Read time: 6 minutes
- With burnout on the rise, it’s more important than ever for moms to make time for self-care.
- The self-care pyramid is a step-by-step approach that can help you identify what you need most at a given moment, so you can show up as a more present, patient mom.
- Sleep and nutrition are the foundation of the self-care pyramid. Level two focuses on stillness and movement. The final level is about self-actualization and fulfillment.
If you’re feeling especially frustrated or irritated by your little ones lately, you’re not the only one. Parental burnout is on the rise. A recent study found that 68% of moms meet the criteria for burnout.
“Moms are the managers of the home. They manage the tasks everyone knows about, plus the invisible load of things that get done that no one even considers,” says Daniela Wolfe, LMSW at Best D Life. “Many work outside the home as well. By constantly giving of themselves and prioritizing everyone else—without taking the time for self-care—they are running the risk of burnout.”
The antidote to burnout is plenty of self-care, but finding time to nourish and nurture yourself can be challenging. Another study found that 62% of moms reported getting less than one hour to themselves each day. If this rings true for you, how can you make the most of that one precious hour?
The self-care pyramid, developed by Sara Madera, certified career coach for working moms, can help you maximize the time you have for yourself. It’s a step-by-step process that helps you figure out exactly what you need, so that you can show up as a more present, patient mom and a happier human overall.
What Exactly is Self-Care?
When we talk about self-care, we often think about bubble baths or spa days, but in reality, self-care goes much deeper than that. Self-care isn’t solely about indulging in luxurious treats or pampering yourself.
Self-care is nurturing and nourishing our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It's about intentionally taking time for ourselves and engaging in activities that replenish our energy, restore our inner balance, and promote overall health.
Self-care goes beyond temporary pleasures and delves into the realms of self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-preservation. At its core, self-care is about recognizing and meeting our fundamental needs.
The Self-Care Pyramid for Busy Moms
The self-care pyramid is a visual representation of the different levels of self-care that moms—or anyone—can incorporate into their lives to promote overall well-being. Just like a pyramid, the foundation of self-care starts with the basics and builds upon them to create a balanced approach to self-nurturing.
“You don’t need to conquer all of the areas of self-care at once; it’s a step-by-step process. Have a newborn and sleep isn’t happening? Then don’t stress yourself trying to work out,” explains Madera. “Sure, take a walk if it feels good, but getting in 30 minutes of a HiiT session every day shouldn’t be your priority, but rather resting when you can and feeding your body the calories it needs to be awake for 20 hours.”
By following the self-care pyramid, you can be sure you’re meeting your basic needs, so that when you’re ready for that spa day or other special activity, you can fully enjoy it.
Level 1: Sleep and Food
The foundation of the self-care pyramid is built upon two essential pillars: sleep and food. As a busy mom, it's easy to neglect these basic needs, but they are vital for your overall well-being.
“Without taking care of our basic functions like sleep and eating well, no amount of bubble baths or spa days will feel good until you do,” says Madera.
Lack of sleep is associated with all kinds of negative health effects including impaired cognitive function, weakened immune system, and slowed metabolism. Sleep deprivation can also increase the hunger hormone, ghrelin, making it harder to lose weight if that’s one of your goals.
Aim for at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Prioritize a bedtime routine that helps you unwind and relax, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath.
When it comes to nutrition, focus on nourishing your body with whole, unprocessed food. Make time to plan and prepare nutritious options that will fuel your energy and support your health. Remember, taking care of your physical health is the first step toward being the best mom you can be.
Level 2: Stillness and Movement
The next level of self-care is checking in with yourself about what you need in terms of stillness (meditation or quiet time) and movement (exercise, walk, stretching). Scan your body, both from the inside and the outside and really listen to what it’s telling you.
You could ask yourself these two questions:
Does my body need to move?
If the answer is yes, maybe a walk, stretching, or a short yoga session can be added to your day. A little movement goes a long way toward improving your mental and physical health.
Am I having mood swings or feeling irritable?
If the answer is yes, taking a moment to look inward in meditation or simply inhaling and exhaling five deep breaths can help address the “why” behind some of those feelings. If the feelings are too overwhelming or all-consuming to process on your own, consider seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist.
The added benefit of both of these is that they can also help with sleep, strengthening the first level of your self-care foundation.
Level 3: Time for You
At the top level of the pyramid is making time to do things you love: reading, spending time with friends, painting, gardening, visiting museums, or whatever else gets you inspired.
“After your physical and mental self-care is in check, it’s time to check in with your heart. This is where those bubble baths, manicures, or learning a new language will come in and offer you the most benefit,” says Madera. “There are huge opportunities that can be found at the top of the pyramid, but without the foundation it can have the reverse effect and feel like another thing on your to-do list.”
If you need a little inspiration when it comes to level three activities, consider one of these:
- Lifelong learning: Consider taking a class in a new subject, reading, visiting a museum, listening to an audiobook, or learning a new language.
- Creative expression: Nurture your creativity through art, writing, music, knitting, baking, coding, gardening, or any other form of creative outlet.
- Social connections: Cultivate and maintain meaningful relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors.
- Contribution and giving back: Find ways to contribute to society and support others through volunteering at a senior citizens center, soup kitchen, or community garden.
- Personal pampering: Treat yourself to a manicure, facial, massage, or visit to a hot spring in your area for an hour or two of pure relaxation.
Any activity that brings you a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, or relaxation works. Get creative with your self-care.
The Bottom Line
The self-care pyramid offers a step-by-step framework for busy moms seeking to prioritize their well-being and prevent parental burnout.
"If we do not take care of ourselves as mothers, it’s difficult to take care of others at work and at home,” says Jana Wu LCSW, LADC, CASAC-Advanced. “Despite many societal changes, many mothers are still ‘the captain of the ship.’ We might often put our work needs and families' needs ahead of our own.”
By understanding that self-care goes beyond surface-level indulgences and encompasses various aspects of our lives, we can take proactive steps to nurture ourselves. Starting with the foundational elements of sleep and nutrition, we can build a strong base that supports our overall well-being.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Hanna Rifkin, RD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.