We’ve all had those mornings when we get out of bed late, the kids don’t want to get dressed, and our child throws a tantrum when we leave her at daycare. We arrive at our office completely frazzled and fatigued, and its only 8 a.m.
On days like this, I used to sit down at my desk and dive into work in a frenzied and unfocused state of mind. I would stare at the pile of emails awaiting me with sad resignation. I’d try to carry myself through the day on fumes, never fully recovering from the mood of my morning. At the end of the day, the cycle would repeat; I’d carry the stress of work up to the door of the daycare and feel overwhelmed at the idea of going home to make dinner.
Then one morning, after a particularly challenging daycare drop off, I walked into my office and looked at my meditation pillow on the floor. It was there, in theory, to encourage me to take breaks at work, but thus far I hadn’t used it much since my first mindfulness workshop. I dropped my bags by my desk without turning on the office light, sat down on the pillow, and took a few deep breaths. It felt good, really good, so I grabbed my cell phone, popped on my meditation timer, and spent five minutes practicing deep breathing. Then I slowly stood up, put my computer on its docking station, and mindfully sat down in my chair. This was different. My frenzied state of mind had calmed.
That day I realized that these transition times were a barrier to achieving the presence of mind that would help me to move through my day more smoothly. Though I was meditating at night before bed, I wasn’t using mindfulness as strategically as I could have been. Instead, I was carrying stress from one setting to another throughout the day and never giving myself a chance to pause, step off the treadmill, and catch my breath.
Research has shown that mindfulness practice has the potential to reduce stress, improve sleep, and improve physical health (among other benefits). Parents who practice mindfulness can also raise kids who are less stressed out, and mindfulness can be key to avoiding burnout on the job. I have seen these benefits first hand, as I shared in my essay, “Why This Mama Meditates.” But the two impacts that are particularly relevant in these transition times are my increased ability to be mindful in the present moment (which is the heart of mindfulness practice) and my ability to be more self-compassionate, giving myself care and love at a time when I really need it. By stepping off of the treadmill and taking the time to be present without judgment, I was giving myself permission to set aside what had come before and start fresh.
I now practice this transition meditation almost every day, whether my morning has been stressful or not. Each afternoon, I take a few minutes for deep breathing (often in the car) before walking in to the daycare for pickup. This simple practice has made me a more calm and peaceful boss in my work setting and a more patient and attentive parent to my children.
My personal success led me to seek certification as a mindfulness teacher, and I have begun to share these practices with others. If you want to try your own transition meditation, there are numerous tools available to help, whether you download a simple meditation timer (if you have some experience with meditation or mindfulness), use guided meditations (which can be a huge benefit if you are new to the practice), or start with a free trial of a program like Headspace (which also provides background on why meditation works). Give yourself care and compassion as you manage the many hats that you wear every day as a working parent.
And here’s a hint to ensure your success: Place a meditation pillow, mindfulness book, or little reminder note right inside the door of your office, or even on the dashboard of your car – the first place you land after typical stressful moments. This visual clue will help you to discipline yourself when you are tempted to rush into the next setting mindlessly. Make it something colorful that draws your attention and reminds you of the potential reward.