Motherhood carries with it a unique set of challenges that aren’t just physically exhausting; they’re emotionally draining, too. Amid the hustle of shuttling little ones to and from dance lessons and soccer practices, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to lose your sense of identity and sanity. At these vulnerable moments, self-doubt, frustration and negative thoughts can creep in, hijack your emotions and sabotage your well-being.
Luckily, there is light at the end of the guilt- and anxiety-riddled tunnel. Spending just a few minutes a day engaging in a mindfulness practice will allow you to care for yourself, tune in to your own needs and better provide for your children and loved ones.
Mindfulness exercises to replenish emotional reserves
Candice Gerdes, certified holistic health coach and founder of Austin-based Mamaste Health, helps mothers follow their hearts and listen to their intuition to make changes that result in healthier lifestyles. She says these four mindfulness methods, which take little time, have a big impact on mothers’ ability to be present with their loved ones and to foster compassion for themselves:
1. Limit cellphone and social media use. For many mothers, checking social media accounts opens the door to comparing themselves to others. “Be mindful about what you’re taking from the digital experience. Is it helpful in your relationship and serving you in a positive way, or is it bringing more stress into your life?” Gerdes asks. If it’s the latter, she recommends setting and adhering to rules limiting how often you check your cellphone and monitor social media.
2. Cultivate a gratitude practice. Consider keeping a journal to jot down what you’re grateful for on a regular basis. Gerdes says this simple act serves to remind mothers of how much they have to be grateful for and realize that the hard moments in life are fleeting. “A gratitude practice helps you be mindful of your day, your values and the positive aspects of your life,” she says.
3. Engage in simple everyday rituals. An uncomplicated daily routine, such as making afternoon tea or reading a book chapter can have a soothing effect on your psyche. “Humans love repetition. We find security in the familiar. Having a daily ritual gives us something to look forward to. We know just what it will look like, and it comforts us,” Gerdes says.
4. Make time to breathe deeply. Deep breathing exercises are great because they can calm you when you feel stress or anxiety taking over or they can invigorate you when you’re feeling sluggish or sleepy. And they take only 1 minute of your time. Gerdes says alternate nostril breathing is her go-to morning mindfulness exercise. To do it, place your index and middle fingers on your forehead. Place your ring finger and thumb on each nostril. Plug one nostril while breathing in and then release pressure to plug the other nostril while breathing out. Gerdes says your breaths should be slow and full, adding that the energizing practice “makes me feel like I’ve had half a cup of coffee.”
Gerdes knows how hard it is for busy mothers to make time to invest in their happiness and mental welfare. But she says committing to a mindfulness practice is worth it.
“I definitely struggle with doubt on a daily basis. Drifting away from social media has made a big difference, allowing me to be present with my family. Taking time for myself to breathe and observe my own body has helped me tap into my intuition. Practicing gratitude helps me to appreciate where I am in my life and how far I’ve come. I have learned to love myself unconditionally,” she says.
Reset and restore
Emily Clabaugh, a stay-at-home mother of two who lives in Round Rock, Texas, started attending Gerdes’ wellness workshops for mothers to have some time for herself in a supportive setting.
“For three months I had two kids under the age of 2, and I felt like I was losing it. I wasn’t sleeping much, and I struggled to balance the physical and emotional differences between the two of them. My son is very active, and my daughter is very emotional. I felt like I had to change who I was every second,” she says.
Gerdes say it’s common for mothers to expend so much of their time and energy taking care of their families that they neglect themselves.
“When we give every piece of ourselves to our children and partners, we hit the bottom of our energy reserves, feeling depleted, anxious and stressed,” she says. “Mothers need a positive self-practice. We need to talk lovingly to ourselves and show compassion for ourselves.”
Engaging in rituals and gratitude practices and limiting time spent on social media have helped Clabaugh alleviate anxiety, tune out distractions, make time for herself without feeling guilty and find greater balance in life. Her morning rituals entail opening the windows in the house to let the sunlight in and playing light jazz music for a peaceful wake-up transition.
“Having the music on helps us wake up calmly and slowly. Sometimes my husband and I will even get up a little early for a yoga session,” she says.
When tense situations arise at home, Clabaugh practices smudging, performed by burning a sage bundle to rid a space of negative energy and to restore it with positive energy.
“If my kids get in a fight or I’m really stressed, we smudge the house to hit reset and start over on a more positive note. My son loves it, and it makes the house smell good,” she says.
At the end of the day, the family eats cellphone-free meals at the dinner table and expresses gratitude for their food and time spent together.
“We’re all just doing the best we can with the tools we have. These mindfulness practices are an important reminder of that,” Gerdes says.
Related reading: How to meditate (a beginner’s guide to rebooting your brain).