At one point, my husband and I had three children under age four. The idea of practicing self-care was a farfetched dream. We were in survival mode at all times, buried in diaper changes, night feedings, pediatrician appointments, and baths.
Now that my kids — all four of them — are a bit older, we’ve realized how accurate the oxygen mask analogy is. If we don’t care for ourselves first, it’s nearly impossible to be the best caregivers to our kids. However, like all busy parents, we don’t have significant gaps of time to practice self-care. Just because our kids are older now, it certainly doesn’t mean we are less busy. We’re just different busy.
I have found that instead of having an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to calming myself, I need to take advantage of small pockets of time, or occasional opportunities, to practice self-care. The goal is to do something that realistically fits into my schedule and meets my needs. I envision that it will be at least another good 12 years before I can take long morning walks, meditate (uninterrupted) for 20 minutes, or take up a soothing, crafty hobby.
I realized that I had to focus on brief and efficient techniques that will instantly calm me as a busy mom of four kids. Dr. Rachel Goldman, a licensed psychologist, speaker and wellness expert, and clinical assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, weighs in on the perks of quick calming techniques for busy parents.
You’ve heard of something or someone being a “breath of fresh air” for good reason. Dr. Goldman shares that stepping outside has loads of benefits; for starters, “changing our environment is helpful to get a new perspective.” Being trapped indoors (especially in winter, rain, or extreme summer heat) can feel suffocating to parents. Simply opening the front door and stepping into sunlight and nature, according to Dr. Goldman, “does wonders for our mental health.”
There’s also the sensory aspect. Sunlight can warm our skin, glimpsing at greenery is refreshing (green is a soothing and energizing color), and the temperature chance can shock the system — in a good way. The next time your kids are bickering and you’ve reached your limit, take 60 seconds to be outdoors.
I know, I know … you probably just LOL’ed at this. Most of us feel that we don’t have time to meditate, and even if we do, our minds wander to grocery lists, medical appointments, and our kids’ next school project. When my therapist suggested I start a meditation practice — daily — I almost rolled my eyes. I have four children. My house is almost never quiet. However, there’s a misconception of how and where you have to meditate, as well as the length of time required, in order for meditation to be effective. What I learned, through some research and practicing meditation, is that some mindfulness practice is better than none.
I use a meditation tap and have favorited tons of 60-second (yes, you read that correctly) meditations. One minute is just enough time for me to reset when I’m waiting in the school pickup line. Meditation is free and has incredible benefits. Dr. Goldman shares that even just one minute of mindfulness (be it meditation or something else) is “a great way to take a break and recharge and ground ourselves.” And get this: we can even multi-task. We can meditate while washing our hands, cooking dinner, or showering. The goal is to be “present and calm.” She adds that these “mini practices” can really add up in terms of benefits.
Drink a Glass of Water
I bet you’re really laughing now. How can drinking a glass of water help a busy mom take a proverbial chill pill? Well, if you’re like me, you drink too much coffee and not enough water. Whether your favorite brew is iced, crafted, or piping hot, you may be suffering from dehydration. Dr. Goldman shares that “dehydration can impact our mood.”
When you find yourself overwhelmed, ask yourself when you last had some water. Fill a glass, and as Dr. Goldman advises, choose “to be present while drinking.” Consider “all of your senses” and mindfully be “present and aware.” I want to add that a temperature change can also help provide calm. When you’re running around doing errands, chores, working, and childcare, it’s easy to become hot. Water provides a cooling sensation. In the winter months, non-caffeinated, herbal tea can provide warmth (and therefore, calm and comfort), as well as hydration.
I have extensive medical trauma from my two breast cancer battles. Attending any medical appointment causes me a lot of distress. My blood pressure skyrockets, I become overly talkative, and I find myself with a surge of energy from going into fight-or-flight mode. My therapist suggested that I consider bilateral movement, which activates both sides of the brain and provides a calming effect. Examples of bilateral movement include biking (which I cannot do at a medical appointment) and walking in place (which I can).
Dr. Goldman shares that movement is one of key health behaviors that she recommends, adding that the best way to reap the benefits is to get movement in “on a daily basis.” She wants us to know that “any sort of movement can help one de-stress, calm down, recharge themselves.” How does it work? She says, “It’s easy to get ‘stuck’ in our own mind, but if we are physically moving it helps us get out of our heads a bit,” and additionally, movement helps recalibrate that mind-body connection.
Text a Friend
When I’m particularly overwhelmed by a parenting task or struggle, I’ve found that taking 60 seconds to “rage-text” a trusted friend can help. Holding in my frustration and confusion only fuels the fire in my mind. Sometimes I’m seeking support or advice, and other times, I’m doing some serious brain-dumping. I look at it as the equivalent of taking a deep breath.
Dr. Goldman reminds us that social support is so important, and that there are times when we need to get it out, whatever our parenting “it” is. She warns that we should be mindful of whom we choose to be our trusted friends in these cases. If you’re going to utilize this technique, it’s best to take a moment and think who that go-to friend should be — in advance of the parental crisis moment. Keep in mind, Dr. Goldman says, that some friends “are best just to have fun with,” and then there are those who “are good for when you need the extra support.” In essence, choose wisely to create the calming benefit.
In the moment, when you’re cleaning up your third major mess of the day or your child is home sick (and very needy) at the same time your boss is pushing you to finish a major work project, it can be hard to remember how to calm yourself. You are more likely to just charge ahead, even if you’re miserable. I recommend writing down these five techniques on a notecard and hanging it over your desk or on your fridge — or any other space where you’re likely to see it multiple times a day. This notecard will serve as your reminder that self-care matters, even if you’re short on time, and practicing one of these five techniques can change your day from difficult to manageable.