My Top 10 Mindfulness Hacks for Busy Moms

Happiness, being able to really enjoy our lives and enjoy parenting, is contingent on having good emotional regulation.

If you're a therapist and/or you have a child with sensory processing challenges, you're probably familiar with the term "emotional regulation." If not, you might be wondering: What the heck is emotional regulation and how do I know if I'm good at it?

The term emotional regulation describes one's ability to effecitvely handle difficult emotions and stressful events. When we have good emotional regulation, we're able to roll with the punches and take life's curve balls in stride. When faced with an unexpected, difficult and/or stressful situation or interaction, we're able to stay calm and be responsive.

On the flip side, if we frequently fall apart- lose our temper, feel offended and/or victimized, get easily overwhelmed, feel anxious- when we're confronted with a difficult situation, that's a sign that our emotional regulation skills could use a little tune-up.

If you read the last paragraph and thought, oh great, one more thing I have to worry about, don't worry! Emotional regulation is a skill you can cultivate through the practice of Mindfulness and I'm going to give you ten easy ways to do it.

First, a recap on Mindfulness:

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to what's happening in the here and now in an open, curious, accepting and discerning way. We can practice mindfulness formally through meditation and informally, any time of day, by intentionally bringing our thoughts back to the present when they've wandered into the past or the future.

The more we incorporate mindfulness practices, formally or informally, into our lives, the better regulated we'll be and the more we'll be able to take joy in our day-to-day, even when our kids are driving us crazy!

Here are My Top 10 Mindfulness Hacks for Busy Moms:

1. Take a breather. Bookend your day with 5 minutes of a formal mindfulness practice. Immediately upon waking, put your hands on your belly and focus on taking deep, belly breaths. Whenever you catch your mind wandering, just gently bring your attention back to your breath. That's it! Simple! Do the same thing at night before you go to bed. Remember: You can do anything for 5 minutes! For some extra encouragement and guidance, try the Insight Timer meditation app.

2. Practice self-compassion. Every night before bed, do this quick loving kindness meditation: close your eyes, place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. As you breathe, repeat the following phrases in your mind- may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease. After you say it for yourself, repeat it for someone you love, then for someone with whom you have a neutral relationship and finally for someone with whom you have a difficult relationship. This is a great one to teach your kids. My boys and I do this together every night before bed, it's such a wonderful way to close the day.

3. Schedule self-care. At least once a week (more if possible!), schedule a self-care activity during which you commit to being fully present. Maybe it's taking a ten minute walk, having coffee with a friend or writing in your journal. Whatever it is, make a point to be in the moment and really take it in. When you catch your mind wandering, make note of it, then bring your attention back to that fabulous foot massage you're getting or to the way the breeze feels against your skin while you're walking.

4. Have a mantra. Step 1: Choose a mantra that resonates with you. Step 2: Actually use it! This is especially helpful during challenging parenting moments. I have a few that I use regularly. One of my favorites is, "I am a calm mom." When my boys' behavior is spriraling and my patience is thinning, I start repeating this in my mind, sometimes even out loud. It immediately calms my amygdala and helps me stay in my pre-frontal cortex so I don't turn into "mean mommy," a term my boys love to bust out when I've raised my voice or said something snappy. Good thing I have them to keep me in line (* smiles half-heartedly *).

5. Befriend your inner critic. When you experience mom guilt in the form of self-criticism, get in the habit of pausing, taking a breath, then having a little chat with your inner critic - "Thanks for chiming in, I hear you loud and clear, and I know you're trying to help, but right now I could use some compassion, not judgment." Then, switch the script - "It's hard for me to stay calm when my son is acting out, and that's ok. I'm working on it and I'm going to keep trying. That's all I can do." Another deep breath.

6. Practice gratitude. Every morning, after your 5 minutes of breathing, write down 3 things you're grateful for. Try to be specific- instead of, "I'm grateful for my kids," try "I'm grateful for that moment yesterday when my son gave me a huge hug out of nowhere." To make it easy, I keep a pen and journal on my nightstand so it's right there within reach.

7. Really wash the dishes. Once a day, choose a household chore - dishes, laundry, making beds - to do "mindfully." For example, if it's the dishes, bring your attention to the temperature of the water, how hard you're scrubbing, and how you're placing them in the dishwasher. Every time your mind wanders, notice it, then bring your attention back to the pile of food in the sink, or, on second thought, to how nice the warm water feels on your skin.

8. Visualize your ideal mom self. This is a great one to do on days when you've had some not-so-great mom moments. The best time to do this is before you go to sleep. Close your eyes and visualize the challenging interaction. Take a deep breath and let it out. Next, visualize how you wish you would have responded to your child. Be as detailed as possible. Once you're finished, take a deep breath and say, "I forgive myself and I let this go."

9. Release the black cloud. At any point during the day when you feel your emotions getting stirred up, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine the stress and/or uncomfortable feeling as a black cloud inside your body. See if you can locate where it is- maybe it's a tightness in your chest or shoulders, or a clenched jaw - and vizualize it as a black cloud. Breathe into it and, on the out breath, picture it moving up and out of your body.

10. Super-charge your special time. Kill two birds with one stone by using "special time" (if you're not famililar with special time, click here) as "mindfulness time!" Before special time, set the intention to be completely present with your child. Every time your mind starts to wander, notice it, then gently bring your attention back to your child. See if you can immerse yourself in his world. The more present and engaged you are, the more you'll strengthen both your relationship with your child and your ability to stay emotionally regulated.

You don't have to practice hours of Kundalini yoga, go on a silent retreat or be a Tibetan Monk to practice Mindfulness. Choose one of these ten Mindfulness hacks, start doing it daily and before you know it, when you encounter stress, you'll be like, whatevs, I got this! Ok, maybe you won't be that chill, but I promise you'll notice an improvement.

Think of improving your emotional regulation the same way you think about improving your body: If you want stronger muscles, you exercise; If you want stronger emotional regulation, you practice Mindfulness.

Remember! Good emotional regulation = better able to handle life's stressors = happier = better parent.

What Mindfulness practices do you do regularly? How have they helped your parenting? Leave your comments below, the Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you.

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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.