I have five kids between the ages of 10 and 20, so I’ve been juggling work and kids for a long time. My life is both busy and fulfilling. As the founder of ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), I'm inspired every day, but it also requires a lot of energy to make sure it's the best it can be. I also live on a farm, where we grow organic apples, grapes, berries, and garlic, so there’s always something that needs attention. Not to mention, the farm is home to 350,000 bees, 50 chickens, three big dogs, and two cats.
It can get a little wild trying to make sure that everything runs smoothly and that everyone’s needs are met! But I’ve discovered that lack of sleep, little exercise, poor food choices, and unhealthy habits zap my energy and make the balancing act nearly impossible.
Here are a few ways I’ve learned to prioritize my own wellness so that I can keep enjoying everything that I do:
1. I put fitness on the calendar.
I play tennis, spin, and do Pilates. All are scheduled for certain days and times of the week, to make sure I actually attend. For example, my family and coworkers know that Mondays between 4 and 5 p.m. I’m in a Pilates class, so I won’t be available.
If I don’t schedule fitness, it tends not to happen because it’s easy to say "I'll start tomorrow." A regular fitness routine helps keep me strong and sane.
2. I tackle all my medical appointments in one day.
I plan all my annual doctors' appointments on the same day. I bounce around to get a checkup, blood drawn, mammogram, eye exam, and skin check so that I’m set for the whole year!
3. I make lists.
I love lists! For example, I always stick to a grocery list to save time and decrease the chance of impulse shopping, which leads to unhealthy choices.
Everyone knows the danger of food shopping when hungry, but shopping with kids is equally dangerous because kids clamor for food that's sugary and salty. If I have to shop with my kids, I send them after items on the list and reward them with their favorite healthy food if they behave and find the stuff quickly.
4. I ditched caffeine for more water.
Dehydration is a main source of the exhaustion and headaches that affect how much you can get done in a day. I've found that staying hydrated with water really helps me keep my day on track. Even though you may feel like you need an extra boost, water is always better than tea, coffee, or soda.
5. I set aside time to maintain connections.
Every morning, my kids and I spend half an hour in the car together. We talk about their teachers, friends and who got in trouble at school. Sometimes the topics turn serious, and I so appreciate this daily ritual.
After drop-off, my Bluetooth gets a workout because that’s when I check in with my close friends and family. By the time I get into the office, I’ve connected emotionally with the people I care about and can dive into work.
6. I snack sensibly.
I keep fresh, easy-to-grab (and already cut-up) vegetables and nuts around for snacking. It helps maintain my energy, making me less likely to eat ravenously later.
I also use small pieces of dark chocolate to reward myself for unpleasant tasks. I’m quite passionate about chocolate, so the hard stuff gets done!
7. I keep exercise gear close by.
It's important to create strategies that ensure you accomplish what you set out to do. For example, I value my workouts so I keep workout clothes and sneakers in my car and my office. This way I can never use the excuse that I can’t work out because I forgot my gear.
8. I let go of the little things.
Don’t waste your time worrying and being annoyed by situations you can’t change, such as a judgmental mother-in-law or encroaching crow's feet. Let that stuff go.
Be proactive about addressing situations that you can change, such as a work or family issue that can usually be handled by a candid conversation. Don’t let small stressors pile up and stop you from appreciating all that’s wonderful in your life.
9. I turn daily tasks into exercise.
We all know that we should be pushing ourselves when we work out, but there are small adjustments we can make in our daily routines to prioritize fitness. For example, on top of playing with my kids, I try to always take the stairs and park a little farther away from the store.
10. I devote time to breathing.
I recommend carving out daily moments that are screen-free, kid-free, and phone-free. I’m talking moments here. I'll find a space to sit and breathe for just two minutes. Taking in oxygen through deep, focused breaths is relaxing and invigorating.
If you have 5 or 10 minutes, even better: lie down and become aware of your breath moving down into your stomach and then exhaling until it’s all gone.
Sometimes I get so hyped up that I forget to breathe. Making space to be conscious of my breath informs my whole day.
11. I commune with nature every day.
Create opportunities to see, smell, and listen to nature. Some of my most creative ideas are summoned on short walks in the woods. It feels good to move and appreciate the beauty around you.
My dogs are also a great excuse to get outside and see that there’s more to the world than my house and office.
12. I multitask while cooking healthy meals.
Restaurant food, and particularly fast food, usually doesn’t contribute to our health. So I’ve organized my home so that I can make homecooked meals while still helping my kids with their homework.
They usually have after-school activities and then pour into the house famished. Our house is small and open, so instead of a standard living room, I’ve set up workstations for each kid where they can access a small collection of nuts, fruit, and vegetables while they do their homework. This is to avoid the pathetic, glazed stare into the refrigerator waiting for the perfect snack to miraculously appear. While I chop vegetables, spice, and marinate, I field questions about ratios and the Magna Carta.
Weekends are reserved for more elaborate preparation, takeout, or a well-deserved restaurant meal. But during the week, I sauté, broil, and stir-fry for quick and healthy results.
I hope that some of these tips work for you and that you're inspired to make wellness a priority in your life!