You hear a lot about "mommy brain" when you have infants. Forgetfulness, clumsiness, falling behind on just about everything... mommy brain is a common occurrence among moms with new babies. It makes perfect sense. Infants are tiring, sleep is elusive, and some days eating a bowl of cereal feels like a victory.
Here's the thing: It's been quite some time since I've had a baby in this house (my baby just turned five), but I'm fairly certain that I'm still stuck in the vortex of mommy brain.
I try to stay on top of everything. I use my iCal constantly and I use my beautiful Pottery Barn Wall calendar and organizational system to back up the iCal. I'm a visual person, this much I know.
I try to respond to emails as they come in and return phone calls in timely manner. Sometimes I even set alerts if I need some quiet time to craft those emails and would prefer to do them at night.
I eat healthy foods, run most days, and open the mail the moment it arrives.
But I miss things along the way.
Something happens and I get distracted and forget to respond to that email, making the alert useless because it already happened. Or I go to the grocery store with a specific list and somehow manage to forget the milk. And how can it be possible that the gas tank is always empty at the worst possible time?
It's because I'm tired. And while I do a lot to take care of myself along the way, I don't always follow a good bedtime routine.
I have bedtime down to a science with my kids. They are never up past 7:30 p.m. because they will wake up at 6:30 a.m., no matter how late they stay up. They have a very relaxing routine and they know exactly what they need to do. They take baths. They choose outfits for the next day. They play quietly. We read. They fall asleep.
But me? Not so much. I clean, I work, I procrastinate, and I worry. When the busyness of the day fades away, the worry tends to creep in. With my husband on the road, it can be hard to turn off my worry brain. But it's essential. Because staying up late watching TV or getting lost in a book to ease my worried mind isn't working.
Worry brain, as it turns out, appears to have a direct link to mommy brain. And mommy brain is really cramping my style.
So I set out to retrain my mommy brain. If my kids developed bad habits, I would help them break those habits and return to a state of good health. Why should I be any different? If I want to raise happy kids in a happy house, I need to get enough sleep and kick this mommy brain to the curb.
It's a five-step approach:
Write the to-do list early:
If I'm being completely honest, I've really cut back on list-making. I used to love lists. There's nothing like that rush of satisfaction when a list is completely crossed out. But moms can't do everything every single day, and I don't like long lists hanging over my head.
So I'm down to one list of high priority items per week. And I've trained myself to turn it off at night. I run over my list a couple of hours before bed, but then walk away. Obsessing over what needs to be done won't actually get anything done and a good night of rest might actually give me the energy to tackle that list in the morning.
Create a calming routine:
I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to create my own calming routine for bedtime when my children have each had one since birth, but it is what it is. Running around doing things and folding laundry until I finally flop into bed really isn't a good system, though, so I'm working on that.
These days I'm watching the clock a bit more. I'm paying attention when I feel fatigued and adjusting my bedtime accordingly. I'm putting a stop to writing past 9:00 p.m. and getting into bed with a book by 9:30 p.m. I love to read and have a difficult time putting down a good book, but I'm learning to set limits. That's the wonderful thing about books, after all, is that they are always there when you need them.
Break down tasks:
Part of gaining control over my mommy brain involves putting a stop to the perfectionism that has plagued me since childhood. I have to be honest, this has been a hard one for me. My instinct is to clean the house from top to bottom each night, get some work done, and cram in a healthy dinner somewhere in between.
But there are only so many hours in the night. So I break it down. I clean the area that needs the most attention only after I've enjoyed the healthy meal. If I'm up for it, I set a timer and get some work done. If not, I start my bedtime routine.
Shut down screens:
With my husband on the road, I have a hard time completely shutting down my phone at night. That's why the "Do Not Disturb" setting is my favorite update to the iPhone. It used to be that I switched over only when I was ready to turn off the lights. These days I make the switch much earlier in the evening. My husband can find me if he needs me. Everything else can wait.
And taking a break from constant phone checking seems to be decreasing my headaches and saving my sanity. That's a win/win.
I always recommend that clients struggling with anxiety keep nighttime journals. Getting those last nagging feelings out before bed can really help you ease into a calming night of sleep. And yet, I stopped journaling years ago. Who has the time?
Now that I'm breaking things down and saving myself a little time, I do have the time. So I'm back at it. Because this busy mommy needs a brain that functions well each day, and sleep plays an important role in that. Besides, it feels good to let go of worry and fall asleep with a positive thought in mind.
Bonus tip: Did you know that watching an old favorite sitcom can actually help you feel happier? It's true. So skip the stressful TV shows and watch something that makes you laugh, just don't stay up too late doing it.
That said, can the nice people at Nick at Nite please put Friends on just a little bit earlier in Los Angeles? My worry brain thanks you in advance.