It’s 7am your alarm goes off, you fumble for your phone and through squinted, sleepy eyes you check your Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest accounts! Maybe even before you say ‘good morning’ to your partner! Sound familiar?
If ever there was a time we need to get better at switching off it’s now, the age of digital media is amazing but our #fomo (fear of missing out) has become obsessive possibly even affecting relationships with friends, family and colleagues. So what can we do? Do we need to change and let’s be honest – do we really want to? We live in a fast moving society that allows us to have instant access to pretty much anything. That is definitely progress, isn’t it?
Today, life should be so much easier, with just one click we can get all our shopping done (and have it delivered), get news from around the world as it happens, check the weather and do our kids homework without having to trek to a library. So why do we often feel so overwhelmed? After all, we don’t have to brave the supermarket, the shops, the banks, we can even meet friends online. So why do we never have enough time these days? Welcome to the world of the working mum where you run at 100 miles an hour, 100% of the time yet still feel like you haven’t done enough. For digitally savvy mums it is often harder as we are constantly bombarded with people posting pictures of beautiful cakes, elaborate home-made dresses and dolls their little one has had for their birthday, not to mention the sickly sweet family photos of the perfect family and the amazing holiday photos taken by professionals. God forbid you put up an image of your family arguing in the UK on a cold, wet and quite frankly dull campsite (made worse as there is no internet connection!).
Stress levels run high, energy levels are often low, juggling kids, relationships, family and work isn’t easy and quite possibly many of us are running on empty. But our mental & physical well being is vital to keep everything running smoothly. I absolutely love this quote by Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you”. She is so right – our brains need a break too.
My 12-year-old suffers from anxiety and I’ve put this image on her bedroom wall to remind her to ignore Snapchat just for a few minutes every morning. No doubt you’ve heard some friends, colleagues or celebrities rave about the wonders of mindfulness and how it helps them but what exactly is ‘mindfulness’ and what are the benefits for working mums in today’s digital world?
The ancient practice of mindfulness
Mindfulness originated as a spiritual practice involving rhythmical chants, mantras and meditation to transcend emotions and live in a calm present state. Today in the West mindfulness is practiced to reduce stress and improve our health and wellbeing. It is done by focusing on ‘being in the present moment’ as opposed to worrying about our future, or being consumed by our past. Just as Lao Tzu father of Taoism famously said: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present”.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation, where you bring your full attention to an object such as your breath, a candle, a flower a cup of tea, anything you chose which you can really focus on. It is a fantastic way to find inner peace in your busy life, it calms your frenzied mind allowing you to function better and with more clarity of thought. All sound a bit airy-fairy, a bit too good to be true? I completely understand, when do we have time for more activities in our day? But mindfulness is simply awareness, it doesn’t have to take time as you can be mindful anywhere, anytime without changing your daily routine. Being mindful of your breath is a common form of mindfulness used during meditation and yoga. Try the breath awareness exercise below to help calm any anxiety, initially try for just one minute and see how you feel, maybe build it up to two minutes tomorrow.
- Where to meditate: anywhere quiet and relaxing (bottom of your bed, if early morning is good so you don’t wake anyone up).
- What to wear: wear warm and comfortable clothes.
- How to sit: sit up straight so you are ‘actively’ sitting rather than slumping but use a wall if sitting up unaided is uncomfortable.
- Soft focus: or close your eyes.
- How is your body feeling? Take awareness to your sitting bones and then move your awareness up through your spine. How does your back feel? Now move your awareness to the rest of the body. Once you have done a full body scan take awareness to your mind. How settled is your mind? Is it busy, anxious, tired, relaxed?
- Breath: notice your breath, breathing in and out through the nose. Feel what’s happening within your body as you inhale and exhale. Which parts of your body move, and which parts feel stiff? What is the temperature of the air you inhale, hot or cold? Notice your breath moving in and out of your nostrils. Pick up on the subtleties of the sensation.
- Be aware of your breath: as you breathe more deeply you will feel calmer and more relaxed. Notice your shoulders dropping in the exhalations. Slow the breath down but don’t force it.
- Wandering mind: your mind will wander from time to time, try not to get frustrated with yourself but just notice when it happens, smile at yourself and gently bring your attention back towards your breath.
- Perfect technique: don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong. There is no perfect way of doing it – just do it regularly.
- Regularity: try and practice each day, even if just for a few minutes and build it up to longer.
Try this anytime, anywhere (even better if you’re barefoot). Pay attention to the sensation as you walk. Take awareness to your whole foot, feel your heel touch the ground, then the ball of the foot. Notice if you put more weight on the insides or outsides of your feet? Try to feel and engage all your toes. Take note of how the ground feels beneath each foot: is it wet, dry, bumpy, smooth, warm or cold? Notice all the sensations and try not to worry what you are walking on. I did once step on a bee whilst mindfully walking across the Downs! (it certainly made me mindfully aware of the sting!).
Being mindful of your food is an amazing technique to have, it makes your food taste even better. Try bringing your awareness to the taste in your mouth, the smell, the temperature, the texture and weight of your food and drinks, truly tasting it, and when your mind starts to drift off, don’t get angry with yourself simply return to the awareness of tasting your food. I like to completely focusing on drinking my morning coffee, taking awareness to its scent, warmth, and taste and how it warms my whole body. I try not to focus on the day ahead until after my coffee as then I feel calmer and ready to work, before that I am rather scatty! Challenge yourself to eat without looking at your phone, TV or computer. This is an important rule in our house (there aren’t many so the kids know this one!).
Hopefully these mindfulness techniques will help you connect with yourself and heighten your senses. By learning to become present, letting go of our past and not worrying about our future we start to find a little space between our thoughts, and a little more stillness in our lives. Learning to just be (especially now in our digital world) without constant stimulation from our devices allows us to be more present for ourselves and those around us. This I believe is vitally important not just for our health and wellbeing but also for our children. They need to see life and genuinely experience living their lives and not just through Insta-filters or Snapchat stories!
When not practising mindfulness Catherine follows…
Laura Kasperzak / Instagram: @LauraSykora
“One of my favourite women to follow on social media. An Instagram yoga ‘celebrity’ with over one million followers. She uses Instagram brilliantly to showcase her skills in creating the most amazing yoga postures. However, what makes her so special, I believe, are the beautiful images of her with her young daughter, which are truly amazing. The stunning backdrops and the gorgeous matching outfits mum and daughter wear really help too! Most of her images are a bit unrealistic for the average mum however something definitely to aspire to.
“Another mum I enjoy following on Facebook is Beta Mummy, her doodles about the reality of parenting are so funny because they are so true!”.