Survival mode can happen for many reasons. Sickness, family issues, job loss, pregnancy exhaustion, a new baby transition, sleep deprivation, a late postpartum depression...you name it. For me, it usually stems around pregnancy and the infant stage because I am just. so. tired.
Below are the tips and tools I've learned in the past years to survive in survival mode as a momma of 5. It still helps me to remember what tools helped me climb out of the pit after my episodes of PPD, anxiety, or autoimmune system funks that kept me down. Sometimes, it's simply a rough phase of sleep deprivation that really hits me hard and I don't function well!
1. Self-care is crucial. The number one thing I've learned this past year is how important it is to fill myself up. If I can't fill myself up, I cannot effectively serve others whether that is my own children, my husband, or a church volunteer position. I've written a whole post about this in the past, but to summarize: do what makes you feel good. For me that means taking time to just sit and read, having a set night once a week to go chat with friends at a coffee shop or go write, or doing something creativity. Things that makes me me and not just "mom." It really makes a huge difference when you allow yourself a break to refresh! Even a few minutes daily is all it can take.
2. Have a routine. I used to think I was a go-with-the-flow kind of mom. Turns out I'm not! I've learned that I thrive with structure, but when I get in my anxiety-sleep-deprived-funk I start letting my structure slide. I start rationalizing that it's okay to stay in PJ's all day because I'm tired, or skip my morning cleaning time, or allowing too much TV instead of only at our set time. Then what happens? I feel guilty. Guilty for looking like a slob. Guilty for not having anything done by the time my husband gets home from work. Guilty for not spending time with my kids. I'm not saying every day has to be a set structured day with a whistle blown exactly at 8am signaling breakfast time, or that there isn't room for rest or having off days, but the problem is when every single day things slid in the wrong direction. Have your lazy day when you truly need it and certainly allow rest during the day, but also try your best to get some things done. I know for me, feeling productive makes me feel so much better as a whole.
3. Get ready early in the day. As mentioned above, when I start letting things slide I also let my appearance slide. This isn't to mean that being vain in your appearance is priority, but simply feeling more presentable even if its just for yourself and your husband makes a difference. I've found even the simple task of just showering before lunch makes me feel better and helps me feel more energized to tackle chores. Putting on jeans or a comfy maxi skirt instead of PJ pants makes me feel better. Not feeling like a greasy monkey makes me feel better...Period! Make it your routine to get ready as soon as you can each day. During the school year, I like to get up 30 minutes before our kids so I get that quiet and uninterrupted time to myself. It was a drastic step in the right direction for me.
4. Small successes count. Also adding onto to #2 on the note of routine...when I'm feeling down counting anything I did that day is considered a check to my to-do list. Got dressed by 9am? Check. Kids are fed and relatively happy? Check. Got the dishes unloaded? Check. Some days that really is all I feel I accomplish, but somedays that has to be good enough!
5. Make compromises. Maybe it's your food choices. Maybe it's your cleaning expectations. Maybe it's your idea of having actives or playdates every day of the week with your kids, when all you really need and want to do is sleep from pregnancy exhaustion. Reconfigure your priorities for this short survival season. For me? That meant not having the healthiest dinners possible every night....just having food at all had to be good enough in my nausea and exhaustion phase of first trimester. It meant that I got the laundry clean, but I didn't fold it for a month (still climbing my way through that mountain!). Make compromises where you can, give yourself grace. What are your true priorities right now?
6. Ask for help! This was a humbling experience for me. I had to ask for help recently and broadcasted it on my Facebook. I was truly beyond exhausted (I have been known to fall asleep on the floor at a birthday party....for real...), emotionally spent, and felt I couldn't offer anything to anybody anymore. I asked for prayers, help grocery shopping, childcare, and laundry folding. And guess what? The response was amazing and such a blessing! I wrote more about that experience over at The Young Mommy Life: Would You Ask A Friend to Fold Your Laundry? Chances are you have a village around you, friends and family who want to help you if they just knew what you are going through. Speak up and use your support.
7. Know this is only a season. Really, our lives are a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. And this season you're in? It may feel like it has been or will be forever, but it won't be. Things will get better. Your babies will sleep one day. Circumstances will change. You won't be pregnant forever. Having the perspective that it won't be this way always helps me make it through one day at a time. And really, that's what survival mode is: Taking one day at time.
8. Seek professional help if needed. At my lowest point one year when Ashlyn was around 6 months old I had a scary thought, "I just want to go to Heaven. I'm not a good mom or wife. I mess up everything. They would be better off without me here to mess them up." I remember nursing my daughter, thinking that thought, and just crying. I truly felt broken and no good to anyone in my life. I had lost my purpose and drive in life. I had lost myself amongst laundry and diapers. While I knew that I would never take my own life, I really wished God would just beam me up to Heaven where life wouldn't be so dang HARD. Why is parenting so hard, after all? It is supposed to be this glorious picture of joy. It's not always, and I thought I was doing it wrong. That thought scared me, and told me that I needed help beyond my own family and friends advice. I sought out counseling through my church and went roughly once a week when I was able. And guess what? These things I've listed I learned in counseling that I still use 7 years later!
It's not a shameful thing to seek counseling, it's a beautiful process of self-discovery. God has taught me so, so much through it in many seasons of life.