs you to place the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth first? That’s because, if you’re not filled up first, you’re no good to anyone else. As many of you already know (you know who you are), if you try to give to others when you’re depleted, you’ll end up resentful, angry and burned out. And that, of course, hurts you and everyone around you. So, enough of the old, self-sacrificing garbage and on with the healthy stuff! Tips to start:

* Even for moms with fresh buns out of the oven, nighttime sleep is not a luxury – it’s a medical necessity. There are effective ways to split the night baby care with another adult (yes, even if you’re nursing) so you get some uninterrupted hours of sleep and keep your brain chemistry even. If you’re not needed to be on duty with a baby at night, take full advantage! Humans need 8.4 hours of uninterrupted sleep to function at their best. Nighttime is for sleeping, so don’t do house chores or anything else which cuts into your sleep time. Let the laundry pile up, allow the dust to settle, and order healthful take-out to decrease kitchen duties. Even watching TV or another activity to help you relax should be done earlier in the evening – not when you should be sleeping. Relaxing “down time” should be sprinkled throughout your week during the day or early evening.

* Whether you’re working full time outside the home or you’re a stay-at-home mother or anywhere in between, you need regular breaks scheduled throughout the week. For instance, every Monday and Wednesday from 5-7pm plus Saturday morning from 10am to noon. Knowing when your next break is (because it’s in your calendar) will save you from biting someone’s head off – your toddler, partner, or co-worker. When you’re having a tough day, if you can say to yourself, “Okay – in an hour and a half I’m out of here!” you’ll be able to hang on to your composure. If your breaks are not scheduled on a regular basis so you can count on them and look forward to them, you’re asking for trouble.

• Our society values self-reliance to a fault. It’s great to feel competent and independent, but please remember that it’s a strength to ask for help when you need it – not a weakness. Just like you feel good when given a chance to help a friend who requests your aid, don’t rip your friends off from receiving that same opportunity to help you. Practice saying, “yes, thank you!” when someone offers to assist you – whether it’s buying toilet paper at the store, picking up a child at school, handling some paperwork on your desk or folding your laundry.

• Always buy yourself time to make decisions – never feel pressured to accept on the spot. Later you may regret your decision, and it’s a lot more difficult to get yourself out of a commitment than it is to turn it down at the outset. Maybe the PTA President calls with, “you’re the best person for this job - can we count on you?” Or, your colleague invites you to her anniversary party. Answer with a smile, “Thank you for thinking of me. I’ll get back to you.” Then, when you have some space to think about it, make sure you ask yourself the right question and not the wrong one! The wrong question is, “Can I take on this commitment?” The right question is, “Is it healthy for me to take on this commitment?” The answer to the first question may be “yes”, you’re able to do it. However, it may not be good for you if you do. Your primary responsibility is to yourself, since, if it’s not healthy for you, it ultimately isn’t good for anyone around you. So, if the answer to the right question is “no”, the responsible answer to that person is, “Thank you, but I won’t be able to.”

Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D.
Author, Postpartum Depression For Dummies

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.