What does relaxation look like for you? For me, it is nature, fresh air, greenery, a delicious meal savoured with close family, or a good book in front of a quiet crackling fire. There's no TV, no phone, no laptop, no interruptions and no deadlines.
More often than not, these are not possible in my life with two toddlers, working and running a household, so I prefer an hour to get a massage or to pop into a local café with a magazine to grab brunch and a coffee on my own. Unfortunately, even these are very rare occurrences so I have been looking into scheduling in relaxation practices for myself on a daily basis.
Relaxation and rest are extremely important as mothers and often we put our needs last to the detriment of ourselves and our family. Relaxation and meditation rituals are vital to reduce stress, prevent anxiety, to help you unwind and to create calm. They also promote an increased awareness of the importance of being in the present moment with yourself, caring for and nurturing your emotions and filling up your own tank to assist you in supporting the needs of your family.
Relaxation rituals can be only a couple of minutes long dotted throughout your day, or even practiced before you jump into bed. If your children are old enough, you could even make it a bit of a fun daily activity. It is highly valuable to learn these life skills from a young age and could be very helpful in assisting children to take control and regulate their emotions through deep breathing and simple quiet meditative practices.
1. Get outside and go for a walk
Exercise is well known not only for its health benefits but also for the significant positive impacts on mental health, relieving stress or anxiety and oxygenating the body, which makes you more alert, positive and calm. Take long deep strides as you move along and try to still your mind while being aware of your surroundings. Take a look at the sky, listen for the birds, and breathe deeply.
2. Be mindful of your five senses in a particular moment
When I was finding it difficult to comprehend what was meant by mindfulness, a wise friend simplified it for me by outlining it as being keenly aware of your five senses in any particular moment. What are you seeing? Lok around you, notice the shapes and colours, the movement, the people and the weather.
What are you hearing? Listen for the birds, children laughing, rushing water, the wind in the trees, or the clock ticking.
What can you smell? Take a few deep breaths of dinner in the oven, fresh flowers or a candle burning, the smell of rain, or the deliciousness of your warm and clean newborn baby.
Mindfulness also assists with digestion as you savour each mouthful and chew thoughtfully. What can you taste? A creamy cup of coffee with your breakfast, a fresh sandwich with ripe tomatoes, a dark and rich square (ok block) of chocolate.
And lastly, what can you touch? I am an incredibly sensate and affectionate person. I love hugging and cuddling and kissing my daughters, stoking their hair and touching their cheeks or little hands. I love rich fabrics, thick hand moisturisers and the different textures in the lush green plants in my garden.
3. Focus on your breathing
I have already mentioned deep breathing a couple of times and that is because it is one of the most effective ways to create instant relaxation in our bodies. When we are stressed, uptight and anxious, our diaphragm restricts, meaning we only take short shallow breaths. Shallow breathing over an extended period negatively impacts our nervous system and impedes our bodies' restorative practices.
Deep breathing through the diaphragm, by extending the chest and stomach is not as natural and instinctive as it once was when we were babies. It needs to become a life practice with enormous physical and mental health benefits. If you don’t feel you have time to stop just to purposely breath, perhaps find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine.
For example, every time you stop at a traffic light, make it a practice to breathe deeply five times. If you get the chance to pop to the toilet solo, take five deep breaths, or do it before you eat to be more mindful about your food. My mum is exceptional at ensuring mealtimes are protected. Ever since I was very young she would always sit down to a simple lunch and a cup of tea and quit herself to eat her meal. She is one of the hardest working, busiest people I know, but this is one of the relaxation rituals that recharges her to continue with her day.
4. Practice gratitude morning and night
I know a talented specialist who supports mothers through parenthood and assists them to thrive and not just survive, which I find to be a very unique skill to help mothers with. Truth be told, a lot of days do feel like watching the clock for when daddy comes home or for when it's bedtime to have a modicum of personal space.
Take a minute before you leap out of bed, while you're not quite awake to the shrieks of your children asking for breakfast, and think of 1-3 things that you are truly grateful for. Do the same before you go to bed. It increases positive emotions, resilience and can shift your mood before you even get started. Close your eyes, focus on one thing and breathe deeply. "I am so grateful for my health that enables me to get up and live and love my children today.""I am so grateful that I have a roof over my head, an income and a family to love."
Some days may be a struggle when you are just so grateful that McDonald's has drive-thru coffee. Practice the same gratitude as you go to bed, be thankful for the things that happened that day, whether they were small or momentous milestones. I promise you, this small act will bring great calm and perspective as you rest.
5. Schedule self care
Book it in your diary as a priority. We are so good at scheduling appointments for our families and essential medical, educational or work requirements, but we are not usually so great at booking an appointment with ourselves for self-care. Look after your health with a massage, yoga, meditation or a long soak in the bath with Epsom salts and essential oils. Relax your body and your mind and do it often.
What do you need to ensure you are functioning well, able to love yourself and love your family?
I want hours upon hours of delicious sleep followed by hot cups of tea, reading my book and nothingness. But I'll have to get up now to comfort, feed, clean, dress, entertain, love, laugh, play, and repeat.