There's never enough time in the day. Despite how much you work and try to save, there's always another expense. Another minimum payment due, an unexpected repair, a request from your child you can't bring yourself to deny... No matter how many hours you worked, it wasn't enough. So you've gotten a second job. You don’t have time to give yourself self-care, and you are busting your tail there to make sure all the costs are covered and maybe even sock a little something away. It seemed like a good idea when you applied, and you've figured out a way to make it work. You've not only been getting to and from both jobs. You're also getting kids to and from school and keeping them clothed, bathed, and fed.
Except you're not making it work. You're exhausted all the time, and you're snapping at your kids, family, and co-workers. You think you might be getting sick, but you can't imagine what a day off would look like. So you keep pushing forward, telling yourself there's light at the end of the tunnel even when it seems real progress is still very far away.
The Importance of Pausing to Give Yourself Self-Care
If this seems familiar, know that you're not alone. Unfortunately, too many single mothers today work two or three jobs to take care of their families. Too often, they're forced to make hard choices, such as whether to work a second job or be there to support their kids' learning after school, or even to leave them alone unsupervised to make a shift.
The weight of these decisions takes a toll. Add that weight to the burden of working 50, 60, or 70 hours a week while being the parent. The resulting stress not only compromises your mental health but often your physical health, as well. Without the time or resources to find and secure support from an overburdened mental health system, your mental health is most often, like so many things, up to you and you alone to figure out.
Unfortunately, it's also the thing we frequently sacrifice first. We listen to the voice telling us to drive forward and ignore when our mind and body are telling us to slow down. But we have to. Working long hours between two jobs is not sustainable indefinitely. While we may have no real choices at the moment, we have to find the time and the space to take care of our mental health.
No, this is not another item to add at the end of your to-do list. You have to prioritize making the time and space for your mental health. But there's never enough time, right? The truth is there are a lot of ways to give yourself self-care that either don't require a lot of time or that can be built into your daily routine.
7 Simple Ways to Give Yourself Self-Care
1. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal where you record your thoughts and frustrations can be an excellent way to help you relieve stress. Furthermore, journaling can help you maintain perspective, assess your progress towards your goals, help improve your communication and strengthen your self-discipline.
Best of all, it's easy to integrate into your daily life. You don't need a dedicated writing hour and desk to start. Nor do you need to walk around with a pricey leather-bound journal all the time. Have a smartphone? Download a word processing app and type your thoughts each day while you commute to and from work, during breaks, and whenever else you can find the space to do so.
2. Practice Meditation
You also don't need a fancy retreat, costly guru, or special equipment to start meditating. All you need is a set amount of time in a quiet space. If you've never meditated before, there are plenty of guides available for free online that can help you get started.
In general, you sit somewhere comfortably and practice breathing deeply for a set period. Some people meditate with their eyes closed. Others do so while reciting a saying that inspires them or gives them strength. You can see positive benefits by meditating for as little as 20 minutes a day, as long as you keep up the practice consistently without distraction.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
When we're stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. When our bodies are flush with cortisol, we begin to crave sweet and fatty foods. But our bodies also suppress leptin, another hormone that tells us our bodies are full. So we often binge on junk food, which saps our energy, results in weight gain, and stresses us out even further.
On the other hand, when we eat a healthy balanced diet (with plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean protein), our energy levels increase. Also, our stress levels decrease. We can mitigate our risk of developing chronic illnesses. At the same time, we often save money by picking healthy food over junk food.
4. Schedule Some Exercise
Along with healthy eating comes exercise. You don't need a fancy gym membership to get started, either. Start with simple 15-minute walks each day. Then either add some more minutes or build up to a run around the neighborhood. For less than ten dollars, you can veritably transform your body with a jump rope. You can also find thousands of fitness videos online that can teach you how to do basic exercises like dips, push-ups, lunges, and squats that you can do at home without equipment.
5. Say "No"
When we're continuously in motion, we often rush to accommodate everyone without thinking about — or having the capacity to think about — whether we should be doing so or not. Constantly rushing to attend to a child who's old enough to be more self-sufficient, save a trouble-prone relative, or listen to a co-dependent friend's grievances carries additional stress. That's stress you literally cannot afford.
Get in the habit and practice of saying no, even when — and especially when — doing so is hard. Establish clear boundaries to protect your mental health while juggling childcare with work, or you'll greatly increase your chances of burnout.
6. Get Organized
When we're juggling so much, it's also easy for us to become disorganized. However, organization is not only key to surviving the day but also crucial for making the kind of progress towards financial stability you and your family need.
Using the calendar function on your phone, a small notebook in which you keep a to-do list, or other small tools can have a big impact on your progress. Also, signs of progress can bolster your mental resilience and help reduce your stress levels as you make it routine to give yourself self-care.
7. Treat Yourself
Every so often, you need to treat yourself to a small luxury that's just for you. That doesn't mean whipping out your credit card and buying a new expensive pair of shoes every week. But it does mean taking a few dollars here or there — not enough to throw you off course, but enough to purchase something nice — and then buying something just for yourself. Avoid the temptation to take your kids and friends out for a meal. This is about the care you show for yourself. Buy something just for you. After all, you're working two jobs to take care of your kid(s), and you're doing it on your own. Give yourself self-care by showing yourself some love.
Research from Mental Health America has found that more adults than ever show symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, driven by the widespread impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. For Black women struggling to balance childcare, multiple jobs, and their own physical health, the mental health crisis is even more acute. It's vital that, no matter how much you have on your plate, you take the time to give yourself self-care.