Susan Tordella, a mother of four in Ayer, Massachusetts, once fell on her right shoulder while skiing and couldn’t sleep on her right side for six months. Yet she never went to the doctor.
The shoulder still bothers her more than ten years later, she says, admitting there have been many times she’s been reluctant to schedule doctor’s appointments for herself—or even take charge of her mental health.
“I was depressed and didn't know it for at least a decade or more,” Tordella says. “It finally surfaced when I was 34. My youngest child went to kindergarten. I started crying and couldn't stop--not because of missing her. My life's focus was gone, and I had to pay attention to my own pain.” She finally sought help through workshops and therapy, but like many moms, had simply refused to deal with a health issue until it was too dangerous to ignore.
It’s ironic that mothers, who worry constantly about their kids’ health, often fail to take care of themselves. How? Debbie Mandel, a fitness and stress management expert, says moms “neglect their health by eating on the run and eating to self-soothe, failing to exercise, neglecting to rest and sleep, and getting into a stress cycle.” Mandel, the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, says such neglect can lead to a number of health problems.
Here are some of the most common, and what you should do about them:
Moms tend to make "kid foods" when they’re preparing dinners, says Christen Cooper, a registered dietitian in Pleasantville, N.Y. “This is a double ‘no’ because kids should be exposed to a wide variety of healthy foods, and because parents should not be limiting their diets to nuggets, pizza, and fries, either. The family’s optimal diet consists of a variety of high-nutrient, low-fat foods, including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.” It’s good to change your eating methods, too: Dietitian Debi Silber, author of The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six-Part Plan So Every Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best, suggests eating food on smaller plates, putting snacks in small baggies to avoid reaching into a huge bag or box, eating only 2/3 of a meal and drinking water between bites of food.
Elizabeth R. Lombardo, a psychologist and physical therapist in Wexford, Pa., has some basic advice for tired moms: give yourself a bedtime. “Just like your children, you need a guideline to remind you to get your Z's,” she says. “Sleep is vital for your physical and psychological health.” Dr. Tom Potisk, author of Whole Health Healing, The Budget Friendly Natural Wellness Bible for All Ages, recommends that moms steer clear of large meals several hours before bedtime and avoid taking daytime naps, which can disrupt nighttime sleep schedules.
Moms need to take time for themselves, says Lombardo. “Every week you need to do something for you: relax on the couch and read a fun book, get a manicure, have lunch with a friend. Think of how rejuvenated you will be if you do. And if childcare is an issue, pair up with a girlfriend to alternate play dates with your children.”
There’s always therapy, but exercise is also a great way to combat depression while boosting your self-confidence, ability to sleep and even your libido, Lombardo says. Tenille Bettenhausen, who suffered from post-partum depression, knows this from her own experience. “Working out and getting healthy was the way I was able to shake the baby blues,” says Bettenhausen, a franchise owner of a Baby Boot Camp, which helps other mothers combat postpartum depression.
Infrequent Doctor’s Appointments
Don’t wait to schedule them. “Remember, the better you take care of yourself, the more you can give of yourself,” says Christine Thorpe, a certified wellness coach and health education specialist. And there’s a bonus: “Being proactive about your health by going to regular doctor visits sets an example for your children.”
If you can’t find the time to schedule that doctor’s appointment or a trip to the gym, Thorpe suggests that you enlist outside help. “Get a high school student who wants to work with children. For a little money, a mom's helper can [provide] you with an extra pair of hands to get things done.”
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