Mindset shifts of a new mom: Lack of predictability

There’s no way to convey the enormous change that occurs when you get your first baby. It’s not like anything you’ve ever imagined because your mind is not capable of imagining something you have no precedent for. But anyway, I’ll make an attempt of painting a picture for you.

You get woken up every ~3 hours in the night, and there’s no ‘good night’s sleep’ in sight; proper rest is not in your near future. You’re feeding the baby every ~3 hours, which is its own ordeal, and then the baby poops, so you change his nappy and maybe his clothes. When the baby falls asleep, you may think you have some time for yourself, but beware: he may wake up any second. He may sleep for 3 minutes or for 3 hours. You never know if you’ll have enough time to pee, eat lunch, do the laundry, call a friend, or all of the above.

A lack of predictability on the micro level

The toughest thing for me was the lack of predictability. It’s one thing that I like to plan out my days and have a routine–that was definitely out the window. The thing was that I wanted to be able to eat my breakfast without being interrupted, but if my son started crying, I had to pick him up, feed him, change him, etc. I could only return to my breakfast maybe an hour later.

It felt crazy to not have any wiggle room and to accept that whatever I was doing could be interrupted at any time, and, if that happened, I had to drop everything on a moment’s notice.

I’m talking about a lack of predictability on the micro level. Will I be able to finish cooking this meal? Don’t know. Will I complete my 10 minutes of exercise? No idea. Will I be able to brush my teeth or even pee? We’ll have to see. The biggest one was the shower. One time I got in the shower and 2 minutes later William started crying (I had just put him to sleep, and I was alone at home). I was all wet, with shampoo in my hair, and he was crying like crazy! I got to him as fast as I could, but I’ve never felt so guilty about taking a shower in my life.

It gets better with time

The good news is that it got better over time. After a few weeks or months, William no longer cried as hard when he woke up, and I didn’t have to feed him right away. In other words, I had more wiggle room: I didn’t have to drop what I was doing right that instant but I had maybe a couple of minutes.

The same was true for when he was awake and was gradually getting fussy. When he was really small, I had to attend to him immediately, pick him up and rock him, and I couldn’t put him back down at all. As he grew, the time from starting to get fussy to really fussy became longer and longer, which gave me time to, e.g., finish my meal or finish putting away the dishwasher.

Now that William is almost a year old, we have much more flexibility. He rarely wakes up crying anymore. Instead, he calls out to me while playing in bed. When he’s awake, he can sometimes play by himself for an hour, and I can do something, while checking on him and occasionally engaging with him. When I notice that he’s getting fussy, my strategy is to show him a cool toy to play with (opening and closing doors is his favorite right now), while I gradually finish up what I’m doing and get ready to take care of him.

The illusion of predictability and control

Life is slowly becoming more predictable for me again, but not entirely. Fortunately, William is keeping me on my toes by once in a while doing something unexpected such as being wide awake and wanting to play at nap time (or worse, at 2 am!). The good thing about this is that it reminds me that we can’t always predict events in our lives and we can’t control what happens.

It’s terrifying not to know what is going to happen to us. Will an illness cross our path? Will a terrible accident strike us? Or will we meet an amazing person who will bring joy to our life? Will we discover a new passion, a hobby that absolutely sets us on fire? Some people are excited by this range of unknown possibilities, but I tend to be scared by not knowing. The logical response for many of us is to try to control life, which is not always helpful.

A baby is exceptionally good at showing you that you can’t control what happens in your life. As I began shedding the illusion that I can predict and control my life, I was very uncomfortable, but I also found a new sense of openness. My heart became receptive like an exquisite musical instrument: I found my baby’s smile infinitely lovely; cuddling on the couch with my husband and son became my favorite activity in the world; seeing my son’s amazement at water flowing from the tap filled me with amazement too (not for the water but for my baby’s ability to learn about the world).

The truth is that none of these moments are a given, and I can’t predict what will happen next. So I’d better notice the current moment when it’s here because in an instant it will be gone.

Back to reality

Now, all this ‘appreciating the moment’ stuff is great, and I mean it, but it’s also not easy to appreciate the moment in the middle of the night when your child is crying and you so desperately want to sleep. Believe me, I’ve tried to appreciate that unpredictable moment, and it’s HARD.

That’s the truth about parenthood: it’s great, and it sucks, sometimes in very close succession. It’s really difficult sometimes, and especially the early months of no predictability are super tough for an adult who is used to mostly doing what she wants in a day (and gets mad when the line at the supermarket is oh so long, how is this even okay, it’s completely going to throw off my plans for the day!).

It’s super useful to get help from other people, so their lives can be unpredictable for a few hours instead of yours. Alone time is AMAZING at restoring a sense of well-being and self-efficacy, and so is doing something small for yourself such as reading a few pages from a book.

And the last thing I’d like to say is a cliché but a very true one: This, too, shall pass. It really does pass, even when you don’t believe it will. One day you may even miss it, or at least parts of it, so let’s appreciate those lovely moments while they are here.

Completing the challenge: The benefits of my first Whole30

I did it! I completed my first Whole30, woohoo! A Whole30 is a 30-day self-experiment where you take out certain food groups (grains, dairy, alcohol, sugar, any craving-inducing foods) and then reintroduce them one at a time to see how they affect you, i.e., whether you can eat them and feel good. I wrote about the beginning of my self-experiment here.

Today when I’m writing this it’s day 31, or day 1 after the Whole30 is finished. I’ve observed a couple of solid benefits during my 30 days of eating vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

Stable energy

Quite quickly, my energy became stable throughout the day. I used to feel sleepy after a meal, reasonably energetic an hour later, and then very tired as I got hungry again. This became especially exacerbated when I was sleep deprived (which is not uncommon when you have a 6-month-old baby).

On the Whole30, I wasn’t sleepy after meals, and I didn’t have that I’m-about-to-faint feeling when I was hungry again. That’s a huge deal for me! It is really tough to try to get through your day feeling groggy and/or like you’re about to pass out. It felt great to have solid energy throughout the day!

Stable mood

Along with that, my mood stabilized. I used to get irritated and impatient when I was hungry (a.k.a. “hangry”), and I was also just more dissatisfied with things in general. As my energy and blood sugar stabilized, so did my mood. I felt at ease and more mellow throughout the day.

This also has to do with the fact that before starting the Whole30 I was trying to battle sleep deprivation by drinking green tea and eating dark chocolate. While I love these things, they were making me a bit jumpy, anxious, and impatient. When I removed them, I was afraid that I’d be unhappy and groggy the whole time. But once my energy became even and stable, my mood did the same, and overall I felt relaxed and at ease.

Patience and “Zen”

Funny enough, I became more patient. It took more to get me annoyed (don’t get me wrong, I still got annoyed, but my threshold was higher), and I became better at keeping things in perspective. For instance, if William was crying when he was supposed to be sleeping, I thought, “Poor little thing, maybe he is teething, let me cuddle him” instead of, “I was supposed to have time to read now, I’m so upset that he’s crying!”

I felt like I had more leeway in my response to other people. Instead of immediately getting frustrated or deciding that someone is an idiot, I was better able to consider people’s circumstances and generally be more patient.

William is extremely excited by my Whole30 progress.

Improvement in William’s eczema

An unexpected consequence was that William’s eczema improved. (I should mention here that I’m breastfeeding William, so what I eat has a direct influence on what he eats. Duh.) I was wondering why removing green tea and chocolate would have anything to do with his eczema, and, after doing some research, it struck me that both are high-histamine foods. Once I realized that, I also stopped eating sauerkraut (which is a very high-histamine food), and his eczema has been improving even more quickly.

I wish I’d known earlier that this was contributing to his eczema! How great it would have been if I had figured this out earlier and he hadn’t had eczema for the last 3 months… But I didn’t know back then. I tried out a bunch of things, and they barely helped. Now I’ve finally found what seems to be the answer, so now that I know better, I’ll do better. And I’ll give myself grace for not knowing earlier.

Love for herbal tea!

Finally, this Whole30 experience has rekindled my love for herbal tea! I’ve discovered that Pukka teas are awesome! I particularly love their Chamomile and Vanilla tea, their Three Licorice tea, and their Night tea. I can drink these all day long… (By the way, this blog post is not endorsed by Pukka; I just like their teas 😀 )

What’s next?

Now that the 30 days are over, I should be reintroducing the foods that I excluded for 30 days and observing their effect on me. While I’d love to do that and see exactly how grains, dairy, and sugar affect me, I’m a bit afraid to trigger William’s eczema again. So I’ve decided to go slowly and introduce only a little bit of each food at a time. If I notice that his eczema is getting worse again, I’ll immediately take out the food again. I really hope he tolerates ice cream well! 😀

My first time doing a Whole30 self-experiment

I love programs such as 30-day challenges. If the program resonates with me, I’ll do it 100%, with lots of excitement! But I also only embark upon challenges that I truly want to complete. If I commit to something, I am going to do it, so I have to be certain the thing resonates with me before I start it.

I’ve been hearing about the Whole30 for a few months now. It’s a reset or self-experiment where for 30 days you exclude certain foods that can be commonly problematic. Then, after the 30 days are up, you introduce them one at a time and observe how they impact you. The point is to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Apparently, the Whole30 is a big deal and quite popular, but I didn’t know about it until recently. When I saw the announcement that the Whole30AtHome was starting on April 13, 2020, and I decided to join! I was so excited!

I told Jacob, my husband, “We’re doing the Whole30!” “What is it?” he asked. After I gave him a brief description, he said, “Oh, it’s not so different from what we usually do. Sure, let’s do it.” Not exactly the enthusiasm I was hoping for, but he was on board, so I was happy.

What am I doing on this Whole30?

The Whole30 isn’t particularly different from how we usually eat at our home, but it is a bit more strict. Basically, on the Whole30, you eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. You don’t eat grains, dairy, soy, legumes, beans, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, or alcohol. Generally, I don’t eat most of these things anyway, with the exception of sugar and artificial sweeteners, so this wasn’t such a big change for me.

Delicious side salads we made to go with our chicken for lunch.

But the Whole30 also places an emphasis on avoiding craving-inducing foods for the 30 days. This is the big deal for me… I looooooove sweet things, so I enjoy chocolate and dried fruit on a daily basis and a proper dessert once or twice a week.

This used to work fine for me until it became problematic a couple of months ago. Since I’m not sleeping properly because my baby wakes up multiple times a night, I am often tired during the day, so I end up craving sugar. The whole time I’d be thinking about when I can eat something sweet, and when I did, I just wanted more. This was quite exhausting, so I decided to cut out sugar for 30 days and see how it goes.

Another thing I’m cutting out is caffeine. Because I felt so tired, I was relying on green tea (and dark chocolate) to keep me going. You’re probably laughing right now: “Green tea? How about some coffee?” Well, coffee makes me go craaaaazy, so no coffee for me. While I absolutely adore green tea, it’s been making me feel anxious, rushed, and overall unable to relax. And then when I tried taking a nap, I couldn’t fall asleep because there was still caffeine in my system. Thus, for 30 days, I’m removing caffeine.

The combination of sugar and caffeine, albeit in small amounts, was resulting in my having energy peaks and dips. During the day, I felt like I was flying from activity to activity, which was exciting but also felt anxious. In between the peaks of energy, I had dips where I suddenly felt very tired and also cranky.

What results am I hoping for?

I have two main objectives with this Whole30: improving energy and mood. I’d like to have stable energy rather than peaks and dips. I’ll have to accept that I won’t have the excited peaks, but that also means I won’t feel super tired afterwards.

Related to these changes in energy are mood changes. During a peak, I feel excited but also a bit anxious and impatient, and then during a dip, I feel tired and cranky. I hope that by having stable energy, I’ll also have more stable moods, so I can relax and enjoy my days rather than hurrying around, feeling like I’m never doing enough.

Start the day with intention and finish it with reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I needed more intentionality in my day. I was basically reacting to whatever came across my path all day long, and that’s not how I usually do things. Baby crying? Take care of him. Feeling hungry? Eat something. Toys lying scattered on the floor? Tidy up. Package delivered? Open it. Feeling tired? Sleep.

Now, I’m over-simplifying things. I had certain things scheduled such as going to the gym three times a week (ah, the good times when the gym was open…) and going for a walk with William in the stroller every afternoon. But mostly my days felt like a random sequence of events.

There’s technically nothing wrong with having a day full of random events except that it made me feel like I didn’t have a purpose and wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my time.

I felt this very clearly when William was taking a nap and I finally had an hour or so to myself. What should I do? There were so many things I wanted to do! I’d start one thing, only to remember something else and then something else. I was running around like a headless chicken, half-finishing a couple of things, only to hear my baby crying and drop everything to attend to him.

That’s when I instituted the Daily Morning Practice and the Daily Evening Practice. As you might imagine, I don’t have tons of time for these, so they’re short and sweet. I’ve kept to them every day since! These practices are so powerful and at the same time so easy, and they are exactly what I need.

Start the day with My Top 5

Every morning, while having breakfast, I take out my little notebook (it has a llama/alpaca and a sloth on the cover! It’s awesome!). I start by writing the date. That’s important in itself because sometimes I remember there was something planned for today or perhaps I recall it’s someone’s birthday. Then, I check my calendar and my tasks for today. Jacob and I often do this together because we need to coordinate things.

The notebook in which I do my morning and evening practice.

Then, I write down my Top 5. These are the main five things I’d like to do today, and they’re usually very, very simple. These days, I always include “exercise” (during this staycation, I’ve been exercising for about 30 minutes every day), “walk” (I take our baby for a walk every day–we both benefit from the fresh air and sunshine), and “take care of William.” This last one can be fifty tasks on its own and it will happen for sure every day, but I like to include it anyway. I was falling into the trap of taking for granted all the stuff I do for William, and then I was wondering why I’m not very productive on top of that. I had to remind myself that taking care of him is a big job, and the fact that I’m accomplishing it every day is already productive. That’s why I include it in my Top 5 every day.

The other 2 tasks vary day-to-day: they may be something like “write a blog post,” “do the financial review,” or “tidy up the bedroom.” I make sure they’re not impossibly big tasks; it’s really important to keep these manageable. At the same time, it’s nice to be slightly ambitious because it makes me feel energetic and inspired about the day.

Set an intention

I also set an intention for the day. It’s something that I want to remember throughout the day and let it guide my thoughts and behavior.

These days, my intention often is to “be kind.” It’s super simple, but it encompasses so much. If I’m feeling frustrated, remember that I don’t need to take it out on someone else (usually Jacob, my husband, since he’s around all the time). If someone is being not-so-nice to me, give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they’re having a hard time. If my baby is crying, that’s not a reason to get annoyed; he (probably) genuinely needs me.

Complete the day with reflection…

At the end of the day, I open up my notebook again and look at my Top 5. I check off the things I’ve completed and maybe add an extra task or two that I’ve managed to do. This shows me how much I’ve accomplished in that day even if it doesn’t feel that way (if the day was chaotic, went differently from expected, etc.).

Then, I write down a take-away message. These are one or two sentences about something I’ve learned that day or a conclusion I’ve come to. Sometimes it’s linked to the intention I set in the morning, and other times it’s completely separate.

These take-away messages can be profound (e.g., “changing my perspective changes everything”) or practical (e.g., “sleeping one hour more in the morning does wonders for my energy”).

Here is a sample entry from my notebook.

…and gratitude

I also write down five things I’m grateful for that day. I know that five sounds like a lot, but once I start thinking about things to be grateful for, many come to mind. It’s a wonderful way to reflect on and complete the day.

By taking a few minutes for these practices every day, I feel that I’m much more focused and intentional while going about my day. I still respond to the circumstances that come about, but I keep in mind what’s important and what I’d like to do that day. In the end, I don’t think it makes me much more productive, but it makes all the difference in my attitude. At the end of the day, I don’t need to be more productive to be happy; rather, I need to be content with what I’ve accomplished and be happy with what I already have.

Habits that can help you get through these exceptional times

At 10:47 am, you wake up. Your first thought is, “I’m late for work!” and then you realize you’re not going to work. You’re working from home, which is a very flexible idea. A wave of relief washes over your body. You enjoy your bed, lazily scrolling through social media. Some time later, you get up, eat something, check the news, and get scared because of the spread of COVID-19. It feels like things got even worse overnight; that’s the feeling you get every morning.

To distract yourself from the unpleasant feeling of anxiety, you look at some funny quarantine-themed memes and maybe even some cat videos (honestly, I love both of these!). By that time, it’s already noon, so you do some work. You feel like you’re falling behind with your work, but at the same time, there isn’t any real urgency, so you slowly chug along.

At the end of the day (or maybe even throughout the day), you check the news and feel anxious again. You finish the day with a vague feeling of anxiety that stems from the state of the world and the lack of real progress in your work.

And, I’d also argue, that anxiety is compounded by the fact that you haven’t felt anchored during your day: there is no structure to give you a feeling of stability and calm in the midst of the storm. In such exceptional times when our usual habits are disrupted, some stability in our lives is even more important to calm our minds. Here are the basic habits that can help.

Get regular sleep

Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. If you go to bed by 11 pm every night, your body will get used to that bedtime, and you will also naturally wake up around the same time the next day. Soon you will feel rested, which will do wonders for your health, mood, and energy.

Eat good food

If you have access to good food in your local supermarket, make use of it. Eating food that works well with your body makes you feel better, gives your energy, and improves your health. If you’re into cooking, you can use the extra time at home to make delicious meals. I’m challenging myself to cook one new recipe per week! Let’s see how it goes.

You don’t have to be into cooking to eat well, though. You can buy ready-made meals from the supermarket or order from local restaurants that are open for take-away and delivery. Do whatever works for you to eat food that makes you feel good and enjoy it.

Stay hydrated

You need to drink enough water, period. You know it’s true. I’d add that in order to stay hydrated, you need to get enough electrolytes as well. Check your sodium, potassium, and magnesium intake and adjust if necessary.

Tip: If you notice that when you drink a lot of water, you pee it all out, you probably need to add electrolytes. Start by adding half a teaspoon of sea salt or Himalayan salt to a glass of water and see if that helps.

Move your body

Go for a walk. Go for a run or a bike ride. Do some stretches. Work out at home. Dance in your living room. Do some gardening. Even though gyms are closed, we can still move our bodies.

A picture of us out for a walk on a sunny afternoon.

Be social

In these times of isolation, finding ways to feel socially connected is more important than ever. There are several things I’m doing to stay connected to people at this time:

  • Family meals. We have at least one meal together as a family a day. This is easier now that we’re all at home, but, since we have a young baby, we can still end up eating at random times and not sitting together, so we have to intentionally avoid that.
  • Call someone. I make a point of calling someone every day. It may be a call to a family member (especially to my grandmas since they are staying alone in their apartments all day long) or a video call with a friend. Since we’re all at home now, it’s easy to catch up with friends even if they’re in different time zones from us.
  • Go for a walk with a friend. I’ve recently had the idea of going for walks with friends who live nearby. We walk together, keeping our 1.5-meter distance, and chat while we get our bodies moving and, in my case, my 4-month-old son naps in the stroller I’m pushing. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Join your colleagues in a virtual coffee room. I have to admit that I have yet to do this because I feel overwhelmed by the idea of socializing with multiple colleagues while also taking care of my baby. But for people with more regular circumstances, it sounds like a great idea to have some (non-)work-related banter virtually.

Have some me-time

As things get crazy and unusual, especially if you have kids at home, try to have some me-time during the day. Some people find this in the early morning before everyone else wakes up. Others find it in the middle of the day if they go for a walk, read a book, or watch a video.

My me-time is currently in the evenings after we’ve had dinner and we’ve put little William to sleep. I’m not usually an evening person, but I now thoroughly enjoy the golden hours from 7:30 to 9:30 pm when I can read, write, watch stuff, or just relax with my husband.

If I don’t have me-time for several days in a row, I start to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest things. But if I’ve had some time to myself, I am better able to face whatever comes my way (such as a hungry baby at 3 am or an overly full diaper).

Find gratitude

I know, I know, gratitude is all the rage these days. But it’s true: grateful people are happy people. I personally like to write down five things I’m grateful for every night before bed, and they need to be specific things from that day. This means that throughout the day I’m looking for these little nuggets of joy to be grateful for. This changes the lens of my perception, so I can notice the positive things instead of focusing on the negatives. (This doesn’t mean that we don’t notice negative things–of course we do! We don’t avoid the bad; rather, we actively search for the good.)

How about you? What habits are helping you to stay afloat? Share by commenting below.

Life with a baby during the COVID-19 outbreak

The world is on pause. Everyone is at home, shops are closed, streets are empty.

At the same time, life is going at full speed: news popping up everywhere, people ill, countries’ borders closed, travel plans canceled.

How about me? I’m still at home, taking care of our little one. Not much has changed, and, at the same time, so much has changed.

So much has remained the same

William, my 4-month-old son, has no idea what COVID-19 is. Life has stayed exactly the same for him. He wakes up in the morning with a smile and coos at me. Just as before, the most important things for him are to drink milk, to be cuddled and entertained, and to sleep. He clearly has his priorities straight.

Much of our daily rhythm remains unchanged. The succession of feeding, changing his diaper, playing with him, and putting him to sleep remains as stable as ever. We still go for our daily walk, sing the same songs, and have a bedtime routine at night.

So much has changed

Unfortunately, we’ve canceled all our visits from friends. Before the social distancing recommendation, we were having 3-4 visits per week, and that was a lot of fun. People enjoyed meeting William, and I enjoyed having company. However, this is irresponsible now, so we’ve canceled all visits. We try to video chat with our families and friends instead in order to avoid feeling truly socially isolated.

When we go out for a walk, we maintain a distance from other people. Luckily, the park we walk to is big, so there’s enough space for everybody. It’s wonderful to see so many children and adults enjoying the outdoors and the sunshine and so strange to have to maintain a distance from everyone. It seems like everybody feels the strangeness of the situation: we are happy to be outside and are enjoying each other’s company, but we also need to keep our distance.

One fortunate consequence is that Jacob, my husband, is home from work. He closed his chiropractic practice for the time being, which means he’s at home with William and me for the next 2.5 weeks. Woohoo! It’s a lot of fun to have him with us the whole time. We’re trying to think of it as a staycation, our little vacation at home.

Another change is that I’m currently not taking William to the supermarket or any other shop, for that matter. I know that, apparently, COVID-19 is not super dangerous for babies, but I’d still rather avoid unnecessary exposure for the little one. Because of this, Jacob buys our groceries or whatever else is necessary.

A silly consequence of the pandemic is that I haven’t gotten a haircut recently even though I would have liked to. Several of my friends have also shared their struggle with wanting to go to the hairdresser and having to wait or cut their own hair (if I attempt that, the results would be disastrous, I’m sure…). I have a feeling that once the social distancing is over, the hairdressers will be flooded with customers! Good for them.

Finally, our gym has closed. This was really sad for me but perfectly understandable. Luckily, we have a beautiful set of kettlebells at home and some other equipment, so we are able to do pretty extensive home workouts. Still, for me going to the gym is a break from home life and also deeply needed me-time, so I miss it. But it’s okay: social distancing is important right now, and at some point I’ll get back to the gym. I’ll walk in and inhale the smell of barbells, weight plates, and kettlebells. Aaaaahhh.

Fortunately, our family is healthy and doing well, continuing to live our life almost as normal. It’s odd how a pandemic can change so much, and yet so much can remain the same.

When self-care becomes non-negotiable

Perhaps surprisingly, self-care is not super easy for me. Most of the time, I manage to follow the priorities I set for myself, so my life feels like it’s in accordance with what I want. This may be relatively easy for me because I’m an Upholder according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework, which means that I meet my own expectations as easily as I meet other people’s expectations. But that doesn’t apply with equal strength to everything.

One major point of difficulty is self-care. Self-care is a popular topic right now, being discussed by life coaches, health professionals, and writers. You might think that, as an Upholder, I wouldn’t struggle with this, but that’s not the case. I admit that I find it easier to do things for myself (such as find time to exercise or set aside me-time) than some other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely easy.

Lie down!

A week ago, I had a funky experience. I was doing my thing around the house, getting ready for work, when I got a sudden, sharp pain in my belly. Not a great thing when you’re pregnant. A few seconds later it went away, so I continued going about my business, but then it came back again. I thought it might be something, so I lay down and called my obstetrician. She told me to lie down for 20-30 minutes or until it goes away. She said it’s not super worrisome, but I should try to prevent it from happening.

After speaking to her, the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Lie down for 30 minutes?! But I have a plan for today, I have work to do!” My mind was in go-go-go mode, and I didn’t want to lie down, but apparently my body needed me to pause. When self-care became non-negotiable, I obliged, but it would have never happened otherwise.

Take breaks (again…)

Along the same line, I’ve known for a long time that I should take frequent breaks from sitting for the health of my back. Did I do this regularly in the past? Not really. I’d set a timer for 25 minutes and mean to get up and walk around when it went off, but it was so much easier to keep working–it’s just unpleasant to be interrupted. So I’d end up ignoring the timer and only getting up when I got stiff.

As I described in a post last week, pregnancy has forced me to change this behavior. Since my back is getting much more tired now, I really do get up when that timer goes off (okay, most of the time I do…) and walk around. But I’m only doing this because of the real possibility that I may get a trapped nerve in my back if I continue sitting all day without breaks. Again, the circumstances have made it unavoidable that I have to take care of my back.

Get more sleep (finally)

Big surprise: I’ve been needing more sleep since I got pregnant. I sleep 8.5-9 hours a night, and if I sleep any less, I wake up tired and groggy. This is crazy! 7.5-8 hours of sleep used to be fine, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

At first, I tried to make it through the day with my usual amount of sleep and maybe catch a little snooze for 15 minutes after lunch. Nope, that didn’t work; I was just irritable and tired.

So now I’m making sure I get more sleep. I start my bedtime routine at 21:00, get in bed at 22:00 (or 22:30 at the latest), put on my sleep mask and earplugs, and sleep until 7:00! I feel like a boring person for going to bed so early, but it makes such a big difference to wake up rested. I decided to enjoy good sleep for now while I still have the opportunity.

Is self-care selfish?

I keep wondering why it is so difficult to take care of ourselves even when we know we should. We all know we should make time for our own needs and health, but it feels harder to do that than to work, clean the house, or help a friend, for example.

I think it’s because we feel that we are the only ones benefiting from our self-care, and we’ve been taught not to be selfish. Technically, we’re not the only ones benefiting because we’re much better able to do our work or take care of others when we’ve taken care of ourselves, but this is often difficult to see because the benefits for other people are not immediately obvious.

Pregnancy has been a good reminder for me that taking care of myself means simultaneously taking care of someone else. Having this reason has made it easier for me to rest more, although I still feel guilty and like I should be doing more.

I recently came across a post from Molly Galbraith where she says that every woman has the right to take care of herself not because that makes her a better caretaker but just because she is worth it. This struck me. It applies to any human being: we shouldn’t need a reason to take care of ourselves; we should just do so because we inherently deserve it.

How to ensure we take care of ourselves

I think many of us are not quite there yet, although it would be great if we were. For all of us who struggle with self-care, it may be best to:

  • Find a good reason (a strong ‘why’) which leads us to engage in self-care (as pregnancy is for me right now);
  • Find an effective accountability system: join a group that will keep you accountable, find a buddy for a certain activity, or get a coach (in my case, it works when my husband says, “You’ve been standing for a long time, you need to sit down (or lie down) for five minutes” or “You’re tired, you need to go to bed”);
  • Find a system that works for you (such as my timer that tells me to get up and walk around).

While it would be great if we could take care of ourselves simply because we’re worth it, I believe that anyway we can get ourselves to engage in self-care is achieving the goal.

How do you take care of yourself? What do you struggle with? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Min An on Pexels

The Art of Doing Nothing

We’re very good at being busy and running around, but do we ever manage to stop and truly do nothing?

I recently came across a cool idea: the Art of Nothing by Dr. Alessandra Wall. It’s the simple suggestion to take some time every day to do nothing. Yes, yes, I thought, I know that’s important. But I don’t have time to do nothing.

Most days, we’re running around from thing to thing, rushing and not stopping until the end of the day when, finally, we plop down on the sofa, exhausted. When we do take a break in the evening, we watch TV, check the messages on our phone, scroll through social media, or read a book. We rarely take the time to really and truly do nothing.

Dr. Alessandra Wall argues that having time to do nothing allows our thoughts to wander and make connections, so eventually we can make sense of what is happening in our lives and realize where we’d like to go from here. She makes the point that without such time to gain clarity, we are mostly floating along and may end up in a situation (e.g., job, relationship, etc.) that we wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for ourselves. The feeling of, “This is not the life I wanted,” “How did it come to this?!” or “This is not who I am!” may be resolved if we sometimes let our minds wander, so we can reflect and make sense of the events in our lives.

How to practice the Art of Nothing?

Since I’ve been meditating for years, this idea immediately reminded me of meditation. The similarity is that both meditation and the Art of Nothing provide a way to observe your thoughts and reflect on them. Also, both approaches emphasize sitting down and taking a moment to be present and notice what’s going on.

The difference is that meditation is much more structured and feels goal-oriented (even though ideally it shouldn’t be). When meditating, there is a certain technique we’re using or instructions we’re following. It’s difficult to feel like we’re having a good meditation session because thoughts inevitably come up and distract us from the focus of attention or, in other techniques, the open awareness we’re maintaining. Even if our meditation teacher has told us multiple times that it’s okay and perfectly normal for the mind to wander, we still often feel that we’re supposed to avoid thoughts.

It struck me how different the Art of Nothing felt in that respect. Basically, you plop down on the sofa and let go. Many thoughts will come to mind, and that’s the whole point. You’re not telling your mind to be still or to focus on the present moment; some days it may do so, and other days it may not. That’s okay. You’re just providing space for your mind to do its thing.

Some meditators will point out that this is a type of meditation, and indeed it is. I view it as a more unstructured rest for the mind, or an opportunity to set the mind free for a little while.

Interestingly, for someone like me who is generally quite structured, some unstructured mind space really comes in handy. I practice Doing Nothing (as I call it) 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes, and I feel refreshed every time after I’ve done it and better able to engage in the next activity.

It’s difficult not to be goal-oriented

As much as I enjoy this being an unstructured activity, I also struggle with it. If there’s no goal to it, then why am I doing it? How do I know it’s having an effect if I’m not intentional with how I’m doing it? Am I just wasting my time?

With meditation, I used to enjoy having a meditation course or pack to complete or some technique to focus on. However, over the last couple of months, I was feeling like meditation was a burden, one more obligation I had to fulfill. It was difficult to get myself to meditate because I simply didn’t want to. I started getting strangely rebellious against the meditation instructions (“You can’t tell me to take a deep breath! I’ll take a breath if I want to! I’ll do what I want!”), which probably wasn’t a good sign.

For this reason, I’m now enjoying a less structured approach. I literally enjoy plopping down on the sofa, looking outside, and doing nothing. It’s a bit tricky because I can’t quite quiet thoughts like, “Why am I doing this? This is a waste of time,” but I lie there anyway. I put my phone and any books away and let my mind do its thing. Lying there often allows me to notice my body releasing tension, which is such a pleasant feeling. Slowly, my mind also releases a bit, and when I get up, I feel refreshed. It also makes a difference that I feel like I’m doing this because I want to and not because I have to.

I have to say I genuinely enjoy doing nothing! When Jacob tries to tell me something but I’m practicing the Art of Nothing (i.e., chilling on the couch), I simply respond with, “Mmm.” He asks, “Oh, are you doing nothing?” and I say, “Yeah,” with a wide smile on my face. Once, I caught him chuckling. It must be funny seeing me, the one who’s always running around with a to-do list in mind, lounging about and doing nothing.

Have you tried Doing Nothing? How do you like it? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo from Matheus Bertelli (Creative Commons license)

How my husband and I decided to have a baby

We asked ourselves so many questions: “Are we ready to have kids? When is the right time to have a baby?” And perhaps the most difficult of all: “How do we know when we’re ready?”

“Kids are wonderful, but they also completely change your life.” At least that’s what I’ve heard–I have no experience myself, but that’s what people say. If having kids really is such a big life change, how do we decide when the right time is?

As you may have noticed, I like planning. Ironically, having kids is one of the most difficult things to plan in life. Does this mean we shouldn’t plan for it? I don’t think so. We can still create a draft plan and then adapt from there as life happens. One of the most important benefits of creating a plan is that it forces you to clarify to yourself what you want and why.

Early conversations

For Jacob (my husband) and me, talking about kids early on was very helpful. In the beginning of our relationship, we both mentioned that we’d like to have children one day, which was good to know.

A year later, we revisited the topic and decided we didn’t want to wait too long. It was 2017 at the time, so we said we’d probably start trying in 2019. That seemed a long while away, so we were relaxed.

Needless to say, I created three different timetables to visualize how starting at different times may develop over time. If we started trying in January 2019, assuming no complications or issues arose, we could be pregnant by July 2019. That meant the baby would be born by March 2020, and after that I’d take maternity leave (probably around 6 months). Afterwards, I’d resume my PhD by September 2020 and complete it (hopefully!) by the end of 2021. I created a table with the different time periods and also put them on a blank calendar with a yearly overview.

Then I did the same for two other starting dates. If we started trying six months later, everything would get shifted by half a year. In this case, especially if things didn’t happen too quickly, I was coming quite close to the end of my PhD, and being unemployed and pregnant seemed scary to me. And if we started trying once I was close to the end of my PhD, things would get shifted by about a year and a half. While that seemed less stressful (also because it was further away in time), it felt like too long from the present moment.

Is it really time?!

Towards the summer of 2018, we started thinking about it seriously. “Are we really going to start trying for a baby in 6 months?! That’s so soon!” Having a baby had always seemed like a huge deal to me, so it felt like the Earth should stop turning or something. But life was continuing around us at its usual speed: I was in the third year of my PhD, Jacob had started his own chiropractic practice, and we had scheduled our wedding for June 2019. Was it really the right time to have a baby?

At first, I told Jacob, “I think we should wait. I don’t think this is a good time for us to have a child.” He appeared a bit disappointed but conceded that we should start trying only when I was ready.

But then I remembered something a college professor of mine said to me one day: “It’s never the perfect time to have a baby. Don’t wait for the perfect time because it will never come.”

Remembering this stopped me in my tracks. What was I waiting for? We had a roof over our heads (a wonderful apartment, in fact), we were bringing in a decent income, we loved each other, and both of us were emotionally ready to have children. What more did I need?

Would it be better if we waited until after I finished my PhD? Maybe, but then I’d be looking for other jobs, so that would be stressful too. (Also, you can never know how long it will take to complete a PhD, so that’s a risky thing to bet on.) Would it be better if we waited until Jacob had been working at his practice for longer? Maybe, but we weren’t sure if that mattered so much.

Would it be a problem if I were pregnant at our wedding? (Spoiler alert: that was indeed the case.) I thought about this one long and hard. One of the main arguments against being pregnant at your wedding is that you can’t drink alcohol, but that didn’t bother me because I don’t drink alcohol anyway. My biggest issue was whether my wedding dress would look good. I can write much more about how I resolved this, but in the end I think it worked out well. And, finally, I was concerned that people would think we got married only because I was pregnant and not because we truly loved each other. Well, I had to let that go and accept that people would think whatever they want anyway.

Let’s go ahead…

In the end, we decided that the beginning of 2019 was as good a time as any to start trying for a baby. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t seem like we were going to find a more perfect moment. So we started, and here I am now, writing this blog post, and our tiny son is kicking excitedly in my belly. Yes, I’m writing about you, little one.

What do you think, how would you know (or how did you know) when you are ready to have kids? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Why I can be annoying on vacations

To be honest, I can sometimes be annoying on vacations. Most people like to let loose and relax when they’re on holiday. I also like to relax, but I can do that best if I have a tentative schedule.

Schedule on vacation

I like to know what we’re going to do: when we will wake up, where we will eat breakfast, what we will do afterwards, for how long, etc. Having that type of clarity allows me to relax and also to anticipate the joy of the upcoming day with excitement. As Gretchen Rubin says, looking forward to a pleasant experience is a great way to get happiness from it.

Of course, it’s fine if things change. It’s just that I like having an idea of how things might go. It also means that I get to discuss what I’d like to do and when with the other people, and they get to share what they want to do as well. So we can all, hopefully, be happy.

Wake up!

I also like to wake up early on vacation. I prefer not to have an alarm clock, but I still wake up relatively early–usually between 7 and 8 am. That’s why I like skiing and hiking holidays: everybody implicitly agrees that you need to get up somewhat early, be active during the day, and relax in the afternoon and evening.

I can trace this back to when I was a child. One summer when I was probably 7 or 8 years old, we went to the seaside with my parents’ friends. After dinner, the adults went out to party, but I was tired and went to sleep. In the morning, I woke up earlier than my parents, so I’d just go downstairs to the cafe and order pancakes. I’d eat my pancakes and read a book until my parents woke up and came to join me an hour or two later.

How funny it must have been for the waiters at the cafe: early in the morning, a kid eating pancakes and reading a book with a serious expression on her face. And when her parents show up, probably yawning, she scolds them, “What took you so long?”

“Come on, let’s go, what are you waiting for?”
And yes, this is actually me.

Time to relax

But I also get grumpy if a vacation is too packed. I like to be active, but I also like to relax. That’s why I don’t go on organized tours: they pack the schedule so full of stuff to do that there’s no time to relax anymore. How is that a vacation?

For the same reason, I don’t like doing hikes that are too long. When I was younger, we did hikes that were 10 or 12 hours long. That’s not my thing. I like to be active for a couple of hours, and then I like to chill. For me, that’s the best combination.

Last week at our honeymoon, Jacob and I made sure to combine being active and relaxing. On one of the days, he wanted to do a longer hike, which would have meant we missed our afternoon relaxing time in the spa area. I retaliated! I knew it was just one day, but I still wanted my relaxing time. In the end, we found a compromise, so all was good.

Be warned!

Sometimes, some people may think I’m a bit annoying to go on vacation with. (Okay, maybe it happens often, and it’s most people.) Apparently, not everyone wants to have a plan for the next day, to wake up early and be active, or to relax each day. To me, these things seem perfectly reasonable for a good vacation, so all I need to do is find people who share my preferences. But if you were considering going on vacation with me, be warned! 😉

What are your peculiar vacation traits? What annoys you that other people do when you’re on vacation together? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.