Exiting Survival Mode: 5 Things I’m Doing Daily

My husband Will suggested I write a blog about self care as a mom.  This feels a little more list-y and pragmatic than what I’m used to writing…which is probably not a bad thing. 

Since my first daughter was born until recently, I felt like I was in survival mode…simply trying to make it until we arrived at the mystical land of…I don’t know what. Complete sanity? Full health? Everybody sleeping through the night? Financial security? No one in grad school? I was successful in that, by the grace of God, I got everyone through the crazy season we found ourselves in alive.

Overwhelmed mom

I’m trying to get out of survival mode now. Not because we’ve arrived at that mystical land (can let’s not even talk about how ROUGH the sleep situation is right now), but because life is moving on. I don’t want to spend my whole life in survival mode. I want to be in thriving mode.

My New Year’s resolution in 2019 was to move towards more holistic living by caring for my own body, mind, and spirit better. I realized that I needed to start small; I don’t have much time to myself. I have at least one child attached to me most of the time; I’m trying to finish a PhD; I’m starting a 1 year teaching position while also applying for future full-time jobs. The things I do to care for myself need to be in little 15 minute chunks…or they just won’t happen. But what I’m finding is that those 15 minute chunks are doing huge things for my health.  I’m calmer and more present than I have been since before my oldest was born.

So, here they are: 5 things I’m doing daily to move from survival mode to thriving mode.

  1. Exercise. Long before I became a mother, I ran cross-country…not particularly well, but definitely persistently.  In 2015, which was probably my peak as a long distance runner (and non-coincidentally, when I wanted to be sure I fit in my wedding dress), I was running 9 miles with little difficulty. After I had my older daughter, I assumed I’d get right back into running, and tried to go all-out again just a few months postpartum. That, my friends, was a mistake. My body couldn’t handle the high impact nature of running after the ordeal of labor.  I despaired of being in shape again, because running was really the only form of exercise I knew…and I stopped exercising. Then I got pregnant again, gave birth again, and felt about 5,000 miles behind where I started pre-pregnancy.  I’m learning now that I need to love my body enough to choose forms of exercise that are kind to it…where it is today. I’m very hopeful that I’ll run again. I’m working up the courage to try again soon. But right now, I’m doing 15 minute exercise videos specifically for postpartum moms via a website called MommaStrong. I can do these workouts at home when my kids are around…or even sometimes when I’m holding a kid. The workouts don’t wreck my body and instead help me to heal myself from the long journey of two pregnancies and deliveries in quick succession.   I feel healthier, stronger, and happier than I have in a long time.
  2. Learning a new language. Learning languages is a fun game for me. It engages a part of my brain that makes me feel more like myself than almost anything else. So I’m currently picking up Italian in preparation for my academic trip to Italy this summer.  I’m using the app Duolingo, which makes learning the language feel even more like a game than it normally is.  Next I’d like to work on Arabic or modern Hebrew…because I really want to travel to the Middle East again when I have the chance.
  3. Reading a book…just for pleasure. I read (and write!) books for a living, and I’d gotten out of the habit of reading recreationally, I’m embarrassed to say.  I kicked off the year by reading Becoming, by Michelle Obama (she’s legit my hero), and I’m currently re-reading Jane Eyre for the first time since ninth grade. (Truth be told, that book choice is partially inspired by my academic work…I’m engaging feminist literary criticism significantly in my dissertation, and recently read Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, which in turn made me want to read Jane Eyre. But I say it still counts.)
  4. Going outside to walk and see the sky.  I need to get outside daily to remember that the world is broader and more beautiful than the scope of my current problems.  I need to see the seasons change and remember that God is in the midst of all of them. I need to breathe deeply and calm myself at my core. Often, the physical act of walking guides me through the intellectual or emotional issues I’m trying to sort through.  I usually bring at least one kid and the dog with me for this self care exercise…fresh air helps everyone.
  5. Encountering God through Scripture and prayer.  At the beginning of 2019, I was reflecting that I’d spent more time in the last year writing about God than communing with God. That’s a problem for me.  I need to experience the nurturing, embracing, challenging love of God for myself before I can reflect that love in the work that God has called me to do as a mother, scholar, and teacher.  I need to create the space in my life for the grace and mercy of God, new every morning, to wash over me and change me utterly.  Like everything else in this list, I’m starting small. I’m almost done reading through a devotional by Ruth Chou Simons called GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart, studying the scriptures referenced therein, and journaling my own thoughts and prayers.  (If anyone has a recommendation for a daily devotional or Bible study to do after I finish this one, please let me know!)