Life is hard. Full stop. Some lives are harder than others, yes, undoubtedly, but it’s subjective. The life of Syrian refugee is decidedly more difficult than that of a suburban stay at home mom, but every life has suffering and all suffering, to the person experiencing it, is real and valid and true.
Stay at home moms (SAHM) are frequently at the crux of the argument of who’s suffering is worse. People assume it’s an easy life, full of leisure and play and Pinterest crafts. But regardless of what you see on your SAHM friends’ Instagram feed, it’s far from perfect.
Studies show that SAHMs are more likely to experience mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, than women who work outside the home. And rates of addiction in SAHMs are increasing every year. Clearly, the isolation can be crushing, and the day-to-day routines, while not particularly challenging, can be both physically and emotionally exhausting.
So, what’s a mother to do when most days it’s a struggle to even leave the house? When you don’t see another adult person besides your partner for days at a time? When you spend more time caring for others than yourself? When you can’t afford those yoga classes or a gym membership or even a mom’s night out because you are a single-income family? When you are never, ever alone? What if the only stress relief you get are stolen moments, minutes at a time, when you aren’t caring for other people?
It might be as simple as just noticing, paying attention, being aware.
It’s called mindfulness.
Sounds super easy, right? And it is. But it also isn’t. Mindfulness is defined as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.” Noticing, but not judging. Acknowledging. Accepting. And moving on to the next moment.
To be fully aware and accepting of a moment—the physical, mental and emotional—is to be mindful. To understand that yes, your toddler is having a meltdown on the floor and yes it’s hard but the meltdown will pass; to know that you are angry because your toddler is having a meltdown on the floor and it is out of your control, but your anger will pass. Accept the meltdown. Accept your anger. But don’t hold on to it. Acknowledge it, accept it for what it is and move on to the next moment. It all sounds very woo-woo. Very new age. However, it’s anything but.
Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, which incorporates spirituality and psychology to integrate mind and body. The aim is, among other things, to help the practitioner reach a place of calm acceptance and to provide the ability to process emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Acknowledge, accept, and move on.
Along with mindfulness, a meditation practice can be a boon to stressed out, overwrought, fatigued mothers. Everyone knows how important self-care is, especially when you spend the majority of your time caring for others, but actually doing it with intention can be tricky when you have small children. Study after study has shown the benefit, especially during the postpartum period, of sticking with a mindfulness and meditation practice, ranging from less stress and more focus to aiding with postpartum weight loss. But in Western culture, the word “meditation” has so many negative or confusing connotations, so many misconceptions that most people never give it any serious thought, despite the proven benefits.
You say “meditate” and your mind may conjure images of hippies or fringe religious sects. You may think it goes against your religion or that it’s a sin.
Nope. Nope. Nope.
You do not have to be a hippie or a member of some off the wall sect and it is not counter to Christianity or Judaism. Meditation has been part of religions around the world for millennia; just because we usually consider it a Buddhist concept doesn’t mean it’s off limits to other religions.
1. Anxiety Reduction
By training your mind to focus on the present moment, you are less likely to dwell on negatives, what ifs or worst-case scenarios, thereby decreasing your overall anxiety. The next time you’re losing it trying to organize everyone’s weekend or stressing about getting it all done before dinner, breath and focus on your body and mind in that very moment.
2. Improving Focus
Shutting down all the nagging worries and voices we hear in our heads on a regular basis allows you to devote your attention to one thing without wandering.
3. Decreasing Stress
When you are able to stop the negative voices, name your emotions, acknowledge and dismiss, your stress levels drop dramatically. By realizing that everything is transitory and remaining in the moment, you are less likely to ruminate on or become overwhelmed by negative moments.
4. Aiding Weight Loss
Remaining mindful of the sensations of eating and incorporating a meditation practice to combat stress eating improves weight loss results, studies have shown.
5. Sleep Enhancement
Tired parents know that sleep is a valuable commodity, and regular mindfulness and meditation practice can help you make the most of your limited sleep time, by decreasing distractions and increasing relaxation.
Mindfulness and meditation are an ideal way to combat the unique stressors faced by not only stay at home parents.
Susyn Reeve, mindfulness expert and author of The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week by Week, recommends the following simple three-step program if you’re ready to try mindfulness.
1. Acknowledge what you are feeling right now. Whenever you are feeling depressed, overwhelmed, at your wits end or distressed with on-going demands of being a stay-at-home mom, and you want to transform those energy zapping feelings, you must begin by acknowledging where you are. Think of it like a GPS—you must record your current location in order to arrive at your desired destination.
2. Choose your desired result; once you know your starting point, state your desired result. Some examples are, I choose to be calm, be happy, enjoy this day, acknowledge my accomplishments, or be grateful for this day
3. Take five conscious deep breaths to clear your mind and relax your body—ideally do this when not engaged in another activity, but as all moms know, this is not always possible. If you cannot, at the moment, follow the instructions below, you can do this with your eyes open as you complete another task—what is important is where you focus and direct your attention.
•Make yourself comfortable
•Close your eyes
•Focus your attention on your breath as you take five full conscious deep breaths, inhaling a sense of calming relaxation and exhaling any undue stress or tension
•With your eyes closed, affirm your desired result by saying, I choose [Insert your desired result here].
•Open your eyes and continue with your day
Note, if you are new to meditation or mindfulness practices, be patient with yourself as your learn to use this new skill.
Kristi is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction.