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Even Mama Bears Hibernate

A woman recently came to the clinic wearing a “Mama Bear” shirt. I’ve seen this design before but never put a lot of thought into it. This individual has a child with disabilities and she has adapted her identity to be his caregiver and protector – his mama bear. She wore this title proudly and I could see why: in a world that’s designed for able bodied, neurotypical people, her child needed an advocate.

Today’s post won’t be about this specific family; it’s just the shirt that got me thinking.

Mama bear mentality

If you live in Calgary or anywhere near the mountains, you’ll know one rule: don’t stand between a mama bear and her cubs. In this part of the world, it’s universally understood that a mama bear will fiercely protect her cubs until they’re able to protect themselves. Many human mothers feel the same way about their own children.

When a woman identifies as a mama bear, she signals that her children mean the world to her and that she will put their wellbeing first, always.

From the outside, this might be seen as staying home with the kids, cooking for them every day, keeping track of their medical needs, communicating with the school, addressing bullying, applying sunscreen, kicking butt in her career, and much more. Each woman decides how to be a mama bear.

Where it starts to fall apart

One of the most difficult aspects of motherhood is feeling like you have to take care of everyone else first. The reality is that we’re all human and we also have needs. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have either a physical, psychological, or social need at any given time.

So, who takes care of the mama bear?

This is often where I step in. A strategy that’s been working so well for a family unit can leave an individual with unmet needs. It can be hard to ask a woman to put herself first or to make time for self-care because she’s likely been trying hard to do so. If her circumstances could allow for that, she would already be doing it! It’s like asking a fish to stop swimming: it seems like it just can’t be done.

The difference between humans and bears

How do bears do it? How do they stay on constant alert without turning into tightly wound balls of nerves?

Bears aren’t “on” all the time.

Bears are active in the warmer months and can get a lot done: take care of the cubs, eat, roam, eat some more, explore, and eat again. Their way of life isn’t sustainable indefinitely though. Even mama bears hibernate. In the winter, they take time to recover and recharge while their food supply is low. This allows them to emerge in the spring and start the cycle again.

Humans don’t cope so well with the hyper/crash cycle. We don’t hibernate for months at a time and we can’t be “on” for months at a time, so we need smaller, more frequent breaks. If we crash, we’ve gone too far and it can take more of a recovery effort to get back on track.

What’s a mama bear to do?

If you’re a mama bear of the human variety, it can be helpful to look to nature. Recognize that hibernation, rest, and recovery are not only important, but necessary. Take on all aspects of the mama bear approach and build in a “winter” for yourself. This is not easy. It requires planning, consistency, and strong communication skills. Your entire family unit and social circle will need to be on board. Once you figure out how frequent your “winters” need to be, you’ll be better equipped to hibernate before a crash hits.

Lastly, remember that flexibility is a part of every plan. A mama bear that’s woken early from her hibernation will inevitably deal with the situation at hand. If she determines that it’s a transient issue and she can go back to sleep, she will. If it’s something that requires her to take action, she will cut her hibernation short and adjust accordingly. No plan is written in stone.


If you want help to create your hibernation plan, reach out to us or make an appointment. We have lots of strategies for downregulating the nervous system, improving breathing patterns, decreasing pain, improving sleep, and more.


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