199: Internal Self-Care, with Sarah Sanders, MA, MFT

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spreaker  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

There’s a cultural misconception that self-care is treating yourself to something, like a spa day or a weekend away with friends. While that is a type of self-care, it doesn’t sustain you through the day-to-day like internal self-care does, managing our stress, our mindset, and our thoughts and emotions.  Don’t discount internal self-care as “fluff” — I can personally attest that it’s life-changing, as can my guest for this episode, licensed psychotherapist, Sarah Sanders, MFT.

Sarah outlines the three main areas of internal self-care and teaches us how to go about internal self-care and why it matters so much. Making internal self-care a priority is a key ingredient to being the parent you want to be.


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Body scan: Beginner’s Scan (apps like Insight Timer and Calm also offer lots of body scans and other guided meditations)

Subscribe to Clarity — my weekly newsletter on what’s working in business right now, delivered free, straight to your inbox.

Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.

My Guest

Sarah is a licensed psychotherapist with a thriving private practice in California. She is also the owner of Centered with Sarah, an online coaching company helping moms with Littles find themselves and reconnect to the woman within the mother amidst the needs of their children and the demands of motherhood. She is the wife to an adventure-loving extrovert and mama to 2 curly-haired Littles.



Sarah Sanders 0:03

Maybe you're gonna feel like I would need a month long vacation by myself, on the beaches of Hawaii to recoup, maybe you wouldn't actually need that much. If you were able to implement a few things each day that only take a few seconds or minutes, that would really help.

Penny Williams 0:22

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast, I'm really excited today to be bringing you Sarah Sanders, in a conversation about self care, and what self care is and isn't, and all the parts of self care that you need to know about and be working on that you probably aren't aware of yet. So I'm really excited to bring this information to you, in the hopes that we can help you feel a little better in this challenging parenthood. Sara, it's so lovely to have you here. Can you start by introducing yourself and letting everyone know who you are and what you do?

Sarah Sanders 1:23

Yes, thank you so much for having me, Penny. I'm Sarah Sanders. I am a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in California. I specialize in working with women with anxiety. And my clients tend to be very high achieving women and go to a lot of doctors and see a lot of mental health professionals actually that will say, Hey, you look great, you look fine. I don't know why you're here. And so I've really discovered this connection and this help that I have for these types of clients. And I also see girls as young as you know, seven, eight, but the anxiety and working on their self esteem and just as they develop and navigate school and all of that stuff. So I have had a very rewarding business as a psychotherapist. And then I'm now doing coaching for mothers with young kids who want to reconnect to themselves and meet their needs and improve their self care. So that's kind of me in a nutshell. I'm also a mother to two young kids and a wife to an extrovert. So my life is busy. Stays fun.

Penny Williams 2:38

I love that you focus on anxiety, it's so important. And it's so pervasive, speaking as an adult with anxiety, who has a kid with things and know it well. And it can be really challenging can be really challenging. And I think that we don't focus on it enough, especially in girls, I do find that girls tend to internalize more maybe as why I don't know, there's probably lots of factors there. But it does seem different. In girls, which we talk about often with neurodivergent kids with ADHD and autism, they do tend to show up differently in boys and girls sometimes as well. Yes, it's really fascinating. But we're here to talk about self care, right, and taking care of ourselves as parents, I think let's start by defining self care and what we're really talking about. But I also want to talk about why it's so important, because our culture tells us that we should sacrifice our entire beings, for our children in order to be considered a good parent. And that is such a lie. And it's so false. It's so the opposite of the truth. And so I want to make sure we talked about that a little too. But let's start with just what is self care?

Sarah Sanders 3:58

Yeah. And like you were saying, with what society tells us for sacrificing everything for our kids. I mean, society tells us to sacrifice ourselves for everything, to be a good student to be a good employee, like just everything. So by the time we have this child in our arms, we are so conditioned to sacrifice our needs for, whatever else it is that we're doing. So it comes very easily to us, and especially mothers to give up everything that we need for this child. And so when we think about self care, like you said, it's really important to define it because in general, as a society, we think about it in terms of what I call the external self care. So we think about, oh, I got a mani or pedi today, I, check that box of self care or I'm going on a girls trip, or I'm going shopping or I'm eating out you know, whatever it is that we tend to think of self care is very external. It's good Going somewhere, it's spending money, it's doing something. And what I encourage my clients and the women I work with the mothers I work with is to focus on internal self care.

And that looks vastly different than external. And there's nothing wrong with the external, there's nothing wrong with getting your hair done, or, buying new clothes, or you know, anything like that, but that level, and that, to that extent, is not sustainable. And it's not something that you can do every day, multiple times a day, there's no way that we have the resources and the childcare to have, a massage every day, or go get coffee with a friend every single day. And those are amazing. And I definitely think we need to prioritize that. And you know, whatever's life giving to you in particular is what you know, I encourage the person to do, but the internal self care is what's going inside of us. And that we can actually practice all day, every day, we can check in multiple times a day. And those types of things for internal self care, is like being aware of our thoughts, how am I looking at this situation?

When I wake up in the morning? What are the first few thoughts that go through my head, and my waking up upset about what happened yesterday, or the challenge that my kid was going through? Or that they faced yesterday? And that's still inside my body? It's still inside my mind and carrying that waking up with it? Or am I dreading today? Am I worried about what I have going on with work or, doctor's appointments, like what is going on inside of me, and when you check in with yourself, and you really tune in to what those thoughts are? That's self care, that's taking care of yourself who you actually are. And that is paramount for parents in general, and especially those of us that have neurodivergent children, we have to do that, because we have to know what we're thinking, to be able to manage our stress and get our stress level back down. And what we're thinking influences, how we feel and influences our behavior. So it's really starting at our thoughts. It's so important.

Penny Williams 7:19

I did kind of a journey of self help, self reflection, self discovery. And several years ago, I just found that I was so negative, and everything was so hard. And I was so focused on that, and I really wanted to change. And I never believed how impactful our thoughts can be. I thought that was just happened to be silliness. Until I learned more about it. And I was in a place where I was willing to risk and try it. And then I was kicking myself because I spent 40 years not believing in the power of my own thoughts and how super, super powerful they are. We can't will things away, which I think some people tend to think that's what we're trying to say, I can't think about my child not being neurodivergent. And then it happens. But the story that I tell myself about things I can control. And then as you were just saying, Those influence my feelings and my behavior.

Sarah Sanders 8:27

Right, it's not about the thought in and of itself. It's what the thought is in the larger context. And in your thinking, like you said, really negative about your life of, like a big one is this isn't fair, or why me when you're thinking that thought, It's not magic to just be like, I'm gonna stop thinking that what happens when you look at that thought, and you're aware of that, like I said, maybe when you wake up in the morning, you're like, Why me? This is so hard, like, I just can't do this. And if you're in tune with what your thoughts are, and you realize you just thought that then you can say, Okay, I'm feeling sorry for myself and feeling really bad about this, what can I do to you know, reach out to a friend, or maybe tell somebody that I need a break and they can come over or, take my kid for a little bit or something or maybe do school pickup instead of me or you know, so boundaries is a huge part of your internal self care, because that will maintain what you're doing and what you're you're trying to accomplish.

So when you're thinking those thoughts, the other things are changing. So you might not be as tense in your shoulders, you might not feel the need for that massage quite as much if you're not thinking those things. Or if you look at it, I tell my clients like pretend like we're flying in a plane over this problem. You know, when you're down on the ground, the problem is right in your face and everything's huge, but if we can move up and look at it from have a bigger context and have an aerial view of it, the trees get really small, the cars get really small, everything gets really small, and it can help you widen your perspective and see, okay, this is really hard that I'm going through this, there's nothing that's going to change, that this is really hard, but how I view it is actually going to make it worse, and make me not see the, the resources or what I can do about it. And so if I can take this more aerial approach and view maybe I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe I can see another way that I can address this or something else I can do for myself, and, have a different outcome with that.

Penny Williams 10:43

I love that analogy. It's so good. And it's something I think even our kids can sort of grab on to, and understand. But there is so much tunnel vision in parenting. And we can so worried about the long term that we often miss out on what's right here and right now. And then everything here, and now it feels so big. Like you're saying, I love that strategy. That's super great. How do we sort of get comfortable with self care with prioritizing ourselves, when we have this cultural belief that we need to sacrifice for our kids?

Sarah Sanders 11:31

Right? Well, a lot of it initially comes down to awareness of it. So even just listening to this podcast and this concept, and really just having a realization that this is important. And then second, is being aware of what our mindset is worth it. Because it's so ingrained in us, there's a lot of these beliefs that come like mama mindsets, where it's like, I should be sacrificing everything for my kids, that's what good moms do. Or it's worth it, for them for such and such reason, and it doesn't matter, I can meet my needs one day, we have these very entrenched beliefs and mindsets. So you have to first be aware of it and to address those mindsets and really let ourselves sit with it and be like, how much do I believe this, that my needs don't matter. Or the this is just part of being a mother as this crazy busy life and schedule and overwhelming, feelings every single day that this is just part of life. And, one day I'll wake up and it will be different, and finding either a trusted friend or a therapist or you know, a safe family member to talk with that person and discuss that with them.

And just bring awareness to it and that way, and then to be gracious and patient with yourself that, this is another metaphor I use with my clients. But when we've done something for our entire life, or most of our entire life, or decades, or even days or months, it's like the water running through the Grand Canyon, when it rains, the water goes the way it's always gone in the Grand Canyon, because it's very set in its way, there's the crevices that have always been there is where the water is going to run, it's not going to go a new path because it goes the path of least resistance. So our brains are that same way. And our neural networks are very strong for the thoughts and the behaviors that we've had over time. So my clients will say, Well, how do I do this? How do I change this distorted thinking, this distorted pattern that I have with my thoughts. And so I'm like, first you got to catch the water before it goes down the Grand Canyon, and you have to pour it a new way. But that new way is like this barren ground, that you're gonna need an excavator, to form this new neural pathway, it's not just going to happen.

So that's where that repetition is key, just like your thoughts have the repetition of going the wrong direction or the negative way. We have to get it to go the new way over and over and over. And so when you have that awareness, you're actually stopping that water droplet and then you get to decide, okay, which way do I want it to go? Or shoot, it already went the wrong way. I didn't want it to go that way. But now I can catch myself and say, Okay, now I'm going to divert the water now I'm going to get it to go a new path. So I really find that that metaphor is helpful for my clients because one, it gives you understanding for yourself that it's not just going to happen overnight and you know, snap your fingers and suddenly I'm this you know, positive person or suddenly I'm not getting overwhelmed with my circumstances, but to it shows you that you need that repetition over and over and for the rest of your life. It might be something that you have to To, catch that water droplet and divert it to the new way, and it will get easier over time. But you might still have to be focused on that and aware of that tendency to have it go the old way.

Penny Williams 15:13

It's definitely a practice, a long term practice, like going to the gym, it's only going to work as long as we keep continuing to practice it. And I can say, through experience that it definitely does get easier. And it becomes more of your natural response over time, and your natural way of thinking. But it takes so much focus on it first, and a real desire to do it differently, to step out of that path that's etched for us and do something differently, that can be so hard. Yeah, it is so hard. What else do we need to think about? When we talk about internal self care? We've talked about our thinking and being aware of our thoughts and how our thoughts influence our emotions and our behavior. What other aspects are there of internal self care?

Sarah Sanders 16:07

So your body is another big one. And what I have clients do is a body scan, where it's literally just tuning into your body, like you tune into your thoughts, you tune into your body and go from top of your head down to your toes of what is my body doing? Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Are my shoulders tense? Do I have a migraine, what's going on for me, because that's another element of self care, is to go get that drink of water that you need, or go eat some protein, because you've just, had a muffin and coffee all day, yeah, so your bodily function and your, your actual physical body as another huge one. And like I said earlier, your thoughts are going to influence if you need that massage or not, because your muscles are tense, but even, maybe just stretching or doing some yoga or pilates, or, just sitting there with your body feeling how it feels in the chair, or, when you wake up in the morning, how you feel lying in bed, if there's any aches or pains, like you're just tuning into yourself, so you know yourself so well.

And the last part that I consider a part of internal self care are the boundaries. And so if you know what's going on for yourself, you can tell others, how to help you meet that need, or what you need from them, or just putting up your own boundaries of this is what I need to take care of myself. And the more boundaries we have, then we're going to be able to keep that self care going, and it's going to be sustainable. And like you said, with being aware of your thoughts, it gets easier over time, it gets easier with your physical health, and how you feel physically and boundaries, really sustains that so that you can get that water moving in, in a new direction.

Penny Williams 18:04

Sometimes I think, one aspect or another as harder for people. Like for me the thoughts, I guess I just prioritized it more, I still struggle with that whole, all I've had today is a coffee and a muffin thing. Some days, it's all I've had today is coffee until dinner, I still get in that trap of not taking care of my body as well as I sort of take care of my mind and my emotions at this point. And it's so easy to fall out of it. And sometimes so difficult to get back in. But when we are really on top of our self care, we feel so much better. Like there's so much success that comes out of making sure that we're being aware and practicing in just how we feel from day to day. But I also want to talk about you know how that affects our parenting. Because we know that when we feel good, we're able to do good. So if I'm in crisis mode, if I'm feeling just distraught and overwhelmed, it's really hard for me to do even a little bit of good, much less to do really well in what I'm doing for my kids and my family.

Sarah Sanders 19:23

Right? When you're not taking care of yourself, that's gonna affect everybody. And we underestimate, what can be done when we do eat more protein or we do take the vitamins that we need to take. It's seemingly such a little thing and especially when you are in crisis, or you're so overwhelmed with, the needs of your family or your kids. It can feel like well, what's an extra glass of water gonna do you know, what's his vitamin C gonna do? It doesn't feel like it would do much but over time, it's gonna make a difference. But even in the same day, I mean, if you're just drinking coffee all day and the night Next day, you're able to drink more water and eat some protein, you're going to physically feel better. And that's going to help your mood. And you know how quickly your thoughts go down the old path. You know, it's more ways that it goes down a new path. And like you said, it impacts everything with your parenting as well. And that's what I'm so passionate about is when mothers do take care of themselves, they're able to parent more effectively and have more patience, and their reserves are going to get bumped. And whatever's inside is going to splash out throughout the day. But if they're already starting from an empty cup in the morning, there's going to be nothing, to give the entire day. And so the resentment and the anger and the frustration and the anxiety, all of those are really going to spike when there's not any reserves. And when it's day after day or year after year, that's going to take a toll. And usually it takes a toll on yourself as the mother.

Penny Williams 20:58

And we tend to lose ourselves. I think when we're just on autopilot like that. We forget, not only forget about like this internal self care aspect, but just we tend to lose a sense of purpose and who we once were, and all of these things, too, that are also really important. You know, you had said early on in our conversation, what's life giving to you. And we need that we need to feel fulfilled, in order to feel good overall, right. So it's not just about taking care of our body and our mind in that very specific way. But really making sure that we're sort of taking care of our soul, I guess, for lack of a better word, and feeling sort of purposeful, and alive outside of that role of parenting.

Sarah Sanders 21:54

Right, like your entire being, yeah, you want to feel good about things and have something that lights you up. And yeah, just this week, I took some time and drove about an hour and 20 minutes away to go visit a friend. And it was so good for my soul to not only see a friend, but kind of get out of town, it's kind of that airplane analogy of not everything's right in my face, when I'm able to travel or, hear other people's stories and get outside of my little world and what's bothering me, and it was so, so helpful. But a lot of things had to take place, there had to be a lot of planning and a lot of forethought and intention to be able to make that happen. You know, I can't just decide every morning, just going to drive two and a half hours roundtrip, and go see a friend. So it's such a good topic to think about how self care leads to thinking about who you are, and what lights you up. And like I said before, when we're so conditioned to give everything that we are in, you know who we are away for the grades or the degree or whatever it is, when you're trying to reconnect to yourself after becoming a mother, it can be that much harder. If it's been years or decades, since you were able to do that at all.

Penny Williams 23:20

And I want to just kind of, as a final thought, talk a little bit about time, and the objection of time, because I've done a lot of self care retreats over the years, and this is a topic that always comes up, I'm overwhelmed, I have all this stuff going on, I have work and kids and whatever. And when in the world of I'm gonna find the time to take care of myself. And the beauty of the internal self care is that it doesn't require a lot of time. You know, I joke a lot when I give presentations about self care about the fact that my original self care was spending an extra like two to three minutes in the bathroom, more just going in there when I didn't really need to use the facility to sit and close the door and say, mom's in the bathroom, just so that I could take a breath. And remember that this is like a blip in time to take that aerial view. And to be able to then have sort of a little replenish of the reserves. And I've, of course learned to make more time and to be able to do some of this just within the day to day, when we're thinking about our thoughts, our thoughts are always there. I can think about, how I'm thinking and how to shift it driving down the road. I can do that in a lot of other aspects. And I think it's just so important to remind our listeners that it doesn't take a lot of time. We're not asking you to carve out 30 minutes or an hour a day to take care of yourself. We're talking about all this internal sort of stuff that you can be doing in the day to day,

Sarah Sanders 25:01

Literally, yeah can take a second to check in with your thoughts or your body or say no to somebody, put up a boundary. And that's something I've been trying to do this year is spend less time with people who are more acquaintances, or not very life giving, and they're not bad people at all, but they're just not my closest friends. And people that really build me up and spending more time with the people that do build me up and that are my closest friends. And, saying no, takes point two seconds to hang out with somebody, or, even in our society, we're so much on our phones now and behind a screen. And so I know a lot of my clients that walk through my door, or I see virtually say they don't have time, but they spend quite a bit of time on their phones, just scrolling through social media, and you're not even aware of how much time that's taking.

So even if you set a timer for five minutes, and you lay down on the ground and do some stretching, you are probably going to be on your phone for 20 minutes, maybe 30, and if you are going on your phone for even a couple minutes at a time, but throughout the day, that can be time that you're spending, getting that drink of water, or going into the bathroom and closing the door and, getting some space, so it can feel like time is a barrier. But if we start with those little baby steps of just a few seconds or a few minutes, that can really change so much. And when we're able to take that aerial view, take that flight, it's going to help us you know, not feel so hopeless about the situation and not feel so down and overwhelmed. So, maybe you're going to feel like I would need a month long vacation by myself, on the beaches of Hawaii to recoup, maybe you wouldn't actually need that much. If you were able to implement a few things each day that only take a few seconds or minutes that would really help Yeah, help your mood and your thoughts and physically how you feel.

Penny Williams 27:02

I love that you brought that up that if we're taking care of ourselves every day, we don't need that big, week to week, two months away from that we don't get to the point where we feel like we need you know, I can't remember the author right now who said, you want to craft a life that you don't feel like you need a vacation from and self care is a huge, huge piece of that. It's really so important. This has been such an inspiring conversation. I have my own marching orders. Talking, I'm like, Okay, this is your new focus. Yeah. And then where are you need to be working now. And I know that our listeners certainly are inspired to do a little better for themselves, too. I want to make sure that everyone listening knows how to connect with Sarah, if you'll go to parentingADHDandautism.com/199. For Episode 199, we have their links to our website, and all of the ways that you can connect and learn more. And I know Sarah, you wanted to mention your online course as well as, right?

Sarah Sanders 28:17

Yes, um, it's a quiz. It's a free quiz. And it's on my website center with sarah.com/quiz. And like we were talking about before finding that starting point of like, I don't know where to start to meet my needs, I don't know where to start to implement any self care. My quiz starts you there. So it's what's blocking your Mama needs. And you'll get the results of where to start and really actionable tips to help. So awesome. Check that quiz out.

Penny Williams 28:46

For sure. And if you can't remember that, don't worry, you can go to the show notes. And we'll have it linked up there as well. I know so many people listen in the car, or while they're cooking, in different ways. So we make sure to list everything out there that we talked about and refer to. So with that we'll close. I'm so grateful and honored that you've been on the podcast, and shared just a little bit of your wisdom and your time with us to help us all feel better and do better. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. And I'll see everyone on the next episode. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

Pinpoint the
Help You Need
right now

Take my free quiz to cut through the overwhelm and get focused on the information and resources that will help you and your child RIGHT NOW.

free video series
Quick Start: 3 High-Impact Actions to Transform Behavior

Transforming negative or unwanted behavior is a long and complex process. HOWEVER, there are a few actions you can take right now that will provide a big impact. These 3 high-impact strategies address foundational aspects of behavior, empowering you to help your child feel better so they can do better.



Makes time visual for those with time blindness.


Blends gaming with off-screen activities to teach coping skills through play.


Manage chores and routines while building self-confidence and independence.


A chair that gives kids a sensory hug.

About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

Share your thoughts.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Start Typing