Being a mother is stressful at the best of times. The constant demands of little people, which includes basic care, educational stimulation, and continual snack detail, the lack of sleep for a mother, and little to no breaks allowing for adequate self-care, and you can find you are in the middle of the perfect stress storm. And the worst part is that you are too busy to even notice. All this amidst a worldwide pandemic and trying to navigate our new normal.
I am currently enrolled in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The perfect trifecta of factors created a storm in my life a few months ago, but I didn’t know how to rectify things. I knew I had to make some changes – if not for myself, then for my children. In this course, mindfulness is the main concept discussed and used as a strategy to target stressors, anxiety and worry.
What is mindfulness and how can it help?
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention on purpose, with kindness. This is a self-awareness of what we are doing, feeling and experiencing while tuning out the world around us. Focusing on one thing at time seems impossible to me as a mom. I’m 5 steps ahead of everyone. I have a mental calendar jam packed full of things on the go. I’m worried about future events that no one in my family has even conceptualized.
In order to be mindful, we have to learn skills and retrain our brains. These are some techniques that can help you get grounded when you’re overwhelmed and focus on the here and now, instead of worrying about the future or the mistakes of the past. I am not a psychologist or a trained professional in the field of mental health, but I am a professionally stressed-out mother who is learning these things while I’m learning how to be a mom. If some of these strategies can work for me, then perhaps they will work for you:
Take a breather
Seriously. We all know that when our child is upset and can’t formulate a sentence because of the hysteria, we tell them to take a deep breath. Turns out, there is some medically-based wisdom to this statement. Breathing in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth, at it’s most basic level, tricks our brain out of panic and into focused thinking. You can TAKE 5 and trace your finger tips and valleys to help with breathing in and out, five times. You can also draw a square on your leg or in your mind breathing in on the lines, and out on the corners, holding for a few seconds in between. Slowed breathing helps clear the mind, but we need to practice it.
Use language to identify your emotions
When you are wigging out internally, but don’t want to lash out unintentionally, explain that! “Mommy is having a hard time now and needs some space. I need to calm down” would be a perfectly acceptable thing to say to a child as young as 2 years old. Language also helps you to truly hash out how you are feeling. You may not know exactly, until you verbalize it.
While enjoying your afternoon tea break, grab a cookie and practice utilizing your five senses to focus on your snack. Describe what it looks like… how does the package sound when you open it up? How does it feel in your hand or when you dunk it in some milk? How good does it smell? And finally, what sensations do you feel when you eat it? By focusing on the five senses and on your snack, you are engaging in mindful behaviour. Mindful behaviour helps us to stay present and not dwell on future or past worries.
Meditation can be described as a mental exercise that involves focus and brings awareness and relaxation. Regardless of your views on Eastern mysticism, the practice of meditation can be non-religious and viewed strictly as a tool to practice focusing. There are countless resources you can access to help guide a meditation for you through YouTube or via apps such as Headspace, Calm or Balance (👉 Balance is giving everyone their premium service for all of 2021 with this link!).
Focusing on breathing, doing a full body scan, thinking about your happy place… all are examples of meditation and choosing to focus on one task at a time. When your mind wanders or drifts, you simply tune back into the guide on the meditation track and try again. It’s all about practicing and retraining your brain to focus on one thing at a time.
We are our own worst critics. As mothers, we often beat ourselves up, which is hard when we don’t always have a cheerleader to counter these negative thoughts. Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself something positive that you achieved with your children today. You baked muffins, you did a special art project, or you just survived the day with no major meltdowns and managed to make dinner with a migraine. All things to applaud. So do it! Give yourself a pat on the back. Being aware of positive things is being mindful. Saying them out loud and thinking them intentionally can help shift things back into a positive perspective.
Check in with yourself
Visualize a thermometer, a tachometer on a car, or a 1-5 scale with happy face at one end and a frown on the other. Give yourself a rating. How are you feeling right now? There is no right or wrong answer. You are just bringing awareness to where you’re at, in this moment. This is mindfulness. Such a simple concept. But it’s one that you can even do with your children.
Many schools employ the “Zones of Regulation” to help kids identify and label emotions and behaviour, starting as young as kindergarten. This 4-coloured grid assigns a colour to behaviour and emotions. For example, red is for the need to stop. A child may be out of control, showing anger, yelling, or hitting. They need to transition to the green zone to be ready, alert and good to go. In between, they may be in the blue zone, feeling tired or ill, or perhaps in the yellow zone and the silliness or worries are playing a factor in their behaviour. Practice the Zones of Regulation with your kids at home and use that as a tool for yourself as well!
By practicing these skills, like we would do exercises for the body, we’re able to train the brain to focus on the current surroundings, and not be overwhelmed by the mother load of motherhood. Stress has serious long-term health effects on the body. Outside of our mental health being negatively impacted, our physical health can be altered, manifesting in headaches, fatigue, stomach and digestive issues, and sore and tense muscles. We need to be healthy not only for ourselves, but for our families.
For more tips and tricks, or to enroll in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, here are some websites you can check out:
Hillary Handy is a mother to two little ones and a fur baby pup named Shandy Handy. Hailing from Barrie, Ontario, Hillary identifies as a Jill of all trades, a master of none. She often dresses to match her daughter more than she cares to admit. When she is not whooping it up with her kids, she works within the Deaf community. She is also fluent in ASL. You can connect with her at hillaryhandy.ca.