Adopting an Action Plan
Experts agree that you can prevent yourself from reaching rock bottom. They suggest following these tips:
- Make doctor's visits a priority. Take 15 minutes and schedule your yearly physical, dental checkup, ob-gyn exam, and other screenings all at once, write them in your calendar, and ask for a confirmation call before the appointment. You're less likely to miss them if they're already scheduled and you get a reminder. And if a symptom starts bothering you, make a doctor's appointment for the next day. If it goes away you can cancel, but have the appointment as an ace in the hole.
- Examine your diet. Record everything you eat, including prenatal vitamins, before your annual checkup, and if you have questions about your diet or you're feeling run down, consult your doctor or request a referral for a dietitian. Eating regular meals, focusing on nutrient-rich produce, drinking calcium-rich beverages, and choosing whole foods over processed ones are smart moves, says dietitian Susan Moores of St. Paul, Minnesota, as are cutting down on sugary treats and soda.
- Make exercise an integral part of your day. It builds your immune system and releases endorphins, natural mood elevators. If you can't get to a gym every day, create a routine that's doable for you: Do an exercise video after your kids are asleep, make extra trips up and down your stairs, or park your car at the far end of the lot when you go to the market to add extra steps.
- Get a good night's sleep. Sleep is when your body heals and repairs damage, so a stressed-out system needs it badly. If you have a newborn, set up a plan with your spouse so you get some solid sleep at night. If you're breastfeeding, pump so your spouse can give baby his 3 a.m. bottle every other night.
- Take time out to feed your soul. Do something just for you -- read or take a bath -- to remind yourself there's a world out there separate from your house and kids. Jody Kramer is mad about mahjongg. "Even though I only play once a week, it's a great stress reliever for me," she says. "It's time for me, with my girlfriends, with no interruptions. I don't care if I win, but I always laugh!"
- Share the load. Divvy up housework and childrearing tasks so no one is stressed and overwhelmed. Dana Klein of Brooklyn, New York, and her husband Bill have found a system that works; he does all the cooking, she does the housework, and the rest is split down the middle. "It's a huge relief to have whole categories of stuff I don't have to worry about, and that no one's overloaded," she says. Which is the ultimate goal of this action plan: if you feel that your life has some semblance of control, you'll take care of yourself and be a better partner and mother.
Jennifer Lang is a freelance writer in White Plains, New York, and has three kids.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2004.