by Nora Isaacs, author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age
I used to relax. I remember those days fondly. They went something like this: On a Saturday, I woke up with the whole day stretched out ahead of me like a new canvas. My morning thoughts, simplistic as they were, revolved around how to fill it. Usually I spent some time playing with my cat before heading out for an hour-and-a-half yoga class. After class, I’d leisurely roll up my mat and chat with the teacher. Then I would amble home through the neighborhood, stopping at stores selling household necessities like lemon verbena scented candles and coffee table books on Tibetan carvings.
As working moms, we know these days are over. Now I jump out of bed at my son’s first cry. My cat is ignored. I rarely make it to a yoga class. On the chance that I do, I spend it feeling rushed, preoccupied, and ashamed that I am the only one without pastel-colored toenails. On the way home, I pick up diapers and broccoli and hope that my husband is still speaking to me after what he considers an early-morning abandonment for no good reason at all.
It seems that every moment is present and accounted for. But although I can’t carve out whole mornings anymore, I’ve realized that I can put the some skills of efficiency I use at work when to use when it comes to relaxation. As a result, I’ve become quite enterprising and create pockets of relaxation amid my busy days. You might think these pockets don’t exist. But do you really need to be checking your email for the 28th time in a half hour? Use that time to unwind.
As my time as a mother, I’ve found to relax in the most ridiculously small amounts of time. The fact is, it’s never too little time to do something to get you back into balance. Although it’s not the same as a day at the spa, here are a few ways to squeeze some serenity into a hectic day:
One minute: Do a relaxing breath: Inhale through your nose for four counts. Hold the breath for four. Exhale through your nose for four. Repeat until one minute is up. You’ll rejuvenate your nervous system and feel calmer and more focused.
Three minutes: Sometimes you just need a visual reminder of your priorities to jolt you back into remembering what is important. When you get blinded by anxiety, fear, or overwhelm, take three minutes to commune with some strategically-placed reminders of what matters: I keep my favorite ee cummings poem near my desk; Others keep a picture of a loved one, a picture of their children, or an inspiring quote nearby. Just writing it makes me feel calmer.
Five minutes: Anxiety and stress get stored in the body. When an upsetting/alarming/anxiety provoking situation comes up, scan your body for where you are holding the resulting tension; for many it’s the neck, shoulders, jaw, and hands. Then tighten and release that body part, softening your muscles and “squeezing” out tension. If you are feeling daring, do this with a “lion’s breath” by sticking out your tongue on an exhale and saying “AHHHH.” Make sure no coworkers are nearby.
Seven minutes: Most of us mommies continuously do a few things at once. Ironically, we often do these things poorly because we are rushing and not focused. So for these minutes, stop the madness. Choose one thing to do and stick to it for. Fight your compulsion to “get more done” and see how much more focused and present you feel to the task at hand.
Ten Minutes: I know it’s sounds cliché, but it works, ladies. Sneak away for ten minutes for some fresh air. Walk around the block, do some jumping jacks, take some deep breaths and remember that life goes beyond your cubicle, apartment, or office.
One Hour: Keep dreaming, momma.
Nora Isaacs is a freelance magazine writer with a specialty in health, wellness, yoga and the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age . Nora’s work has appeared in Alternative Medicine, Body & Soul, Fit Yoga, Fitness, Natural Health, The New York Times, Wired, Women’s Health, Salon.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Yoga Journal, Yoga Life, and many other national magazines