You're a mom so we don't have to tell you that you often take care of everyone else before even thinking about your own needs. But you know that's not the best strategy for your health. "Small doses of whatever you enjoy are important to your health and well-being," says Ann L. Dunnewold, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Dallas and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. "It's not selfish, it's self-preservation."
So, for starters, take 10. A 10-minute break of any kind—whether it's to strike a yoga pose or simply sit quietly—can be just what you need to help you get through your crazy busy days. Sherry Richert Belul, an entrepreneur in San Francisco and mom of a 9-year-old son, treats herself with a variety of mini breaks: "I'll go for a 10-minute walk and look at the sky. Or I'll walk to the store and buy myself a bunch of sunflowers for $5. I'll set the timer and do a little creative writing for 10 minutes." Her little splurges give her a quick pick-me-up "without costing a lot of money or taking too much time away from my work or family," she says.
As hard as this may be to achieve, aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. After all, sleep loss often results in irritability, impatience, and an inability to concentrate— qualities that are less-than-helpful for a busy mom. But there are even more important reasons that sleep isn't simply a luxury. "Research has shown that there is a reciprocal relationship between sleep and immunity," says Nina Radford, M.D., director of cardiovascular medicine and a staff cardiologist at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas (and a mom of two). "So sleep deprivation really can make you sick and tired." If you're running low on sleep for the day, a short nap—even 15 minutes after work—will help keep you well.
Friendships and other social interactions have long been shown to be good for your health. So don't let too much time go by without seeing your BFFs. "Once a month, come hell or high fevers, I get together with some girlfriends just to chat and gossip for the evening at a nearby cafe," says Michelle Branco, a Toronto mom of two kids, ages 3 and 6. Happy hour drinks and half-price appetizers mean this outing doesn't have to break the budget, either. With her girls night out, "I've learned that I don't need a whole day at the spa to recharge," she says.
Who wouldn't want to spend a day at a spa? But when that's not in the cards, creating a spa feeling at home can be the next best thing. Allow yourself a couple of hours to completely unplug. Draw a lavender aromatherapy bath, write in your journal, sip tea, read an inspirational book, daydream, or do whatever helps you reconnect with who you are and what you want out of life. Taking the downtime at home "can be especially nurturing when you're having a stressful month," says Renee Peterson Trudeau, a balance coach and author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life. Plus, spa-ing at home can offer a change in your routine and remind you that you need to explore life beyond the nine-to-five and making school lunches," she says.
More health validation for this favorite treat: A recent Swedish study, conducted over a nine-year-period, showed that women who ate one to two servings of dark chocolate per week had a 30 percent reduction in developing heart disease. To get the benefits of chocolate, keep in mind that it's not all created equal. "Typically, dark chocolate has a much higher flavonoid content than milk chocolate or white chocolate (that has none)," says Radford.
When you're in danger of seeing red, look for the green instead. Just stopping by a park or open space for a short 10 minutes will do wonders for your mood (sneak it in on your way home from work or after dropping off the kids). "If nature isn't accessible, visit a website or cable channel that has beautiful scenery," says psychologist Dunnewold. Research shows that spending time in nature, or watching it, really does help us handle stress and rejuvenate, she says.
So you think you can dance? Well, go ahead and try. Sign up for a salsa lesson, opt for belly dancing, ballroom, or tango—or just get hit the dance floor at your favorite club or in your living room! It doesn't matter what, how, or where you dance—"If you love to jitterbug, get out those saddle shoes!" says Radford, the cardiologist—there are health benefits. In fact, a good dance session can get your heart pumping and, in the process, reduce the risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure—not to mention releasing feel-good endorphins.
Friday movie matinees before noon are often the best time to catch the newest releases, says Liz Holzemer founder of the online support group, Meningioma Mommas and mom of two who lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. It's not a luxury; it's good for your relationship—and your health. "My husband and I have traded in date nights for mate matinees," she says. "And it's a great little splurge that I often do on my own to unwind, too." And if that movie is a comedy that makes you laugh out loud? All the better: Research shows that laughing lowers stress and cholesterol. That's not funny!