Don't Rinse & Repeat: What to do when every day leaves you feeling tired, bored, lonely, angry
Sheltering in place during a pandemic weirdly has a lot in common with having a new baby at home.
OK, generally, I don’t encourage comparing one person’s struggle to another, but I have to admit that there are a lot of common themes that seem to be coming up for people lately.
The new moms I’ve worked with over the course of my career often say that they’re tired all the time, that new motherhood is lonely and isolating, that they’re ashamed to admit they’re bored at times, that all the days run into each other…. A week can feel like one long sleepless day or a single day can feel a week long. And as new parents, there’s a lot of doing the same things over and over. Changing diapers, cluster feeding, soothing cries, rocking baby to sleep. You’re busy the whole time and yet you feel like nothing really happens.
I hear a lot of similar complaints from parents and child-free adults alike when it comes to making it through this pandemic. The loneliness is perhaps the hardest. That, and never getting alone time. Anxiety is affecting our sleep. It’s hard to remember what day it is. Boredom and a lack of motivation go hand-in-hand. Getting out the door is harder. Even basic errands take a toll on us mentally. Sometimes it’s hard to remember when we took our last shower. We look up at the clock and realize it’s 2 pm and we’re still in our pajamas.
Any of this sound familiar?
But there’s something else that’s been coming up lately. And I suspect that it’s been there for many of us all along, but right now, it’s so much more palpable and insistent: ANGER.
It’s taboo for moms to talk about rage (especially if you are a black mom). The shame we moms often feel when we are angry--especially if we are angry for seemingly no apparent reason--is so real. We often don’t talk about it. We stuff it down or rush to get over it.
And just as adults, whether you’re a parent or not, there is so much to feel angry about during this pandemic. Whether it’s the disruption to your “normal”, the breaking of summer plans, the imposition of having to be employee and in-house child educator all at once, the government’s mismanagement of public health, the inconvenience of masks, the isolation from family, the inability to properly support a loved one hospitalized with COVID-19 or grieve a loved one who succumbed to it….it’s just SO MUCH.
To be a new mom during a pandemic, you might rage about all of the above AND you might also rage about the fact that the support you were counting on is no longer an option, that your loved ones can’t hold your new baby until who knows when, that you and your partner are stretched to the max….
You name it, I’ve heard it.
So, regardless of your unique circumstance, if you’re feeling exhausted, lonely, bored, or angry, I see you.
And I’ve got some ideas to help you combat each. Let’s break it down:
“I’m so TIRED all the time!”
This is the one category that can influence all others that follow. So, I want to approach it two ways. First, for the long term, you need to figure out ways to get more or better quality sleep. But second, I also realize there are days where it’s just not possible, and sometimes you need tactics to stay energized in the short term.
I’ve got ideas for both:
Work out a plan with your partner for each of you to catch up on sleep. Maybe you agree to catch some extra zzzz’s on weekends: you sleep in on Saturday, they sleep in on Sunday. Or, maybe strike a deal with your partner: you let him/her sleep in if they promise to give you time for a nap later in the day.
Get ready for bed when you get your kids ready for bed. This helps to ensure that you maintain those important self-care habits that can so easily fall by the wayside. But also, it makes things simpler for those times when you accidentally fall asleep while putting baby to sleep. In these cases, you can just migrate to your own bed without fully waking your brain up, which makes falling back asleep in your own bed that much easier.
What is your evening routine? How does it facilitate adequate rest? Do you do some light reading? Some breathing exercises? Do you stow your devices away to give your brain ample time to wind down? Make sure you’re setting yourself up for sleep success. You don’t have to do all of these things. Just start with one and see if it works for you.
Be communicative with your partner so you both can have each other’s backs with the baby or children’s schedules. For some parents, it works well for one parent to go to bed early while the other does the last feeding before bedtime and bedtime routine. For others, because that precious downtime in between baby’s bedtime and momma’s bedtime is so necessary, it works better to agree to get the littles to bed at an early bedtime consistently each night to ensure that you don’t stay up way too late just to get some adult or solo time in.
Brene Brown recommends that you talk to your partner each day about how much “battery life” or capacity you have that day. If you’re running on 20%, does your partner have 80% in him or her to step in and take over for a while? Or vice versa. (Careful to not make it into the struggle olympics though.) Create a “family gap plan” for the days when your capacity and your partner’s capacity don’t add up to 100% so you know the actions to take to make it through. (Brene’s family gap plan includes: Sleep 8 hrs for everyone, move your bodies each day to move stress out, eat well, no harsh words, say sorry, accept apologies with “thank you” not “its OK”, and use more puns & knock-knock jokes.) I love and cosign all of this.
If napping is hard for you, rest is still beneficial. Try to get some quiet time or down time for a few minutes each day. Try laying in a dimly lit, quiet room, coloring, playing soft music, etc.
When you need to feel more alert, what makes you feel good and rejuvenated? Try playing upbeat music you love. Try a “breath of fire” breathing practice. Try applying peppermint oil on ears and temples or splashing cold water on face for a quick pick-me-up.
Of course, coffee helps too, but too much of a good thing is definitely not much of a good thing at all. So be mindful of your caffeine intake because it can have negative effects on your sleep when you have too much or too late in the day.
REMINDER: QUICK FIXES ARE NOT A SOLUTION. They’re just a band-aid—and band-aids are helpful, but they don’t fix the cause of the problem. There’s a reason they use sleep-deprivation as a tactic in torturing prisoners of war! Don’t try to be superhuman and power through long-term. It won’t end well.
“I hate to say it, but I feel really BORED at times!”
What did you love to do before baby? Did these interests change or still feel true? If you’re pregnant now, these might seem like silly questions, but once baby arrives, you might be surprised by how confusing it can all feel. Loss of identity is something a lot of moms struggle with. So start with what you used to love. Maybe write those things down. Consider whether they still hold importance for you.
How can you modify those things you love to do to fit into your day? Some examples:
Short 7 min at-home workouts instead of an hour at the gym (studies show intense 7-min workouts can be enough to provide the same results as prolonged endurance workouts)
Daily doodles (@denisegasserart on Instagram likes to do small, quick paintings until one of her babies interrupts her, then she documents why she had to stop on the back of each painting), crochet or journaling in short bursts, rather than getting into more involved larger-scale projects that can make a bigger mess
Listen to “lightweight” (content-wise) audiobooks instead of novels or non-fiction that require deeper mental investment
Try starting a movie watching club instead of book club—something that can be done with less commitment, but is still engaging. (This can even be done remotely!)
What outdoor activities are accessible where you are? Search for secluded or off-the-beaten-path trails, bodies of water, etc.
What’s open in your area for the summer and what feels within your level of comfortability with a new baby and/or given COVID statistics in your area?
How can you make being at home more enticing? Inflatable pool? Recipe or meal prep subscription service? Movie subscription service? New board game? New pet? Borrow someone else’s pet for an afternoon or a weekend?
”I feel so LONELY and ISOLATED!”
Can you form a COVID “circle of trust” with a few folks who are on the same page as you in terms of consent and comfortability with taking the same precautions or easing up on those precautions together? Weigh the pros and cons with your partner based on your family’s physical and mental health needs and the levels of risk you both are OK with. And if now isn’t the time, circle back to this conversation periodically to check back in with each other.
Some other ways you can stay connected:
Try Marco Polo. It’s a great app for keeping in touch with friends and family and is free to use (although they do have a new subscription-based level now too). It’s a video chat app with total flexibility (you watch and respond to messages when you have time, rather than meeting at a scheduled time like you do on Zoom or Google Hangouts) and none of the noise that exists on social media. I personally use the free version to keep in touch with friends and with work associates (some of whom are in different time zones) and I love how it fits into my life without being a distraction or a stressor. No more missed calls or time commitments!
If Marco Polo isn’t your thing, sometimes scheduling a call can be a nice habit and provide you with something to look forward to each week. Try scheduling consistent weekly or monthly calls with friends or family to ensure you get that connection time in.
Get creative with at-home dates with your partner. Isn’t it funny that you can miss the person you’re spending 24/7 with? Make time for connecting, and make it fun.
I just feel so ANGRY, sometimes for no reason!”
I think everyone’s fuse is just a little bit (or a lot) shorter nowadays than it usually is. Some of us are raging for days on end, others can wake up and move through part of the day feeling perfectly fine and then one little thing goes wrong and that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back that day.
Rage doesn’t just disappear simply because we ignore it or tell it to go away. “Rage has something to say and…’doesn’t dissipate until it feels heard.’” Try to reflect and see what your anger is trying to show you. Often it can be a catalyst for change.
Some ways to work through your anger:
Get exercise and good sleep. These will help you process anger instead of stuffing it down.
Limit your news and social media intake each day. Limit your screen time in general.
Find creative ways to express yourself. Sing, dance, scribble or smear some paint on paper, kick or throw a ball around. If you have access to the great outdoors and feel safe doing so, go outside and scream. Speak to an empty chair or write a letter to an imaginary person you can unload all your anger to. Or talk to a therapist about it.
Don’t fall into the “comparative suffering” trap. You know, that you have it the worst, or not as bad, or that you don’t have the right to feel what you feel. Emotions do not go away because we tell them to stop. Also the guilt & shame that comes with that. Practice empathy for yourself. “Shame cannot survive empathy” (Brene Brown). It’s hard to process or take in new information about a situation when we are stuck in shame.
”The days keep repeating themselves - I feel like everyday is GROUNDHOG’S DAY!”
I’ve got two main pieces of advice for this one and they’re going to sound a bit contradictory. The antidote is a combination of routine and spontaneity:
Create some structure and routine to your day to maintain some sense of normal. This is hard whether you’re a new mom or in the middle of a pandemic. But consider: What are your markers? Taking a shower each morning? Work zoom calls? Friday night movie with your family? Sunday morning pancakes? What are your a.m. and p.m. routines like? Think about implementing small things to act as little reminders that it’s a new day and have things to look forward to each week. Routine can give cues to your brain that you’re starting or finishing something, which helps us transition and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Make room for spontaneity. Whenever possible, drop everything to play that board game or read that book with your kids. Call a friend right when the thought pops into your head, instead of later. Look up “how to” videos on YouTube and immerse yourself in a new hobby. Try making a new recipe. Take a different route home from the supermarket. Move dinner to the backyard and have a picnic with your partner. Find little ways to let go, make room for play or do things a bit differently. This will spark our interest and creativity, while also building happy memories.
If you feel like you need a little support in working through any one (or more) of these feelings, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a therapist. They can help you to talk through some of this stuff and find some new habits that will work for you.
Now it’s your turn. What have you tried that has worked for you? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
Is your crazy busy life filling you up?
(Or weighting you down?)
New York Times article, “‘I Am Going to Physically Explode’: Mom Rage in a Pandemic”
Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, episode “Brené on Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball”
MIT Technology Review article, “A guide to negotiating a covid “bubble” with other people”
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