Every day as parents we juggle multiple demands. Teens are learning the process of balancing responsibilities, nurturing relationships, and making time for self care. This is no easy feat! In the 21st century, we have smart phones and tablets, voicemail and email, social media sites and instant messaging. Our friends, colleagues and co-workers can contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are all accustomed to both receiving and providing instant responses. I know that personally, if I receive a text from a friend, I feel obligated to respond as soon as possible! How do we balance the demands of day to day life with time for self care? This is the question that has prompted me to think about incorporating more ‘mindfulness’ into my life.
Mindfulness – the term alone makes me feel guilty! To me, mindfulness has been associated with meditation and taking time for yourself. Taking time for myself equals less time with my family. As a busy mom, physician, friend, sister, daughter, etc I feel like I don’t have enough time to do it all. The teens I see in clinic share similar guilt. They have music, sports, jobs, friends, and relationships to juggle in addition to homework and family demands. However I recently had an epiphany that taking a bit of time helps me be a calmer, more present mom, physician, friend, etc! So I’d like to share some of the ideas I use each day (which I never thought of as mindfulness, until someone pointed out to me that I was actually practicing self care!).
The next time you’re walking to your car, running to a class, or just stepping outside to go to your next appointment practice this exercise.
As you walk, take note of your senses. Is it raining? Do you feel the wet rain drops on your forehead? On your cheeks? Try to pay attention as each drop touches you. Where do they land?
Another exercise to try…
Focus on your steps as you walk to your car. How do your legs feel? Are they racing quickly or leisurely? Do they feel light or heavy like lead? Notice your feet. Can you feel your toes? Do your toes feel squished in your shoes or do they feel free to wiggle?
Breath is always with us, yet we rarely think about it. Focusing on breathing forces you to be in the present.
Place your hand on your stomach and for 4-5 breaths, as you inhale try to push your hand out with your stomach; as you exhale pay attention as your hand draws closer to your body again.
You know when you’re in a hurry in the grocery line and you pick the ‘wrong’ line? It seems really short, then someone needs a price check, or some other delay occurs. Do you get frustrated? Angry? Do you move to a different line and then end up waiting even longer? Recognize that in every moment we are presented the opportunity to make a choice. We can be frustrated, irritated, or we can choose to be calm and offer the grocery clerk a smile. I’ve decided that I will take this moment to offer the smile.
Another example of choice – You get home from a long day at work and no one has completed any chores. There are dirty dishes in the sink, bedrooms are a mess, and the bathroom is a disaster. You have a choice here. You can get irritated. You could yell and become frustrated or you can be the calm example you want to portray. Your teen’s behavior won’t last forever but her impression of you will. I’ve forced myself to stop and consciously consider my choice when I notice my level of frustration rising. Instead of yelling, I give my daughter a hug, tell her I love her, but I have some expectations she’s not meeting. When I’m calm, I’m more open to hearing her ideas on how to keep the house clean along with mine.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” There is no mention of taking hours to meditate, no mention of even spending time alone! It is simply being in the present. Consider ways to ‘be present’ in your day to day life. The ideas above are my own, but there are many more out there. Pass them along to your teen or ask how they take time for mindfulness each day.