“Sometimes after I get home from work, I sit in my car for a few minutes before I enter the house, because I need that transition time. It used to be that you could go to the bathroom but that’s just not feasible anymore. The kids will know you’re in the bathroom and still try to get you!” Said Dr. Caroline Danda, Clinical Psychologist, Author and Entrepreneur.
Many of us are frayed from carrying too much mental and emotional load. Because connecting dots, whether it’s work or home, takes a lot of energy. Yet, we continue to manage more. Often out of necessity. So, after the past two plus years, you’re probably over it.
But the need to navigate complexity and change, is unlikely to go away. So, what can you do make an unsustainable pace bearable? Well, it starts with breaks. No, I’m not talking about an island retreat or even a day off, but something much more doable.
Give Yourself Transition Time
Caroline said, “It took me a while to learn this. But I need to get up a little bit earlier in the mornings. Not a lot earlier, but enough to have five or 10 minutes on my own. So, I can sit with a cup of coffee and either do gratitude, meditation or set my intentions for the day. It’s super helpful for me to start with a moment of quiet.”
It’s a bit like when we give our kids that five-minute warning, before leaving home. Why not give ourselves buffer time between activities, to ease into what’s next? She added, “We’re talking about how to grow your calm. And how you get that experience of growing your calm, so that when you need it, your body and your brain already know what to do.” How can we realistically weave this into full and unpredictable schedules?
And Transition Rituals
Caroline also advocates intentional breathing. Which is a bit easier than finding time alone. She uses it to signal an impending change in focus to her body. She said, “When people say to you, ‘just breathe’ if you’ve not been practicing something that involves breathing, then it’s not going to work. So, it’s about creating pauses in your day during those moments, versus just filling it with things.” Amen!
She explained, “That intentional breathing takes 5 seconds. It’s doable. And in the morning that can be your intention for the day. For example, ‘I’m going to work in between activities to just take that one breath.’ And you’re probably not going to do it for every activity. But if you get three or four in that day, maybe you’ll get five or six in, the next. You will build upon it.”
Be Present When it’s Time Sensitive
We hear about the importance of morning routines to set the day up for success. But mornings with kids, tend to be chaotic. There are workarounds, however. “Although I prioritize finding time in the morning, I also try not to multitask as much,” Caroline explained. It’s tempting to get a quick email sent while packing lunches. But trying to complete those tasks, when you can’t pay full attention to them, becomes less productive and draining.
Caroline said, “What we would like to happen is, for our kids to get ready in the morning on their own. But chances are, they will need help. So, if you start by preparing for it and doing as much as you can to take care of yourself, then you can be more present. And less stressed. If they actually do things on their own, then you’ve started off the day in a better space.”
Abdicate the Throne
The ages of our kids, health, and independence of our family members, impacts everything. Including our responsibilities. But Caroline suggests we find those opportunities to be less hands on, even if it’s temporary.
“At dinner time I got all wrapped up in being ‘the manager’ right? Like many of us, we’ve got so many things to do that we’re always on task. My husband noticed that I would launch into, how was your day? Did you get this done? And then, okay this is what we need to do…’ during dinner. And you know what? It’s necessary at some level, but it’s not a lot of fun.” Sigh. What’s the alternative?
Connection Versus Perfection
Many Moms provide the executive functioning for the family. But it’s harder to savor the time with them, when we manage them. Caroline said, “We now have a manager free zone during dinner. Sometimes, after dinner, we might have a 10-minute roundup. Where I take care of, ‘here are the things that need to happen’ but now, they’re more likely to listen because we’ve had time to connect during dinner.” When we can be present it’s more restorative. But sometimes, you must start with a prompt.
Use Tools to Ease Things
Caroline said, “That’s where having ‘Would you Rather’ cards or even bringing up a news article, and saying, ‘I read this and really want to know what you think’ helps. Obviously, for younger kids, it’s not going to be the same. But they still love to play games or answer questions.”
And there’s support for better dinner conversation. Whether it’s question cards or other types of prompts. She added “A fun activity makes it less likely to have the ‘how was your day’ followed by ‘it was fine’ conversation. And creates something that they can look forward to.”
Make Space for Self-Care
The breaks we’ve discussed are brilliant. Micro adjustments that lead to relief. But you still need time for whatever recharges you. Caroline said, “We still need the traditional self-care. One of my favorite things to do, if I can, is to walk outside. Because nature is awesome, and it also provides us with positive energy. Sometimes, I walk with friends for the social connection and actually walking, also gives me physical exercise. So, that is one of my trifectas of things that helps me recharge! But I don’t get that every day.
And Seek Support to Do So
Most Moms haver very little discretionary time and worse, it’s often unpredictable. Which makes finding space to care for mental, physical and emotional health, harder. But not impossible. And if you can’t spouse source, eliminate or outsource, consider swapping childcare with parents you trust.
Caroline said, “When you can do those things that take a little bit more time, sometimes it’s hard to figure out, ‘how do I make it happen? Who do I call on?’ But people need other people. So, gather your tribe around you. And I that’s especially true for the Moms and caregivers of younger kids. One of the things you can do is band together and take turns. I think we’ve lost a little bit of that. But it can give you some protected time. Or when we take the kids to the park, sometimes we can get in a little Mom-time with others.”
Create that space to deal with not only your children’s needs but your own. And most importantly, feel good about how you do it. Although it’s not supported in our culture, you can ritualize and normalize breaks. Even when it’s just to breathe. Because learning how to build frequent pauses into your routine, helps you manage your energy. And support your mental health.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Caroline Danda!
Follow her great adventure on her practice website, LinkedIn and Facebook. And learn more about resources from her business The Invisible Riptide. You can also check them out on Facebook and Instagram.
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Dr. Caroline Danda is a private practice clinical psychologist who works with children and adolescents with anxiety, depression, and other emotional or behavioral regulation problems. She loves working with children and teens who have “big emotions.” And has a passion for normalizing mental and emotional well-being and helping youth and their families resolve current challenges and develop foundational skills for thriving.
She has been active in various community organizations and schools. With the onset of the pandemic, her passion for sharing information and making mental health resources accessible led to her partnering with Carron Montgomery to develop and create The Invisible Riptide book series and website. Partnering with Carron Montgomery was a natural extension of her passion, allowing her to bring her wisdom and experience outside her office to fill the gaps.
She is also a wife and a mother of three boys. Based on her experience in clinical practice, in the community, and within her own family, she has a talent for tailoring information and skills to meet the needs of individuals and their families. Her goals are to provide accessible, practical information to empower individuals and families to find out what works for them.