For me, being a mother is the best job in the world. I wouldn't change it for anything, but it comes with its own set of challenges like any job. The hours are long and often thankless, and a mom's needs can feel like the last priority. But, if being a mom is hard, facing motherhood and autoimmune disease can feel downright impossible at times. As a mom with autoimmunity myself, I understand firsthand what it means to navigate these feelings.
Motherhood can often mean that we care for and think of others most of our day. We juggle many balls, and we are always busy or on the go. Given the many demands on my time, I felt like the only time I could get anything done was late in the evening when the house would start to settle. This jampacked schedule took a toll on my sleep and, in turn, my health.
One of the things that took the most energy was worrying about not wanting my kids to think that I was sick, both because I didn't want them to worry and because I wanted to be the kind of mom I felt they deserved. In truth, I was attached to the idea of being a supermom. I wanted to be able to do it all, and health be damned.
In trying to do it all, I sacrificed my health which ironically kept me from being the mom I wanted to be. So, I started to make small changes that led to big wins and, over time, got my health back. Now, I monitor my to-do list closely. I prioritize so that I'm not letting my energy escape to everyone but me, making me a better mom.
So, how are we to manage? The flight attendant's instructions to put your life vest on first can serve as a powerful metaphor. As someone with an autoimmune disorder, you have to be able to manage your day-to-day needs before helping others effectively — whether or not you are a mother. Still, figuring out how to do this as a mom takes additional creativity.
It hasn't been easy, but I've learned a couple of things as a mom with an autoimmune disease. If you're still trying to strike the right balance of caring for yourself while caring for (what can feel like) everyone else, maybe these tips can help. Regardless, just the fact that you're reading this means that you're a rock star mom who cares. Be proud of yourself!
How to Prioritize Your Health as a Mom With Autoimmunity
Get Some (Much-Needed) Rest
I know this is much easier said than done. But, sleep is an essential part of our overall health, especially our body's immune system health. Unfortunately, motherhood and autoimmunity can make for some serious sleep deprivation! Fatigue is a common autoimmune disease symptom, and parenting demands often exacerbate it. While getting more rest can feel impossible (even if it also feels necessary), consider these options when you can:
- Go to bed when the kids do. Resist the urge to try and get everything done once they go to bed. Instead, make a to-do list but keep it short so that those worries won't keep you up. Then, do one thing for yourself before you hit the hay. If your kids are older, create a pre-bedtime routine that is free of screens and soothing.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Though having a relaxing glass of wine after a long day is tempting, even small amounts of alcohol have been shown to reduce sleep quality. The sedative effect of alcohol may make falling asleep easier but will cause you to wake up more throughout the night as it is metabolized.
- Have less caffeine. We rely on our cup of Joe to create energy when we feel like we don't have any, but caffeine can negatively affect our sleep. While your morning caffeine routine is probably OK, try not to say yes to that cappuccino within ten hours of your usual bedtime. Coffee substitutes are an option that can provide comfort without cortisol.
Calm the Craziness
The go-go-go of motherhood takes a real toll on our nervous system, sometimes leading to systemic inflammation and autoimmune flares. If you're a mom with an autoimmune disease, taking time to bring your nervous system into balance is essential. Thankfully, there are many quick ways to stimulate our body's relaxation response. Here are some suggestions for you to try as soon as today.
- Incorporate belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) into your day. Just three minutes of deep belly breathing can soothe and calm the nervous system. It can be a great way to kick off your day or wind down before bed. It's also an excellent tool for reducing feelings of stress (which is another common trigger of autoimmune disease symptoms to watch out for).
- To practice deep belly breathing, inhale through your nose and exhale through either your mouth or nose (whichever is more comfortable for you). Place a hand on your belly and inhale so that your belly expands like a balloon into your ribcage. On your exhale, let your belly contract entirely. Practice slowing your breath down to as little as six breaths in a minute.
- Whether you’re in the car or in the shower, try singing loudly. Singing can be considered an aerobic exercise and is shown to release endorphins (happy chemicals in the brain). Singing is an extremely accessible means of stress relief.
- Start a gratitude journal. It doesn't take too much time — take a couple of moments to jot down one thing you feel grateful for every day until it becomes a habit.
- Be kind to yourself. Watch out for negative self-talk and try to give yourself grace. You're already exceeding demanding expectations daily by doing the best you can to take care of yourself and others, all while being a mom with autoimmunity.
Move When You Can — Even When You Really Don't Feel Like It
There is no end to reasons that make it hard to incorporate exercise when you're a mom with an autoimmune disease. Sore joints, aches and pains, fatigue, and a lack of time or motivation leave many of us without enough exercise. And, if you're in too much pain or too busy sometimes, that's OK.
But, when exercise is possible, try to motivate yourself to move by remembering that exercise improves all body functions. Exercise can be a powerful "drug" and give you energy rather than taking it away.
If you're trying to incorporate more movement but not sure where to get started, maybe try one of these ideas:
- Get outside with your kids. Find active ways to play with them, whether a game of tag, soccer, or hide and seek. This outdoor time is not just helpful for you but is increasingly vital for our kids in today's world of screens!
- Make time for a walk with a friend in your neighborhood or explore a local park. Most areas have flat, easily walkable trails to ease your way into walking regularly.
- Find an online app or class for working out that you may enjoy. Due to the on-demand nature of these classes, you can participate when they fit into your schedule and not the other way around. Some platforms, like Fitness Blender, offer courses for free and at varying difficulty levels.
- If your job is primarily sedentary, consider switching to an adjustable desk so that you can stand instead of sitting for a while. Alternatively, you could change your chair to a balance ball chair for parts of the day.
Call for Backup
They say raising children takes a village for a reason. Having a support network that you can rely on can be hugely helpful in making sure your kids are taken care of and that you are too. While we know that not everyone will have a long list of people waiting at the ready to lend a hand, there is hope.
- Make chores and cooking into family activities. Set aside time to prep meals or clean common areas together. Put on some music and make it as fun as possible. It can be a great way to spend time together, and it can help foster your kids' independence and self-confidence while teaching essential life skills.
- Express how you truly feel to others, especially those close to you. If they offer to help, be direct and let them know how to best support you. It can feel very isolating to be struggling alone with your chronic illness.
- If you're living somewhere far from friends and family, try making connections through social media. There are often Facebook groups by town or city for local moms or families who are more than willing to pitch in to help others in their community. Or, if you're looking for another mom to hang with (autoimmunity or not), the Peanut app is a great way to connect.
Learning to find small windows in your day for these self-care needs can change everything, even if that means shortening or reprioritizing your list of things to do! Hopefully, even if none of these suggestions feel practical right now, you can take some time to assess what is stealing your energy and what brings you joy. Understanding that can help you to refocus your attention, where possible, to giving yourself the gift of better health and more energy.
If you are looking for additional support, the Care Team at Mymee is here to help. Plus, some of us (like me!) are moms with autoimmunity and really get it. Motherhood with an autoimmune disease is hard, especially in times of symptom flare-up. If you're hoping to understand the unique triggers behind your symptoms, Mymee's program might be a perfect fit. Learn more or book your first session with a health coach today.