How I'm Maintaining my Mental Health as a Stay-At-Home Mom "It's motherhood on speed."

By Ashley Alt | Photo by @kristineboel

As a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I’ve discovered that the SAHM life is essentially motherhood on speed. You get to spend every waking hour with your baby – which is equal parts beyond fulfilling and mind blowingly frustrating. You get to witness every milestone, every tender moment, but you endure every wail, tantrum, and scream. You’re the earthly domestic provider and the punching bag. You have all the time in the world, yet you get no time at all.

I decided to stay at home with my first child when my maternity leave was up. At the time, it didn’t make sense financially for me to go back to work plus pay for childcare. So I assumed the role of SAHM while my husband continued to work. And just like any scenario in life, there are pros and cons to every decision, but staying home was what worked for my family at the time.

Clearly, there is massive privilege that comes with being a SAHM, but during the pandemic more than ever, it was a stressful position where my mental health had taken a backseat. Like many parents during that challenging time, I wasn’t exactly proud of how often I handed my son the iPad when I just couldn’t deal anymore, or how quick I was to snap at the smallest things.

When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like who I had become. I realized I had to make some serious self-care changes, and fast.

It was at that point that I decided to prioritize me. Throughout my six-year parenting journey (two kids and several identity crises later), I’ve learned that mental health is the one and only ticket to happiness as it pertains to self, motherhood, work, and beyond. The cliche of putting on your oxygen mask first couldn’t ring truer.

How Being a SAHM Impacted My Mental Health

I now have a creative six-year-old son and a sweet 6-month-old daughter. When I had my son, my self-esteem was destroyed because I was young, terrified, and completely taken off guard by a whole new life I wasn’t prepared for. When I had my daughter, though, my self-esteem skyrocketed. It was like the best version of myself had bloomed from the mental hardships I endured with my son.

What was the switch? The concept of good mental health and self-care wasn’t nearly as prominent back in 2016 as it is today. I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD) for years — feeling sad, isolated, and lonely every day, and not taking any steps to feel better or ask for help.

Now I know not only how to manage those feelings if they resurface (which they do, from time to time), but how to prevent them from happening altogether. 

Things I Do To Keep My Sanity as a SAHM

I have several mental pick-me-up tricks I have learned over the years that keeps my mind strong and positive. While everyone’s mental health toolkit will look different, the following to-dos are my saving graces when it comes to embracing motherhood.

Exercise: It sounds dramatic, but working out has changed my life. Spin classes became my therapy, my cardio, and my saving grace all in one swoop. For me, moving my body to loud music in an intense setting releases stress, gets my mind clear, and makes me feel like my most powerful and capable self.

Podcasts: I am a podcast junkie. From self-improvement to comedy to business, getting expert insight via podcasts keeps me sharp and entertained. I love listening to them while I walk, do laundry, and cook. 

Medication: When I got pregnant the second time around, I was hellbent on not going through the same feelings of anxiety I experienced with my son. I explained this to my doctor from the get-go, so she put me on a low dose of an antidepressant during my second trimester with my daughter. I’m still on it to this day, and I credit it for significantly improving my mood, preventing me from snapping at my husband and kids, and keeping negative thought-loops from arising.

Therapy: I go to therapy on an as-needed basis. I’ve seen a few different therapists throughout the years who have taught me lifelong tools for bettering myself, my relationships, and my life in general.

Getting dressed: It is amazing what a little makeup or a nice sweater can do for your mood. I have learned that I operate at my best when I look my best, so getting dressed every day (wearing something a few notches above pajamas) is crucial to my mental health.

Working: I think there is still a perception that SAHMs are lazy. I’m a freelance writer and am in the process of launching a clothing label, but I do spend the majority of my time at home with my baby. Working toward my career goals every day helps tremendously with feeling like my own person.

Seeing Friends: Last but definitely not least is maintaining a social life. Those quick coffee meetups and lunches with friends make all the difference between a bad week and an awesome week. Maintaining my old friendships, as well as picking up some new friends along the way, is key to SAHM survival. 

Advice to Fellow SAHMs

Have something to look forward to every day, and make sure it’s more than your morning coffee. Get outside every day. Get dressed most days of the week. Move your body every day. Call a friend when you’re feeling down. 

And above all else, understand that staying home with your kids doesn’t last forever — they will go to daycare or school, and you will have your life back. But while you’re here, try to look at the positives of being home with your kids, because there are a ton.