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10 phrases to center yourself when you’re feeling crazy, mama

Being a mom means being surrounded by crazy for at least part of every day. It means needing to be the grown-up in the midst of tantrums, sickness, defiance, and constant needs. I thought I was reasonably grown up until I had children, and then I realized I wasn’t always ready to be the adult in the room!

Over years of practicing mindfulness, I learned to leave myself ‘love notes’ in the form of small phrases or mantras that would remind me of what’s true in the midst of chaos. Sometimes I literally write these phrases down on post-it notes and stick them wherever I am likely to lose my temper. Sometimes they’re mental notes, phrases I repeat to myself often so I can reach for them when I need them.

Here are some of my favorites—

“I was born for times like this.”

My self-talk can wander into pretty negative territory, and I sometimes find myself thinking things like I’ll never be able to do this, or This is impossible. That isn’t so helpful when I’m in the middle of a crisis! I’ve turned toward a positive practice, “I was born for times like this.” When I say it to myself I feel good! I stand a bit straighter and feel empowered as I face what needs to be done.

“Right now, it’s like this.”

This quote from Buddhist teacher Ajahn Sumedho came to me via one of my wonderful teachers, Vinny Ferraro. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself, “Right now, it’s like this” and feel the pressure of worrying about the past and future drop away. It’s me and this moment, and this phrase reminds me that it’s not always gonna be like this. It redirects my mind from blame and brings me into a direct experience of reality as it is.

“How am I feeling right now?”

This is maybe the most powerful tool in my toolkit, because feelings that aren’t taken care of can turn ugly fast, but feelings that are taken care of transform. When the world is going to hell around me it’s easy to freak out. Instead, I ask, “How am I feeling right now?” and connect with my heart.

Honestly, even though I’ve done this hundreds of times, I still resist it. It’s hard to stop and actually feel what I feel. It’s easier when I start with noticing my body, things like My stomach is clenched, and My face feels hot. Then I sense the emotion, noticing anger, fear, helplessness, or whatever shows up. I stop and hold the feelings in a loving way, actually imagining the emotion as a baby. I usually combine this with the next practice.

“Breathing in, breathing out.”

As my students know, I find Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings profoundly helpful. He teaches that each breath can bring us home to ourselves even in the most challenging moments. A simple practice that he teaches is to say inwardly, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”

I use this with big feelings that need care, “Breathing in, I notice that I am scared, breathing out it’s okay to be scared.” This isn’t only something that I do in a quiet place, it’s helpful even in the midst of an inner or outer crisis.

“Right now, am I okay?”

Sometimes I am beginning to lose my cool not only because of what’s actually happening, but because of all that might happen. Salvador Dali said, “So little of what could happen, does happen.” This is what I remember when I ask myself, “‘Right now, am I okay?”’

It reminds me to bring my whole attention to what is actually happening right now. Am I safe? Can I handle just what I need to do right now?

“There is no ‘should.’”

Lots of my hardest moments are the ones that I’m mentally contrasting to my image of what should be happening. My kids should be getting along, my family should be having fun, my floors should be clean, my pants should fit. The truth is, ‘should’ is not a helpful word. If you find yourself thinking of how things ‘should’ be, imagine dropping the ‘should.’ How would that feel?

“I am enough.”

In a similar vein, it can feel wonderful to give ourselves a simple reminder, ‘I am enough.’ Yes, maybe things are falling apart, but I am enough.

“What if I’m already good enough?”

When I’m feeling lousy, sometimes thinking ‘I am enough’ actually gets me into an argument with myself as I start a mental list of all the ways that I’m not enough. So my backup is “What if I’m already good enough?” It’s softer and more accessible for me, easier to open up to. I just let myself entertain the idea, ‘Wwhat if,’ and something in my body relaxes a bit.

“I’ve been here before.”

When I get worried or overwhelmed, it’s easy to lose all sense of perspective and fall down the rabbit hole of catastrophization (if that’s a word). The longer I practice mindfulness, the more I recognize that the rough moments are often familiar. I’ve been here before! And when I remember that I’ve been here before, I also remember that I survived it last time. This brings confidence that I can survive this moment, too.

“I love you, keep going.”

Sometimes nothing seems to help. I get disgusted with myself and want to run away from my many imperfections and problems. Saying something as simple as ‘I love you, keep going,’ reminds me that I can still love myself even when I’ve messed up. When I imagine saying this to myself, or a loving friend or teacher saying it to me, I feel warmed and supported.

I’m a mom, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher who has long struggled with the desire to be the perfect person I imagine that I should be. Practicing mindfulness has changed my life, helping me to make peace with myself as I truly am and to appreciate my family, life, and the world as they actually are.

I teach mindfulness and mindful parenting classes and work with individuals sharing what I’ve learned over my twelve years of practicing mindfulness, twenty years of parenting, thirty years of teaching, and fifty years of living. My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting can and will change the world, and that love matters.


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