Mindfulness can help mums tune in, get off auto pilot, and be gentler with themselves.
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword in the counselling and psychology fields at the moment. It seems to be recommended as the answer to every mental health ailment – but what is it really, and how can it help mums?
Mindfulness is probably the most scientifically investigated form of meditation to date, and to put it simply – it involves ‘training our attention’. Through this, we learn to focus on those things that are most useful and most helpful in our lives, allowing us to live more consciously and fully.
Given that a lot of mothering is done in automatic pilot mode, where we are literally multi-tasking the day away, living more mindfully can help us get on top of negative or worried thinking patterns – those pesky ‘what if…?’ scenarios.
As a mother of two, I became interested in mindfulness when I noticed I was lying awake at night with a racing mind trying to remember what the kids needed in their bags for the next day and the day after that. I was also concerned that a few times I had been driving here and there barely noticing the scenery or missing my turns – a sign of a busy, fire-fighting mind, not to mention a dangerous state to drive in.
Mindfulness describes this as a ‘reactive state’, where the fight-or-flight centre of the brain is activated, there is a stress reaction in the body and thinking is so future-focused that the present moment does not even feature. To me, living more mindfully means I try to react a bit more slowly; I breathe, I come back to the present and try to be gentle with myself. It feels a bit like being on the outside looking in, observing myself. So instead of reacting from an emotional place, I try to stay curious, and ask myself why I am reacting the way I am.
It isn’t an automatic way of living that suddenly just happens. Mindfulness takes a while but it can become more and more your default reaction. It appeals to me because it means I am gentler with myself and with others.
And to dip into biology for a second, the practice of mindfulness strengthens the part of the brain that drives high emotion, so that it reacts less automatically or impulsively. It also strengthens the pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain that is able to weigh in and calm big emotions and consider consequences.
Mindfulness for mums: some tips
Breathe, but in your belly – not your throat. If you’ve ever done yoga, you will recognise this. When we are feeling stressed, we tend to breathe higher up in our bodies, which also leads to that familiar neck and shoulder pain. A good pattern is to try inhaling over a count of four, holding for about three seconds and exhaling for five counts again.
Be aware of when you are ruminating – thinking about the past or projecting into the future. Try to draw your thoughts back to the present with a mindful activity, even a mundane task such as washing dishes. Feel the water, notice it.
Are you around those family members and situations that trigger you, or it’s just not a good day with the kids? Let it go. This is easier said than done… but try to be curious, gentle, and more accepting both of yourself and others. Be careful of feeling reactive and acting or saying things in the heat of the moment. Take 20 minutes at least to calm yourself if you need to.
If you do become reactive, change the scenery. Look outwards, which allows you to get ‘out of your head’ and tone down those negative, internal dialogues. Observe the colour of the sky, notice the sounds around you, and really tune in. This has a natural calming effect on our bodies.
A simple and quick mindfulness meditation:
Sit comfortably, preferably with your back firmly against a chair.
Place your feet on the floor and connect or root yourself with the floor.
Close your eyes, make sure your jaw is soft, and drop your chin a little.
Feel your breath and notice your belly rising and falling.
When you feel your thoughts wandering, simply notice this and return to the breath.
When you’re ready, lift your chin and open your eyes.
Bring your awareness slowly back to your surroundings.
Notice how you feel.
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