Self-care. How many of you just rolled your eyes?  “Yes, yes, I know.  Self-care is important , but…” We all have lots of valid endings to that statement.  With all the chaos of modern life, self-care is often the first to go (if it was ever there to begin with).

If you have been hanging around Honestly ADHD very long, you know that we believe strongly in the importance of self-care for parents of children with ADHD.  But what we don’t talk a lot about is our own struggles with fitting self-care in our lives. We are busy mamas with lots of kids in lots of activities, our own personal relationships and houses to manage, and a growing business to run. The To Do lists never end. 

Today I want to teach you the most effective self-care activity I have ever done…  and I guarantee you can fit it into your schedule.

A couple of years ago, I had had enough. Enough of the overwhelm. Enough of the always tired. Enough of not feeling like myself. I looked at my life and didn’t like much of it. Honestly, I didn’t even know where to begin. Exercise, eat right, get more sleep – we all know the drill.  But if you are in the always-exhausted-but-can’t-sleep-at-night cycle like I was, it all feels hard. 

I needed to reduce my stress level, but let’s be real, short of giving my children away that wasn’t really an option. Like many of you, most of the stress in my life is not going anywhere.  What I needed was a way to manage my stress so it would stop overwhelming me.  

Fast forward to now – most mornings I get up at 5am and go work out.  HIIT is my workout of choice. My eating is much cleaner. I limit sugar, eat lots of veggies and protein. My sleep has improved. I have learned habits to manage my time and juggle all that life throws at me. My confidence as a mother and a person is back.  

How did I get here? Want to be here too?

You can. I promise.  

You have the time. I promise.

Because, the place you start is not the grocery store or the gym.  It’s in your head!  

Humor me for a minute…  Because I’m about to walk you through the exact exercise I used to take the first step on the self-care journey I’m on. It’s the exercise that helped me go from overwhelmed, frazzled, often-angry mom of 4 kids with ADHD … to a mother who is able to create time for herself, respond to her children’s needs more thoughtfully, and who is spending time creating the life she wants – both as a mother, and simply as a woman. 

So, here we go – we are going to create your first Thought Download. Take out a piece of paper and a pen and start to write down all the thoughts rolling around in your head.  ALL of them. Thoughts about your life, your self, your circumstances. Get writing – I’ll wait!

In the meantime, here is an excerpt of my old Thought Download:

I am a terrible time manager. I don’t take care of myself. I don’t honor the commitments I make to myself. I am not very productive. I am not the mother these children need. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. My house is a mess. My children are a mess.

I need to get my act together!

Now, when I first wrote these super-critical things about myself and my life, I was sure all of those statements were true.  And believe me, I could come up with SO MUCH evidence to prove it to you. 

Let me ask you – when you read my list, do you feel motivated or defeated? I can tell you I definitely felt defeated. 

I’ve come to realize that those thoughts were not serving me

Now take a look at your list – Does it make you feel motivated or defeated? If your answer is “defeated,” you’re definitely not alone. But where do you go from here?

Well, the single most life-changing idea that has changed my life goes like this:  You can create the life you want by changing your thoughts.   

How? Simple. Your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings lead to actions, those actions have consequences which usually reinforce your thoughts and, viola! There’s your life. Simple, but hard.  

Chances are, you have been thinking the negative thoughts on your Thought Download for a long time.  This means that the neural pathways are well-established super highways with few exit ramps.  

The number one thing you can do to begin proper self-care is right inside your head. It is time to start building new neural pathways with thoughts that serve you. With thoughts that conjure positive feelings and in turn encourage you to take more positive actions and experience more positive consequences. Your more constructive, positive thoughts will help you create a more positive life experience – no matter what is going on in your environment. 

So, let’s take the next step in this exercise. I want you to look back at that list of thoughts you wrote. I want you to try to  change each one to a thought that is still true but makes you feel motivated instead of defeated?  

If you’re struggling with this exercise, you might need a “bridge thought.”  A bridge thought is a thought that is true and gets you closer to your end goal. For example, maybe you aren’t ready to turn, “I am a terrible time manager,”  into “I am a great time manager,” because – let’s face it – I wasn’t a great time manager by anyone’s standards!  In that instance, I can use the bridge thought, “I can learn to manage my time well.” That feels both true and motivating. Bingo!

Here are some examples of my new thoughts:

Old Thought                                                                      New (Bridge) Thought

I am a terrible time manager.        →      I can learn to manage my time well.

I don’t take care of myself.           →           Taking care of my body feels good.

I don’t honor the commitments I make to myself.    →    I want to honor my commitments to myself.

I am not very productive.           →      I am becoming a productive person.

I am not the mother my kids need.  →  I am their mother, the only one they need.

If you’re serious about your self-care, here’s what I want you to do: 

  • Create a Thought Download every day for about a week. Write all your thoughts – even if you’ve written it before.
  • After a week, look back through your thoughts and find the most frequent and most damaging. Try to limit it to  four or five to start.  
  • Take those thoughts and turn them around. Create a new thought that is motivating and encouraging and still feels true. Use bridge thoughts. Remember, we aren’t trying to lie to ourselves. Science says that won’t work. Be honest with yourself.  
  • Write your new thoughts and post them where you will see them frequently. Read them multiple times a day. I keep mine on a Post It Note on my laptop and also in my paper planner.  
  • Say your new thoughts out loud. Feel them roll off your tongue.  

So many people try to create new self-care habits with willpower. But willpower is finite. Trying to develop a new self-care habit with only willpower will fail. Instead, generate true motivation for these new habits with your thoughts.    You are sure to have much better success.  

The good news is that much of the overwhelm and frustration you currently feel is caused by the way you think about your life and circumstances. And you, my friend, are in charge of how you think. We all know that stressful things are going to happen in your life no matter what. ADHD – whether it’s your kids’ ADHD, your spouse’s ADHD, or your own ADHD – will always be a part of your life.  Reframing the stress created by ADHD will give you all  the energy and motivation you are looking for!

If you do one new thing for yourself this week, use the Thought Download as your first step to developing a self-care routine that energizes you. You deserve it. Your kids deserve a parent with a full cup who can pour into them when ADHD gets them down.