My husband likes to do this thing where he picks a word to focus on for the entire year. Something as a goal, or a bad trait to shed, something to be intentional about as a mission throughout the year. I’ve picked it up and it’s a neat habit. A way to be a little more purposeful about growing in maturity.
For the last two years now, I’ve kept my word “cherish.” I am currently a physical therapist part-time, and I also stay at home three days a week with my two children. They are not quite 1 and not quite 3 yrs old. I am a raging extrovert, an enthusiast about life and adventures and experiencing all the things. I have FOMO like woah, so being a stay at home mom, even part time, is challenging for me. It’s hard not to want to rush things. “When they’re older, I’ll be able to take them on more adventures.” So my word cherish is an attempt to stay in the moment, to savor every bit of this cute baby time, to fully experience the sweetness of raising babies and toddlers and watching them become little human beings.
This past week I took a course for work on Mindfulness*. It was geared toward preventing provider burnout (did you know that doctors are more than 2x more likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide??), but honestly would have a been a helpful class for anyone in any profession (including and especially stay at home moms) to take.
Mindfulness is basically the concept of trying to stay present in the moment. Not dwelling on the past or projecting ahead into the future, worrying and obsessing about some problem or issue that hasn’t happened yet, but fully being in the moment of your actual life. Not distractedly scrolling on your phone instead of tuning in to what’s happening in front of your eyes. Not daydreaming or thinking of your response instead of totally focusing on who’s talking to you.
Research shows that mindfulness is beneficial to reduce stress, decrease symptoms of anxiety & depression, reduce chronic pain, boost our immune system, improve attention and concentration, improve relationships and interpersonal skills, stimulate creativity, increase resilience, help us overcome negative emotions and events, and increase feelings of gratitude, kindness and compassion.
Mindfulness isn’t the same as meditation, which most people think means sitting on a pillow with your legs crossed “Om”ing. Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, as you intentionally seek to stay in the moment. It means taking yourself off autopilot, noticing the sensations of your clothes as you fold the laundry, feeling the water hit your skin in the shower, noticing the beautiful blue color of the sky as it’s outlined by the bright green leaves of summer. It means keeping your senses engaged and trying to look at the world with more child-like eyes.
My kids are 100% in the moment at all times. I don’t think they have much of a sense of the future or past yet. My daughter remembers things from days, weeks, months ago, but doesn’t seem to dwell or obsessed over past events. And while she gets excited if I mention something that we’ll do in the future, she’s hardly worrying about what tomorrow will bring. Being home and cherishing my time with my kids is really a great place to practice mindfulness, as I try to engage with them in their 100% fully-present state. And when I’m good at it, I notice all these little details, sounds, and sensations that I would have skipped over. When I’m good at it, I really feel the gentle breezes on my face while we sit in the grass, really see the puffy white “elephant” in the clouds, really hear my son’s giggle while my daughter goofs around with him, really feel the softness of their smooth baby skin. I’m ready to catch their eye contact when they look up at me from their play, and reassure them with a quick smile.
I’m certainly not doing this perfectly. I still tune out when my husband starts talking about work, still scroll through my phone while my kids are awake and in front of me, still dwell on things that happened recently or have imaginary conversations (ok, arguments) in my head about politics. Practicing mindfulness, staying engaged and focused on the here and now, takes practice and will continue to be a lifelong goal of mine. Probably why I haven’t gotten a new word for the year yet. But truly, I gain nothing from these distracted thoughts running through my head. And how much joy do I gain when I pay attention and watch my kids learn and grow right in front of my eyes.
Here’s to paying attention, folks.
*Effective Mindfulness Interventions: Techniques to Improve Patient Outcomes & Personal Well-being with Clyde Boiston, PT, OCS, CMF.