Last month, most of us were repeatedly reminded to set New Year’s Resolutions—that pesky cue that we could and should be doing differently and better in 2017. I’m here to suggest something radical. Instead of setting a goal about improving an aspect of your already overscheduled and overworked life—don’t. If you want to “add” something new to your life, try this. I resolute to do less and take time for myself.
In my therapy practice, I talk to clients often about what it means to slow down—how that step would affect their home life, their professional life and themselves. Often people report that they want to slow down but can’t see the day-to-day benefit and they have trouble letting go with so much on their to-do list.
I know that being a mother to young children is the antithesis to having time for yourself. I know you barely have time to drink your coffee in peace, let alone shower. When I suggest taking more time for yourself, it probably feels ludicrous and out-of-touch. Honestly, it probably feels like one more thing you aren’t doing right. But without inundating you with facts and research, I will say this. Although our minds are organs, they behave like muscles and when we are constantly filling them with facts, activity and work, they become fatigued. And when muscles become fatigued, they cannot run optimally. As I discuss with my clients, taking time for yourself can actually allow you to get more accomplished and be more present in the long run.
So how do we find time for ourselves realistically? Here are a few ideas below:
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the modern thinkers of Mindfulness) as being conscious, present or aware with purpose. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance cognitive functioning including concentration, emotional regulation and allowing one’s body to relax. Although some people practice Mindfulness for hours a day, just a few minutes can have a powerful physical and mental impact. I highly recommend UCLA’s MAP classes which can be completed online. They also have FREE five-minute Mindfulness exercises that can be done at work or during children’s nap time as a way to center yourself. Or if you have a chance, read a book by Kabat-Zinn on the topic to discover more about the process and benefits.
Use your Commute
When I was in college, I overheard a friend’s father say that his commute was the best part of his day. I did not understand. In my early 20’s I dreaded my 3-block walk and 28-minute subway ride as it kept me from the next task or activity. But as I’ve gotten older, his point always stuck with me. Now, my commute is the one time each day I have very few obligations to others. I cannot always make calls or complete tasks because I am simply not available.
As a mother, if you have a commute, this can be very beneficial. I know that many use this time to plan their day, make a mental to-do lists or call the pediatrician. But one day a week, don’t. Turn up your IPOD or car radio. Zone out. Let your mind go blank. Don’t worry if there is traffic. Give yourself these 45-ish minutes. The lists and problems you need to worry about will be there when you get home, I promise. However, you might be more refreshed to deal with them if you had the opportunity to turn your mind away from everything for a little while.
Take a Deep Breath
Just like Mindfulness above, taking a deep breath has health benefits. Focusing on your breath, allows your body to pause and refocus, stopping any racing thoughts you may have. It also allows your heart rate to slow down. To practice this: stop for a second, close your eyes and take a deep breath that you can feel fill up your lungs. Count to five as you inhale. Then exhale slowly for about five breaths. Repeat.
Sometimes, it’s Better to NOT get Everything Done
Most parents use naptimes or post-bedtime as blocks of time to complete tasks. Some days, however, you might feel your body pushing you to slow down and not complete another load of laundry. Try to recognize the times you feel fatigued. This one of the ways your body communicates to you that a break is necessary. Now there are times you cannot always slow down because of true obligations. However, while at times you have necessary responsibilities, there are other times it just feels like you have tasks that need to be immediately completed. Try to learn to recognize the difference. Then, when you notice that fatigued feeling, allow yourself to step back and turn down the speed on the daily treadmill. Those needed breaks will allow you return to your career or your family more focused, present and refreshed than before.