For the past month, I’ve made a change.
I detailed in Part 1 why I needed to find more time for mindfulness and self-care in my routine. Mindfulness, if you weren’t sure, basically comes down to being present. You’re not worried about what you have to do or what’s to come, and you’re not rehashing yesterday or last year’s events.
Why the change? I had a rough summer, dude. It was one step forward, one step sideways, six plane rides backward, and then set everything on fire. Family-wise, things were great, and we had a lot of amazing moments, so that kept me going. Still, I didn’t want to go down a bad road again.
I distinctly remember one night where I was on my own. The kids and my wife were out of town, which, if you’re a new parent, is a rare opportunity to do whatever you want! The world is your oyster! Maybe you could even take a nap or watch an entire show without interruption! And then one particular piece of bad news came in - a professional setback - that seemed like one more final blow after month after month of things just not breaking my way.
Without even realizing it, I found myself wandering around a Target. I was aimlessly drifting through the aisles because I just didn’t know what to do next, whether in that moment or in life. I remember trying on a jacket, just because, and thinking “I do love this jacket…” and not being able to muster the enthusiasm to buy it. As if I already knew I wouldn’t be able to fix things with some red-basket therapy. I somehow walked out of there without a traditional Target slashing of my bank account, and the next day I almost felt like a switch had flipped and I needed to put in the work to make sure I didn’t go back to that hollow feeling again. (Even when you’re a parent, there’s so much more to your mental health than how your kids are acting that day. You’re still you. It’s important to remember that it’s OK to put in the time to improve yourself. You’re not just a mom or a dad.)
Mindfulness and self-care seemed like the perfect route for me — it directly addressed what I needed to work on, I could adapt it to my life without a ton of money or time, and I’d get so many side benefits, like being a better husband and friend.
When I decide I’m going to change something, I do it. I decided to become vegetarian while on a flight to Florida. That was about 8 years ago. I haven’t had meat since. So believe me when I tell you, when I did this routine for the past month, I did this routine.
Don’t take any of this as an all-or-nothing. Maybe some of these routines would be perfect for you! Maybe none of it fits your life. What I’d love for you to take away from this is knowing there’s someone else out there who is trying to find more peace and calm, too, and that there’s a way to get it in a relatively simple way. I’ll report back on how things go long term. And I’ve love to hear what you’re struggling with, what’s going great, and what simple routines you put in your day to get your own piece of calm!
Mindfulness morning routine:
Wake up between 5:15-5:45 a.m. This requires me to be in bed by 10:30 if I want to be up on the early side and by 11 at the absolute latest. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for failure. That has meant stopping a TV show midway through, but you know what? The show is still there later because it’s 2018. And I need to do my thing by 5:45 because my daughter consistently is up by 6-6:10 a.m. She’ll stay quiet for a little longer if I bring her downstairs, but the point is for me to have a head start.
I give myself about 10 minutes to “wake up.” I’ll read an article or two, check Instagram, and remind myself of the schedule for the day. If I need an extra wake up? I do something kind silly but it helps - I do a quick face spritz of Saje Rainstorm, which has cedarwood, orange, and myrtle. 21-year-old me cannot believe I just typed that sentence, but 21-year-old me was also an idiot. Kasia from Ampersand recommended it and she was right - it’s refreshing! I’ve got no problem admitting this. Self-care is manly. Feeling better about yourself is manly.
I do not turn the lights on! That may make you sleepy still, but for me, it keeps things relaxed. I want the sun rising outside our bay windows to be what really wakes me up. Think how cool that is to experience rather than slapping at the snooze on your phone alarm.
I turn on my Calm session. They have a variety of 7 or 21-day series; those are cool because you get a theme to focus on (such as, uh, Focus) and you get a sense of accomplishment when you’re done. But The Daily Calm is their most popular, and it can be done in 10 minutes. C’mon. You have 10 minutes. And I have to say, the guidance offered by Tamara Levitt is so, so, so good. She has the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard. My son likes to say he “wants to hear Tamara read a story.”
Give it a try! See the video for one sample of a 10-minute meditation. You know what’s great? There are constant reminders that you can’t mess this up. If your mind is racing, OK! Acknowledge that and eventually, you’ll start slowing it down. If you can’t quite focus on what to do, no problem! You are making progress by simply making the time to do this. Parents get enough pressure. This is the opposite. This is parents practicing self-care.
When my session is done, I absolutely feel more at peace and relaxed. And second, I’ve had 10-15 minutes to clear my mind. Now I’m ready to jump into the day. No matter what, I’m already off to a good start.
I start getting breakfast for whomever is up (as they start lumbering into the upstairs hallway, I run up and grab them). Meanwhile, I’ll finish dishes/sweep/get lunches packed. My goal is to have as much done as I can so when my wife comes down, she can focus on getting the girls’ hair done (which I am bad at!), getting them dressed (which they prefer her to do because they are in Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! mode), and getting herself ready. This balance seems to work better, at least for the past month!
Usually, this means I can get ready for work on my own in a more leisurely pace because we’re not all running around on compressed time. See? One more victory, and I haven’t even left for work. If I can remember to bring my laptop charger with me, that’ll be two victories.
Mindfulness during the day:
I don’t even know why I started doing this, but I dab a little lavender essential oil on my wrists and neck throughout the day. It’s like a Pavlovian thing - it reminds me to take a breath, it has a calming scent, and it gives me a multi-sensory sensation. That’s what mindfulness is about - being present. Easy to do. I like this doTerra version because there’s a roller ball for easy application, but whatever brand works for you.
I may bust out the Calm app if the kids are being a little extra. I’ll use it in two ways:
For them: I’ll ask my oldest if he wants to do a breathing exercise. He’s usually game, especially “Belly Breaths.” If I can get him to wind down, the others usually follow. At the least, it makes us all take a moment to pause, even if they won’t necessarily stay focused the entire 4-6 minutes. I am not claiming this is an every day thing; I have my doubts that every family blogger that claims they are having their toddlers meditate all the time are really doing that. But as a change of pace? Yes! They even have free Calm for classrooms, if you think your teacher may be interested.
For me: If I need it, I’ll do a Take 90. It’s really great if you’re having issues letting frustration get the best of you - it’s a 90-second reset that I can easily do by going to another room for a minute. I get to do some guided slow breathing and return. Sure, you can do it without an app to help, but you weren’t already doing that, were you? Sometimes, it helps to have a thing. Here’s what you can do for 90 seconds of sanity:
Set a timer on your phone and close your eyes
Take a deep breathe. Do not think of anything. Just focus on the breathe. How it feels. How the air moves inside you. How your chest rises.
Count to 4 while you are breathing in. Hold it for four seconds. And release for four seconds.
Repeat this pattern. It’s OK if a thought comes into your mind. Don’t get frustrated. You didn’t do anything wrong. Just return to thinking about your breathe.
Near the end, breathe in thinking “I am calm.” Breathe out thinking “I am at peace.”
The timer will end. You will have had 90 seconds of focusing on you. You can go back to the craziness, but you’ll be better equipped to realize it’ll pass. Nice work!
Mindfulness at night:
For my kids: First off, you should know all my kids sleep in the same room (my son has his own room but loves sleeping on the floor by his sisters. Who knows.) My son regularly asks for either a breathing exercise or a Sleep Story. With the lights off, we listen to one or the other. The Sleep Stories are great because they truly are relaxing, with slowed pace as the story goes along to induce drowsiness, and they are kid-focused so my 3-year olds and 5-year-old can follow along. Several times I’ve started the story and left the room instead of doing my usual waiting around until everyone is asleep.
For me: I haven’t had to use it, but I’d imagine if you are the type of person who has trouble sleeping because you have a million thoughts going through your head, Sleep Stories should be your jam. I recommend “Blue Gold.” Mindfulness is perfect for people who have racing minds because the entire idea is to get you to stop planning or rehashing. And parents, naturally, are going to have racing minds because we’re worried about so many things!
You may be asking, “Why Calm? Why not another app/book/service?” From what I can tell, it’s the best at what it does. So rather than give you general advice on trying to find mindfulness with a bunch of suggestions that I haven’t used, I thought it would be better for me to just get right to it and tell you how I use Calm, which, from what I can tell, so many of you already do!
I’m not getting any promotional angle from them; I just dig what they do. You can use it for free and get a lot out of it; the paid version is worth it to me for all the extra stuff you get, like additional kid content. They have stats if you like to track your usage, and their Instagram account is great about adding reminders to be mindful.
I also put on my old newspaper reporter hat and did an interview with the Calm team so you can hear directly from them!
Here’s what Christi-an Slomka, Calm's Community Manager, told me about how mindfulness can help parents ease anxiety, stress, and a lack of focus:
On the popularity of parents seeking mindfulness and how the Calm app has helped them…
From our community, we've heard from several parents using Calm. They love it because it's helpful for busy families. Sleep Stories are perfect for kids and grown-ups alike to settle the mind and rest the body (without looking at a screen). Many people claim Sleep Stories are magic. Parents can also use Calm's music tracks, meditations and breathing exercises to ease the stress of parenting whether they have a minute or 10 minutes to spare. We hear stories of parents meditating on their commute*, right before they start work, or even in the bathroom! And, we designed Calm Kids to help young people build empathy, regulate their emotions, and to improve their ability to focus.
(* They have a Commuting series that’s ideal if you’re taking the train/bus to work. If you’re driving, of course, you can’t be closing your eyes!)
On why exhausted and busy parents should still make a priority of practicing mindfulness when they might rather get an errand done or take a nap…
The most powerful thing about mindfulness is that it is restorative, so the 10 minutes that you spend being mindful relaxes and resets the nervous system in a way that feels both rejuvenating and energizing rather than draining. Taking time to check in with yourself and listen to your body, mind and heart is one of the best ways to take care of yourself. It allows you to re-center, be in the present moment and better understand and honor your own needs. It's from this place of clear perspective that we can make choices (big and small) that better serve the whole family. After all, a parent who takes a little time out to take care of themselves has more to offer their children.
If parents do want a nap though, Calm can help! We just added two "Nap Stories" to our ever growing Sleep Stories collection. (Ed. note: If you’re the parent of a newborn, you will have no problem taking a nap. Just blink slowly and you’re asleep.)
The most powerful thing about mindfulness is that it is restorative, so the 10 minutes that you spend being mindful relaxes and resets the nervous system in a way that feels both rejuvenating and energizing rather than draining.
On what sessions are good for new parents…
All of them! The Daily Calm to develop a sustainable meditation practice. Sleep Stories to settle the mind before bed. The Breathe Bubble for an instant reset!
On the rising popularity of mindfulness and meditation (Calm was one of Apple’s app of the year in 2017) as a go-to answer to de-stress/detox/de-everything…
In the age of distraction, it is becoming more and more important to build awareness around how technology affects us; we want to use our technology, not be used by it. Meditation empowers us to spend nourishing time in the present moment and take good care of ourselves so that we can respond to our lives with energy and enthusiasm. Calm's offerings enable a calm/mindful lifestyle no matter what a person is doing in the time they have, allowing them to access a moment of Calm from their pocket at all times. (Ed. note: I see what you did there, Christ-ian.)
Thanks to the Calm team for offering their insight! I’d love to hear about what routines are working for you as you, moms and dads, or what you’ve read that you want to try. Leave a comment or give me a shout on Twitter or Instagram!