I found that one of the most challenging parts of having small children was having zero downtime for my brain. This is not just limited to those of us with children! It can be the case with a demanding job, long hours, or a houseful of roommates. However, it can often be magnified when you have babies and small children, because it seeps into your nighttime as well. There is. no. downtime. Thankfully, our brains are made to take in a LOT of input… but after a while, you start to get overwhelmed. Sensory overload. Touched out. Stressed out! We need to give our brains some time to clear out – to let one quiet breeze blow through before we start all over again. We need refreshing breaks!
I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts on taking time for yourself. Make time to go out with friends. Set regular date nights with your spouse. Or when your husband gets home, head to the nearest coffee shop and lose yourself in a good book. These are all fantastic ideas! But what about those days when you can’t get out? When there isn’t anyone else around to help, and you don’t even have time to shower – much less linger by the fireplace at Panera sipping your caramel latte! Those are the days when we learn to master the art of sneaking a moment. (No, not the moment when you hide in the pantry to sneak a piece of chocolate without having to share! Although, that is a magical moment…) I’m talking about a moment to let your brain reboot. Here are some keys to making it happen.
An hour to soak in the tub is awesome if you can work it, but you can also squeeze mini-breaks into your day. First thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed. A few minutes of your children’s nap time. While you are in the shower. When you go to the bathroom, stay in there with the door closed for an extra minute or two. Five minutes before getting in bed. Before lying back down after being woken up in the middle of the night. As a bonus on those last two, this exercise will help you fall asleep more quickly and have more restful sleep!
Turn the lights down or off. Sit or lie down, if possible. Close your eyes, and take slow, deep breaths. My favorite is to breathe in through the nose, hold it for a second, then slowly exhale through the mouth. Slow and steady is the key.
Clear your mind.
Some people are able to think of nothing. If that’s you, go for it! For the rest of us, pick one thing to concentrate on. It could be visual: a scene from a favorite vacation, a soothing color, your breath, your “happy place”. Or it could be verbal: focus on one word like peace, calm, or relax, or repeat a short, one-sentence prayer over and over in your mind. This allows the clutter to escape and gives you a fresh start when you leave your fortress of solitude.
Put a drop or two of a calming essential oil on a cotton ball or small piece of paper (even a square of toilet paper will work!). I like lavender in the evening and sweet orange oil when I know I have to get back out there and be “on” again. Hold the cotton ball near your nose when you are taking your deep breaths.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, great! I have to not only find a quiet place and force myself to try to relax within a time limit. Now I have to also remember where I left my essential oil bottle each time?!?” … Or maybe that’s just me. Well, be encouraged! You don’t have to use the essential oils every time; you don’t even have to use them every day to see a difference. In fact, a study done on postpartum moms found that inhaling an essential oil blend in 15 min sessions, only twice a week showed marked results in as little as two weeks. Even little bits can make a difference!
These stolen moments in your day are more than a coveted minute of quiet without someone needing one more thing from you – although they are definitely that! They can also have a profound physiologic effect on your body. This article from Forbes does a great job of summarizing how relaxation “triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to come online and counter our sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response to daily stresses. In effect, the relaxation response is the anti-fight or flight response.” What that means is that all of the body’s natural responses to stress: raised heart rate, quicker breathing, constricting blood vessels, tensing muscles, lowering immune response, slowing digestion – when you take a moment to breathe deeply and controlled, clear your mind and refocus, it reverses all of those stress responses. Your heart rate is lowered, muscles relax, immune and digestive systems get the energy and attention they need. Sneaking a few refreshing moments into your day can have amazing immediate and long-lasting benefits!