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Are You Pouring from an Empty Cup?

Matt had a long trip planned when my baby was still little and I was a bit apprehensive to be alone for two weeks. However, I figured it would be fine. Our baby was finally sleeping through the night and we can do creative activities, decorate for the holidays, and bake something fun.

Spoiler alert: that went better in my head than reality!

My good intentions quickly faded as my baby went through a sleep regression the first might my husband was gone. I received maybe two hours of sleep on her bedroom floor and was not in the mood to do ANY family fun. Over a span of two days and nights, I was just exhaused and frustrated.

As the third day and night progressed, it became obvious that my baby was coming down with a cold. She started pulling her ear and developed a fever. She got even less sleep the third night, but I now had a different perspective. I did not receive any more sleep, but I had a new-found energy. It was from compassion. My baby has an ear infection and I get to take care of her."

Notice the wording. James Clear in his book, "Atomic Habits," suggests this type of self-talk. Edit "I have to" or "I need to" and transform it with "I get to." For me, it changed from I have to be up with my baby, but I get to be up with her. I get to comfort my baby. I turned on the fireplace to make myself more cozy, and she eventually fell asleep in my arms.

As moms, we know all about this kind of compassion and empathy. You are doing an amazing job of "having", "needing", or "getting" things done. But let me ask you this: How ofte do you "have", "need", or "get to" take care of yourself? Give yourself compassion?

Our daily calendars are constantly filled to the max with work demands, after school activities, and family events. Recently though, I try to remember self-compassion. When planning my week, I literally write in my to-do liste things that can fill my cup. For example, "go outside" or "draw a picture."

It is difficult to pour from an empty cup. Many times we run on empty shaking the cup to see if anything comes out, but there is nothing left. We burn the candle from both ends as we care for everyone.

I believe filling out cup starts with actively taking a different route in our brain. In this case the "self-compassion" mental back road. Our minds have many well-traveled highways created from life experiences, demands, or habits. They may consist of frustration, busyness, or worry. Mental highways are quick and easy to travel on. However, mental back roads take more time and may be challenging at first. But they allow us to arrive at a different destination with more peace and contentment. Exercising mental back roads is hard work and takes daily practice. But overtime our brain cells create literal new growth, known as neuroplasticity, for more desirable paths. These back roads have the ability to nourish our thirst.

So what exactly is this mental back road, "compassion?"

"Compassion" is defined as empathy in action. Oxford Languages describes "empathy" as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." It is the action. Essentially, compassion is going one step further. I can feel like I am burned out. But, what can I do about that?

I believe it starts with Dr. John Gottman's relationship ratio. He found through his extensive research that relationships thrive on five positives to one negative. In other words, each negative interaaction should be balanced with five positive actions. If the ratio is inverted, a relationship is significantly more at risk for damage.

With this in mind, I challenge you to implement the 5:1 ratio on yourself. This unique relationship is so important to cultivate and grow. What kind of self-talk do you have? When you are in your brain, is what you say positive or negative? Shine a light on your own self-empathy and give compassion-do something positive for YOU.

Let's try an exercise right now:

Close your eyes and give yourself five positive compliments.

(I know you have at least five of them. Take all the time you need!)

Have you done five yet?

Once you have, repeat them to yourself.

Great job! Sometimes that is hard work!

Compassion absolutely can be directed at others as well. Studies show this practice helps the sender feel better as well as improves their mood. Dr. Sood in his book, The Mayo Clinic Handbook to Happiness, suggests a lovely compassion exercise. To the first few inividuals you encounter in the morning, think of a blessing and good will towards them. After the exercise, examine how you feel. Another option, if you are in a bad mood, he suggests travel to a public area. Once you arrive, provide a mental salutation and blessing to 20 individuals there.

Theodore Roosevelt's childhood is an important story of compassion from history. Roosevelt's father passionatley perservered with care of his son and also compassionately gave to society with the creation of numerous philanthropic organizations.

When "Teddy" was a baby, he was born with severe reactive airway disease. The traditional methods of blood-letting and inactivated charcoal were not as effective as walking with his father through the cold New York City air. In fact, Teddy needed countless trips to help his breathing and required much time and energy from his caregivers. Much of his young life was confined to books because his father insisted he exercise his mind when ill and his body when the timing was right.

Incredibly, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt not only went on to become the 26th preseident of the United States, he became an avid outdoorsmen known for his physical strength. He did not allow his "frail body" due to frequent asthma attacks to stop him. In fact, later in life he was so physically strong that before a speech was shot and still continued to give the entire speech before accepting medical care!

All of this because his caregivers were determined and compassionate. They could have said this is too difficult, but instead they perservered. What I also find so amazing is that Roosevelt perservered and did not give up on himself. Have you been to a National Park? Or held a "Teddy Bear?" If so, you can thank him and his caregivers. Some of the greatest gifts we can give to the world are to our children, patients, and the legacy we choose to pass on. And it all starts with filling our cups.

I believe many times us moms are experts in self-blame, negative self-talk, and shame. Remember that 5:1 ratio and start giving yourself nourishment so you can then nourish others. Dr. Barish discusses the powerful feelings of shame and pride in children and adults in his book, Pride and Joy. He points out that when we feel shame, we physically shrink. When we feel pride, we stretch our arms out and expand. It makes me think of the Bald Eagle. The beautfiul bird gracefully soars through the sky with pride. Let's look to this bird, expand ourselves, and fill that cup!

In my latest podcast pisode with Erica Dorn, MSN, FNP-C, we discuss burnout among moms and healthcare providers as well as filling our cups. Check it out here:

Thanks for taking the time to read! If you have been enjoying my podcasts and blog posts, I would love if you subscribe to my newsletter to join our mission. To support, encourage, and empower each other as imperfect moms to love as a verb.

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