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12 Tips to Keep Your Sanity Through Tough Times

Ottawa, April 2014
Ottawa, April 2014

Looking back, I have almost no memories from the month of November to February. I remember Halloween… and then it’s a black hole. The fact we had little daylight and that this particularly harsh winter started early probably didn’t help but above all, I was burned out. I didn’t realize it, of course—I was too focused on making it through the endless days.

I should have seen it coming. I didn’t.

I think I’m doing better now.

It takes time.

I suck at this touchy-feely self-exploration and personal growth crap, so I’ll cut to the chase. Here are my 12 tips to keep your sanity through tough times. It works for me. Maybe it can help someone?

Take note of what truly matters to you. Work-eat-sleep, or as French say, “métro-boulot-dodo”—that’s the routine for most of us. But what makes you truly happy? I love being active—walking, biking, moving. It relaxes me and it makes me feel good. Creating is also very important to me—writing, taking pictures, etc. I try my best to make time for these activities. Whatever you enjoy, no matter how silly it is, just do it. If it makes you happy, it’s not a waste of time.

Take time for the little things. I was so busy with daily chores that I considered anything else non-essential. For instance, I had always wanted to decorate Mark’s room better but since I barely had the time to take a shower, it was at the very bottom of my to-do list. Well, I finally decided it was time to do it. I printed a series of pictures from Mark’s birth to his first birthday and made a nice frame for his room. Guess what? The process was fun and Mark loves the pictures—he looks at them and points “mama” and “dada”.

Take one step at the time. I was always a step ahead. As soon as we were all up, I was already planning the rest of the day, i.e. how to fill so many hours before the night. I wasn’t enjoying anything. Now I take time to just lay on Mark’s bed and let him play with my hair or hug, I take him for walks even if we are much slower than if I’d just put it in the stroller, I make silly faces to make him laugh… I try to not rush through the day but to enjoy some of it.

Take breaks. You may think a twenty-minute break won’t help much in the grand scheme of things, but trust me, it does. Take whatever you can. Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom.

Eat and sleep. On days when I feel about as optimistic as Kurt Cobain, instead of wishing for the end of the world, I ask myself two questions: am I hungry, and am I tired. If the answer is “yes” to either (or both), I know why I feel so low. Seriously, you can’t think straight when you are hungry or tired and the picture looks worse than it actually is. Knowing that there is a reason why I feel like shit actually helps—because I know it will get better.

Accomplish something. Anything. Get the grocery shopping done, do the dishes, make the bed, finish the chapter of a book, teach yourself (or your kid) something, call a friend, pay a bill… anything that you can cross off your checklist and say “okay, this is done”. Trust me, it makes you feel good.

Praise yourself. Technically, Mark is the one making progresses and learning new skills. But who taught him? I did! So I give myself some credit because hell, I deserve it.

Don’t be afraid to change. Babies and toddlers thrive on routine, and so do their parents—when you find something that works, why change it? However, kids do change. Everything is a stage. And you have to break the routine and embrace their new abilities. Most of the time, it makes your life easier anyway.

Talk about how you feel. Whenever people asked, I usually replied I was okay. Maybe at that specific time I was. Maybe I just suck at mini venting sessions. The only place where I’m truly honest is this blog because I find it easier to write about my experiences than to talk about them. Writing about the struggles (and the joy!) of becoming a parent has been very helpful for me. Putting feelings into words helped me step back and look at the big picture.

Know that many of us are in the same boat. After I wrote “I’m Not Okay”, I received dozens of emails from women feeling the same following the birth of their first or second child. Whenever I mention that I have issues with food, many people are quick to acknowledge that they do to or that they went through such phases. I’d rather see everyone happy but the truth is, you are probably not the only one arguing with your partner, feeling overwhelmed, low, etc.

Enjoy the “stolen moments”. Sometimes, the stars are aligned and you have a particularly good day. Maybe you had the chance to truly relax. Maybe you wrapped up a project at work and got great feedback. Maybe your kid amazed you in some way. Maybe someone was kind to you. Maybe you found the perfect outfit and it was on sale. Whatever made you happy, acknowledge it and enjoy the moment. Store it at the back of your mind and retrieve it when you are feeling low.

Treat yourself. I still find it very hard to take care of myself when I’m taking care of Mark. His needs come first and I tend to forget mine. So I make a note to treat myself to something. I grab a coffee on the way to the playground, or I drag him to a clothing store to check out the new collection. I call a friend while he runs around in the park or I pluck my eyebrows while he plays with his toys in the bathtub. He gets his fun and I get mine.

Any tips to add?

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