This is a guest post from Emilie O’Neal.
The brain of a mom never stops.
In addition to the rumored “mom brain” that haunts us postpartum, from the second that little stick turns pink we start planning, coordinating, scheduling, dreaming and worrying. Oh god, the WORRYING.
For some of us this mental chatter becomes a serious diagnosis that needs to be addressed by professionals. But even for those of us without those concerns, mom-thoughts can still quickly spiral into a heavy burden to carry.
It has always been a struggle for me to put down this weight, even before my little guy appeared and the stakes were this high. With the help of the most patient husband a woman could have, an accidental love affair with yoga and a TON of practice I have started to slowly let thoughts go, one by one, and I am beginning to clear and maintain an open space for myself in my own head.
It’s not a perfect space, but it’s an important one that belongs to me and that I try to fill with healing energy and happy, calm vibes. This space allows me to be present and enjoy these early years with my little boy without sinking too much into the exhaustion of it all.
Here’s how I clear that mental mom-clutter.
7 Ways to Clear Mental Mom-Clutter
Listen, I get it. I am SOOOO not the “it’s all cool, just live and let live, peace, man” kind of person. Total skeptic here.
Before this year, meditation has always gone something like this for me—sit down, have to pee, get up to pee, find something that needs cleaning, clean it up, sit down again, make mental to-do list, accidentally fall asleep, jump up and try to figure out how long I’ve been sleeping, feel guilty for a five minute nap, get up and start dinner.
However, using some cheesy guided meditations I found on Youtube, I notice things feel different afterwards. For some reason, sometimes even hours later, the solutions become clear, the decisions get made.
You don’t have to buy into it at first. Just DO it. Start with guided visualizations and some headphones. If you don’t like one, skip to another. They are easy to find, so there’s no excuse.
2. Take a moment to fully embrace a nagging thought.
It’s go-go-go around here. There’s barely time to take a private poop, so you have to get creative to do this, but it’s critical.
The full thought can be an out loud monologue to yourself in the shower or it can be a phone call to someone you know will just listen. The key is to totally experience the thought without trying to push it away.
Think it. Go through the whole emotion of it. Let your body physically respond to it through crying, laughing, dancing, screaming. Take a minute to breathe. Then, file it—do you need to address it later? Is there action you need to take? Or does it need let go forever?
Put it where it belongs, then move on. Letting a thought keep reappearing throughout the day without taking the time to handle it is what makes it heavy.
3. Go outside.
There’s nothing like a little outdoor time to get some PERSPECTIVE. Yes, perspective, that little feeling that helps us realize our “first world problems” are sometimes just not worth stressing over.
My favorite thing to do is to get up high—hike up to the top of a mountain, go to the center of a bridge, climb a tree—and then just look down. Pick a car, a person, a little house and imagine what’s going on there. Get out of your own head and your own issues and think about what is happening with someone else in the world for a second.
It helps you remember it’s possible things could be much, much worse or it reminds you that sometimes things just ARE and we can’t change them, so we have to let them go.
4. Remember your priority.
What is the most important thing in your daily life? Very often we can simplify our competing thoughts down to one priority.
For instance, right now I’m a stay at home mom. Unlike my career out of the home, being a homemaker involves so much more self-management to get things done and I easily get overwhelmed by the list of things I think I “should” be doing.
When I start to feel overwhelmed I ask myself this question and inevitably I come back to my son and his happiness. He is the sole reason my husband and I have rearranged our lives in this way—not for me to get the wash done or go grocery shopping or clean, but to give him the one-on-one growth experience that we have hand-picked for him.
When things are competing for attention in my head this priority helps me re-focus. Can’t get a walk and the wash done at the same time? Which one benefits him the most? Walk it is.
It doesn’t matter if your priority is a child, either. Just know what your main priority is (your job, your marriage, your family, your dog, your health) and suddenly decisions are easier to make.
5. Find your “trigger” friend.
My husband is an amazing man. He is unbelievably supportive of the decisions that I make and he never tries to make them for me. I love this about him.
But you know what? Sometimes, I just want someone else to take the wheel! Inaction can be like quick sand, especially when there isn’t a clear path to take. The more you debate, the harder it is to just pull the trigger and move on to the next leg of the journey. Sometimes, what is needed more than the “right” answer, is just any answer—a decision, a first step forward.
Find a friend that is willing to be that decision-maker for you when you are frozen. You know (and your friend should know) that it’s possible the decision will be arbitrary, but in this moment it might just be healthier to hear “yes, do it” than it is to linger any longer. Find that person who is brave enough to give you an answer when you truly need it. Once you get past the moment, you will find it easier to reclaim the wheel and steer straight again.
6. Protect yourself from information overload.
We are so lucky to live in a time when information is readily available, especially when it comes to parenting issues. Unfortunately, that blessing can also be a curse when you are predisposed to worrying. Every article morphs into signs of a serious illness; every blog opinion becomes an uncompromising rule rather than a helpful suggestion.
That’s why limits must be set. Start by determining what your own bias is about the information you are seeking. How do you already feel about X? Then, set limits: Read 2 articles on each side of the debate or take 30 minutes to research while the baby naps.
For issues that science can’t weigh in and experience is key, go ahead and post on a forum, but be specific. Only request exactly what kind of feedback you are looking for (i.e. “Anyone experience X? What was it like for you?” or “Recommendations for X?”). Then STOP. Meditate on it for a day or so. Chances are within 24 hours you will have a gut feeling, and you should follow it.
7. Start developing patience.
I find that I’m most susceptible to mental anxiety when I feel pressured to get too many things accomplished in a short period of time. The funny thing is, when I step back and look at where the timeline came from, many times I realize that I’ve created it myself!
Sure, it would be nice to have the porch decorated for spring before our cookout, and yes, eventually we want to have a down payment for our new house, but who said that both of those things needed to happen now? Or ever?
Here’s where all of these strategies come back full circle. We are living in just one moment in time. If we keep sacrificing this moment’s serenity in hopes that the next moment we will find even more, then we never actually experience that peace at all.
Things take time. We wake up one morning and years have passed, and the porch still got decorated and the money still got saved, or it didn’t and we’re okay with that. But time has this incredible ability to move really slowly until we’ve completely missed it all.
A lot can happen in an hour, a day, a week, a year. Remembering that fact helps me to have patience in the moment. Think back to a day ago, a week ago, a year ago—look at some pictures, talk to an older relative. You’ll see—the world still moves without us forcibly turning it.
Health experts are always telling us to take care of ourselves, and that includes making some mental space in our cluttered minds. With these tips, hopefully you can put down some of that thought-weight and get a little elbow room for the calm, happy and healing energy that’s waiting to fill you up.
Do you struggle with mental mom-clutter? Which of these strategies do you find most helpful?
About the author: Emilie O’Neal is a new mommy in Central Pennsylvania with a beefy little rugrat, Sully, who is currently her full time focus. When she’s not reveling in goddess-like child-bearing and domesticity, she’s teaching High School English, where her students most definitely do not find her quite as funny as she finds herself.
image via f9photos/Dollar Photo Club