As the carefree vibe of summer transitions into the pandemonium of back-to-school season, even the best of us can get trapped in a perpetual state of chaos. And as hectic as things get, each and every moment (even a messy one) is an opportunity to create a beautiful memory. Will you really remember spilled cereal or a late bus 20 years from now? Putting those moments into perspective will help keep you calm on frenzied, overscheduled days. The next time you feel like all the juggling is making your head spin, follow these expert tips to summon your inner Om.
PRACTICE MINDFULNESS EVERY DAY
Maybe you’ve got the basics of self-care covered: You eat healthily, stay active and prioritize sleep. Or maybe not so much. Either way, there’s an oft-overlooked and extremely effective way to stave off stress and stay calm: mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is easy; just slow down and enjoy the moment.
“Living mindfully means leaving the past behind and not worrying about the future—just being here now,” says Leo Aristimuno, a certified positive psychology life coach based in Montclair. “It means letting go of complaints…to embrace the surprises, marvel at the discoveries, nourish the connections and revel in the small joys hidden in every moment.”
Aristimuno suggests practicing controlled breathing to exercise the mindfulness muscle and create a relaxation response. “Sit comfortably and allow yourself to close your eyes for two minutes. Breathe in to a slow count of five…then breathe out to a slow count of ten…Repeat this for two minutes, controlling your breath…Your breath relaxes you as you settle into the moment, exactly as it is.” Your best bet: Try incorporating brief moments of meditation into your daily routine.
MEDITATE FOR A FEW MINUTES EACH DAY
Meditation is an important way to combat stress. Starting the practice doesn’t require a big commitment. Aristimuno recommends trying to work in five-minute breaks of quiet meditation whenever possible. The key: Keep it simple and put down the electronics.
“The beautiful thing about meditation is that it’s not about stopping our thoughts. It’s also not about being completely still,” Aristimuno says. “Instead, meditation invites us to settle, observe, accept and return. We may discover things we never noticed before, like the sound of silence, the gentleness of the breath, how tired our bodies are, the fact that right now, at this moment, I’m alive. I’m breathing, here I am. Breathing in, breathing out.” Relax, observe and breathe. Doing this for a few moments is a great way to decompress and re-center.
STAY SANE AND ON TOP OF YOUR GAME
A big part of prepping for back-to-school season involves working on your time management skills. Pack lunches the night before. Lay out outfits in advance, or even better, let your children do it. If your kids struggle with being on time in the morning, help them create a structured routine they’re able to handle on their own. Schedule everything—kids thrive on routine. Gwen Beslow, a self-employed Morristown mother of three boys under age 6, makes a conscious effort not to overschedule her family. “We stick with one activity per quarter, so it’s wrestling or T-ball, for example,” Beslow says. “That’s a saving grace.”
Whenever possible, enlist the help of friends and family to lighten the load. It’s totally acceptable to ask for help and rely on others as a support network. It really does takes a village.
DON’T SKIMP ON SELF-CARE
Mamas, don’t wait until Mother’s Day to take care of you, sansguilt. As caregivers, it’s easy to forget about our own needs as we focus on taking care of our families. “If we want to be present to take care of our kids, we have to be present ourselves,” Aristimuno says. “If you’re trapped by stress, sadness or anger, then you’re not available…when we love ourselves, we can love others.”
For Beslow, self-care means scheduling girls’ nights out and dates with her husband, Brian. “I keep a really scheduled life to make sure I have coverage for the kids to go out or get a massage or get something done for me,” she says. “I recognize how important it is for me to have time off, which motivates me to create time for self-care and find balance. Also, I love to watch TV.”
By nurturing yourself, you’ll be happier and better equipped to take on the challenges and schedules of parenting your kids. Taking a few moments each day to just breathe will allow you the opportunity to truly connect with your kids in a meaningful way.
Here’s to a happy and balanced new school year for your crew.
—Heidi Borst is a freelance writer and nutrition coach based in Maplewood and mom to a 6-year-old son.