Last week I was feeling a bit stressed and irritable. I was blaming my mood on a sudden change in my son’s sleep habits, and it’s true that lack of sleep is one of my biggest triggers.
However, I knew deep down that there was more to it than that.
I don’t know about you, but I find that it is easy to fall into the habit of “stress.” I have one or two nights of poor sleep and it turns me into this “other” mama and I can’t find a way back to being calm again. Everything becomes a big issue and the more stressed I am, the more I focus on what’s at fault for my mood – Tiredness, and yes, if I’m honest, sometimes “the blame” is pinned on my son.
“If he wasn’t so tired and irritable, I wouldn’t be either!”
This makes for a cycle of irritability, the more I get annoyed, the more irritable and uncooperative he becomes. There can be no way out unless someone breaks the cycle.
So a few nights ago, knowing I needed to get myself calm again, I sat down quietly before bed and re read some helpful articles on Zen Buddhism. I have been trying to introduce the philosophies to my life over the past year or two, but sometimes (frequently!), as I said, I get off track.
The key points that stuck in my mind were:
Go slow, stop rushing – Make the time to be able to do things slowly. Don’t overcommit yourself to times that aren’t doable for you and your family.
Be present – Stop worrying about what you have to do later or how you’re going to fit it all in. Be where you are, in the moment, with whoever you are with. I find writing down a schedule of when I am going to fit things in to be hugely helpful. Before doing this I was constantly trying to squeeze in a bit of work during the day, spending more time thinking about it than actually doing it. Now I have put it in the diary at a time that I know will work for me after my husband gets home from work, and I can forget about it for the rest of the day, helping me to stay in the moment.
Single task – Focus on one thing at a time – Don’t read while you eat, or clean the sink while you’re brushing your teeth. Slow down and concentrate on one task at a time. It will help to reduce that constant feeling of stress we parents can be prone to.
As an add on to the above: Make time to meditate – This can be laughable to a parent of a young child, but when you look for them you will find there are actually many opportunities in the day for meditation. Don’t be afraid of the stillness. Don’t let your mind fret busily with worries or daydreams. Breath, be quiet and just be. Some of my favourite times for meditation are during breastfeeding, while washing the dishes as the hot water runs soothingly between my fingers, in the shower, and during my sons bedtime routine as I feed and cuddle him to sleep. Any repetitive activity is great for calming your mind – walking, folding laundry, cooking and housework (on the infrequent occasion that I actually do housework) can all be transformed from a mundane task to a soothing meditation.
Simplify – Cross off anything from your schedule/to do list that isn’t necessary, or isn’t something you’re really interested in doing. How often do we include things that we really don’t need to do on that list? It might be organising a cupboard, meeting an acquaintance out of politeness, extra paperwork that could be sized down considerably, whatever it is, if it’s not something you actually want or really need to do, cross it off. Take this opportunity to un-stress your life and you will likely find that the things you really do need to do are much more achievable when your mind is not cluttered with all the other nonsense.
Of course, this is barely grazing the surface of Zen Buddhism, and remember I am only a beginner myself, but I chose to focus my attentions on these things the following day.
And the shift was undeniable.
From the moment I opened my eyes, I felt like a calmer happier version of me again. It was early, much earlier than I was used to, but instead of the irritability I had been feeling on waking the previous few mornings, I was calm and knew I could cope. My positive mood continued from there. Staying in the moment allowed me to easily defuse situations that could otherwise have become a big deal. When Little Cat refused to let me brush his teeth, rather than get worked up about it, I simply brushed mine and suggested he do it himself if he preferred (For those of you that have read my book, you’ll notice I was taking my own advice – funny how that’s sometimes hard to remember to do isn’t it?!). He was delighted.
We had the most blissful day, Little Cat soaking up my positive mood and reflecting it back to me. The little tensions that cropped up were dealt with quickly and easily, and we were back to happy-land in a matter of moments. I took on challenges that I would usually fret about, not giving energy to what might happen. After a long relaxed breakfast we spent the rest of the morning playing in the play area by the woods, and picnicking with friends. I really wanted to go for a walk in the woods, and this is something I may have chickened out of if I was considering all the things that could go wrong; We’ll get halfway round and he will refuse to walk and I will have to carry him all the way back. He will complain all the way, it’s too hot, we’re both tired…. and on and on.
I risked it, and honestly, it was one of the most magical times we have ever experienced together. He walked a mile, we didn’t rush, we stopped for drinks and snacks. We stopped to throw stones in a puddle without me thinking about how long it would take us to get back, if we were on the right path, if he would make it.
I just enjoyed it.
And in return, he was cooperative and joyful. He was understanding, even when I could see towards the last stretch that his little legs were beginning to struggle, there was no tension. He didn’t get overwhelmed with his emotions or tiredness. There was time to talk and he listened fully as I told him we were nearly back. And I laughed as he found a new burst of energy and we took off into the deeper woodlands to make new games, explore new places, create new memories.
Focusing on these simple practices transformed my mood and our day. I have no doubt that practised daily, they would change a persons life. I am going to try my best to hold on to what I have learned here. Who’s with me?
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