As working mothers, we juggle countless roles: mom, partner, manager (perhaps inside and outside the home), friend, volunteer, playmate, chef, etc. Our lives are full, full, full as we tend to everyone else’s needs around us. If we aren't tending to ourselves, however, this precarious balancing act often leads to exhaustion, illness and burnout, as we move through our lives on automatic pilot.
I know all about this first hand. As a devoted mindfulness meditator and teacher, psychotherapist, and mom, I was caught unaware when the birth of my second child, a decade after the first, left me feeling slightly unhinged. Clearly time to craft a new normal, I set out to answer the enduring question posed by busy moms everywhere: How do I balance it all without losing my mind(fulness)? And so I developed mindful breaks—lifelines, life enhancers, reminders and guides designed to fit seamlessly into the midst of a busy day. Used to infuse life with more calm and energy, mindful breaks offer a multitude of ways to step off the treadmill of busyness and bring yourself back to the present moment. Here are some of my favorites:
Had you searched for me last night after dinner, you would have found me sitting in the dark shadows of my closet. I wasn’t exactly hiding from my family, but rather taking what I have dubbed a SNAP break. Thirty minutes prior, I had come home from a long work meeting nursing a headache and feeling overwhelmed with deadlines to face the chaos of my kids joyfully shrieking and running laps inside the house. Cringing at the volume, I felt thoughts begin to swirl in my head and impatience rise inside like a storm. If I didn’t do something to change course, I was sure to snap, transforming from Mindful Mommy to Mommy Dearest right before their eyes.
So into the closet I went, among the clothes and wire hangers—nothing magical about this place save its solitude and quiet.
How to do it: Stop, Notice, Accept, and Pay attention to your breath. Hit the pause button. If possible, step away for a moment. Notice your body sensations. Are your shoulders raised? Is your brow furrowed? Your jaw tight? Your breath shallow? Accept that this is how it is in this moment. Offer yourself some compassion. Pay attention to the breath for a moment, simply noticing as it comes and goes, without trying to change it. When your mind wanders to the stresses at hand, gently redirect your attention back to the breath. Repeat as needed.
Whether you are a java aficionado like me or a tea lover, you can practice the Coffee Mindful Break with your caffeinated or decaffeinated beverage of choice.
How to do it: Sit tall in a comfortable position, either in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Holding your cup in both hands, feel the warmth radiating into your hands, feel the smooth or coarse texture of the mug. Slowly lift the mug to your nose and inhale the scent as if for the first time. Without judgment, notice what thoughts arise. Notice how the muscles in your arms know just what to do as they lift the cup to your mouth.
Despite the urge to ingest the caffeine as soon as humanly possible (sounds a little desperate, but I’ve been there), see if you can pause for a moment and observe what happens. Is your mouth watering in sweet anticipation? Are your thoughts screaming for you to please take a giant swig already? Just notice. Then, with deliberate action, place the cup to your lips. Now, take that first glorious sip and hold the flavorful liquid in your mouth, tasting as fully as you can. As you swallow, experience the warmth moving its way down your throat and into your stomach.
Pause. Take a breath before your next sip. As you do, notice what occurs in the body. Has your heart rate increased? Does your mind feel more alert? Are the sensations pleasant or unpleasant? Tuning into our body sensations offers us subtle information we might otherwise miss. Perhaps you relish the mental sharpness that occurs. Perhaps you realize the caffeine causes slight feelings of anxiety and you decide to live without. These sensations and reactions may also shift over time. Keep watching. Stay curious. Enjoy.
I learned this practice when my daughter was a preschooler and taught it to her with the intention of using it as a sweet way to calm her emotional outbursts. As is often the case with parenting, I mistakenly thought I was the wise one offering something for her benefit until she astutely reversed the plan, reminding me just how much I learn from her.
How to do it: While hugging your child, take three deliberate, synchronized, deep breaths together. Drop your shoulders and relax any muscles that feel tight. Let go and feel the tension melt away. Teach the hug to your kids and your partner. Little ones love it and teenagers secretly do, too. Use it as you say good-bye in the morning, when you recognize that your child could use a calming hug, or just for the love of it. You never know when they will surprise you and offer a much needed three-breath hug to dear old Mom.
It has made such a remarkable difference placing my daughter back in her rightful position at the top of my list, flying well within the parameters of my mommy radar.
How to do it: Each moment is an opportunity for us to refocus our lens of attention. My wish for us all is this: Stop what you are doing. Look into your child’s eyes. Take a breath. Drink it in. This can become increasingly challenging as our kids grow and aren’t literally in our direct line of vision constantly. Make a silent, loving promise to yourself to savor what really matters. See how one small mindful break can potentially transform an ordinary moment into one that feels remarkable.
After my little guy was born, I grew to understand why the military uses sleep deprivation as an effective form of torture. Sleep became an obsession, an addiction, something I craved desperately, clung to, wished for, imagining a day when it would be completely under my control.
When I find myself pulled into this pessimistic place, the most beneficial thing I have learned to do is to begin a thought with I get to instead of I have to. Rather than I have to get up at 2 a.m., I get to cuddle the little guy for a few minutes, savoring the lingering scent of baby shampoo on his head of soft, curly hair. It doesn’t help every time, but it works more often than not.
How to do it: When you find that your perception has veered toward the negative, experiment with beginning a thought with I get to rather than I have to. It’s vital that this not be forced but is rather a gentle encouragement in the shift of your approach. It is, paradoxically, most challenging to remember and to put into practice when we most need it.
Notice when the mental scorecard shows up. As best you can, let go of comparing and bring yourself back to the present moment, grounding yourself in the inhale and exhale of the breath. I get to. This choice of wording is often enough to remind us of the fleeting privilege of motherhood, allowing us to more easily accept and appreciate all that accompanies it.
Written by Shonda Moralis for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.