I am not going to talk about taking bubble baths, and self-indulgent activities. That can be part of self-care but most women I know are not at that level. Most women I know are in the denial stage of self-care. They are champions at giving care to everyone but themselves. Many of you reading this have probably had some level of sleep deprivation for months or years due to pregnancy, new babies, hot flashes, nursing toddlers, sick children, teenage sons who do their laundry at 3am, insomnia, racing thoughts, too much to do, working and raising a family, etc. Perhaps you are experiencing some sort of traumatic life change - moving, illness or death of a loved one, a divorce, conflict in your family, and/or losing a job.
When life gets to this level, a bubble bath may help but that is temporary. The following is a list of ideas to help you survive until the pressure lets up.
Sleep - how much do you need? How many hours are you getting now? I know that I can temporarily go less than 8 hours/night but I start to lose it quickly if I miss too many days in a row. If you need more sleep than you are getting now, how can you add an extra 30 min to a hour to your sleep day? Nap? Going to bed earlier? Getting up later? Recently I "scheduled" sleep on my Google calendar. An 8 hour block - which means 9 pm is my bedtime. Yesterday I didn't get 8 hours so I found myself taking a nap at 2 pm.
Clothes for breathing - are you able to take a belly breath in the clothes you have on right now? How does it feel? Any pinching, pain, discomfort? Pregnancy, menopause, stress, thyroid issues are among many reasons why women's bodies change over time. A couple of pieces of clothing that allows for belly breathing and looks stylish/hip/professional is a survival tool. This is not the time to wish those skinny/pre-pregnancy/pre-menopausal/running-body clothes still fit. This is the time to honor where you are in your journey right now without self-judgement. Breathing is not optional so you might as well enjoy the process.
Let Go of Perfection - what a hard lesson, and one that moms especially may get caught in. Your kid's school lunch doesn't have to be the perfect ratio fat/carb/protein. (Nor do you have to make it - is your child capable of making a sandwich? If yes, let them. ) The house doesn't have to be immaculate, or your makeup/hair perfect before going out. It is normal for a toddler to have a melt-down at the grocery store because you chose the wrong apple. It is also normal to lose your mind because of the melt-down and refuse to get any apples. You are in survival mode, not in "let me be the best mom ever" mode.
Eat Fats - the best fuel for your brain (which is tired and stressed) are healthy fats. I hate to use the term best, because survival isn't about best, but when brain function is compromised it is hard to get past survival. I am not talking deep fried everything, I mean coconut oil, real butter, avocados, salmon, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. These will give your body the building blocks it needs to make the hormones you need to deal with stress.
Seek Out Help - for whatever you cannot handle anymore. Someone to take an older child to school, to watch the baby while you take a nap, to walk the dog, to cook for your family...for a whole week, or once a week for a whole month. Not just one time, that is more like a small band-aid on a large wound. Once isn't going to get you out of survival. Be brave and ask for what you need.
In my profession, I watch women walk this line of survival often. In my personal life as a spouse of a wounded warrior, I, too, am on this tightrope from time to time. I get how the logical solution may not be the one you choose. You may know how important breastmilk is for your baby, and you want so bad to provide this for your baby...yet the path is steep, and you aren't ready for it. I get that. I am here to support the path you need because I realize that there is so much more than what I can see on the surface.