There are several misconceptions behind the idea of mindfulness, including that you have to spend hours meditating, doing yoga poses, and reciting mantras every single day (who has time for that?!).
Although I’m sure there are some people that choose to do this, it’s definitely not realistic for Autism moms. Or at least not, most special needs mamas that I know. Although a mindful lifestyle can mean many things, the basic idea behind mindfulness is to turn your attention inward and truly reflect on your life, your thoughts, and your emotions. It means slowing down and being mindful of the things you do. It means being mindful of your thoughts and living an intentional life.
To help you get started on your mindfulness journey, here are 10 mindfulness exercises you can include in your morning and evening routines. Special needs parenting comes with its own set of morning surprises, but my hope is that these simple practices will help you bring more peace and calm into an otherwise chaotic morning (or evening).
1. Journaling Your Thoughts:
A great way to kick off your mornings is to journal your thoughts and reflect on the blessings in your life. It’s a wonderful way to clear your head and start your day on a positive note. It also helps to train your mind to actively seek out those moments, feelings, people, or experiences that you’re grateful for. This will also help you gain more clarity on your goals and your intentions for the day. It not only puts your goals out there front and center but keeps you motivated and focused on the direction you’re heading. It’s also a great way for you to look back and review those goals on a daily basis. It’s been said that writing down your goals will increase your chances of success by a huge percentage. Make every effort to do this first thing in the morning and you’ll be surprised at how much more productive and less chaotic your days start to become.
Not a writer? Or long-form writing? Lists are perfectly fine. There are no hard and fast rules here. Simply getting your thoughts on paper, will help you to give it a home.
2. Move Your Body aka Exercise:
This is one of those habits that you might roll your eyes at, at first but it’s so important to move our bodies. Starting each day by moving your body will help boost your energy. And with little (or big) kids in toll, we all can use more energy, amen? Not only will you have more energy and mental clarity, but it also helps boost your productivity throughout your day. Exercise also lifts your mood and helps you to be more in touch with your physical body. You’re honoring your body when you move it. This is one way to show your body love. Don’t think too much into it – you don’t have to do an hour-long workout. Simply get your body moving. If you’re new to exercise, start by taking a morning walk or try some yoga (this is also great for clearing your head). Yoga with Adriene is my go-to. Pilate with Robin Long is also a great place to start.
Start slow and try to be consistent. It’s okay if you miss a day, just get back to it the next day. Give yourself plenty of grace upon grace upon grace. You’ll find that moving your body in the morning also helps you sleep better at night.
3. Sit in Silence:
Before you begin your day, take time to simply sit in silence for a short while. Before your phone or google doc (or Alexa) goes off in the morning, give yourself a moment to take in the quiet of the morning. How often do you actually allow yourself to simply be? It’s so easy to get caught up with the hustle and bustle with the craziness that comes with raising our Autistic children that we forget to stop and smell the roses. Make an effort to really notice the beauty around you – the clouds in the sky, the breeze blowing, and the birds chirping.
Take note of your breathing. This can be a form of meditation within itself just focusing solely on taking one breath in, letting one breath out. Waking up before the world can be one of the best parts of your day because you can clear your head and simply just be. This also gives you an opportunity to take in a beautiful sunrise while the darkness of the night fades away into a brand new day.
When you start each day by visualizing what you want your future to look like, you automatically raise your frequency and set yourself up for success. Take 5-10 minutes each morning to picture something that you’re working towards. This can be starting a new workout program and visualizing the result, working towards a new goal for your Autistic children (if you’re running a home-based therapy program) and visualizing your child meeting their goals, or a family vacation you’ve always wanted to take (like Autism on the Sea). Pick one thing and envision yourself living that moment. Tap into your creativity.
How do you feel about making this dream a reality?
What emotions are you going through?
What are you wearing?
What does your life look like at that exact moment?
Imagine yourself there and give visibility to your dreams through this process.
A quick tip: Let go of the “hows.” During your visualization, you don’t need to know how this is going to happen, simply that it does.
5. Water. Water. Water:
This may be one of the most obvious suggestions but if you’re anything like me– and have the tendency to reach for another cup of coffee instead of opting for water–it’s also something that we moms tend to forget to do. One of the first things you want to do when you wake up is drink some water to rehydrate your body. Water helps to rid your body of toxins and can even give your skin a radiant glow. After three pregnancies, my skin can definitely use more glow. And let’s be real… when your Autistic child isn’t sleeping through the night– opting for coffee instead of water becomes a bit of a habit. At least, it did for me. So, if you can, make it your best effort to grab a glass of water each morning. Keeping a glass of water on my nightstand or a water bottle has helped me make a part of my morning rhythm.
6. Read a light book:
After a long day, one of the best things you can do is curl up with a good book before bed. This not only relaxes your mind but reading has also been known to reduce stress and anxiety levels. It helps distract your mind from the daily chaos of life and redirects your focus to what is written on the page of the book. In other words, reading creates a brief escape from the world around us and there’s no better time than right before you drift off to dream. Reading is also a great way to broaden your perspective and open your mind to new possibilities – this is why it’s no surprise that it can give your creativity a boost. Adding this habit to your nightly ritual can make a huge impact on how you sleep as well as how you feel the next day.
We often push self-care routines to the side because we don’t have time, life is too crazy, it doesn’t work anyway – etc. However, developing a nighttime self-care routine is so important. You need to take time out for yourself, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes at a time. Try a nice, relaxing body scan meditation or evening meditation– this is a great way to unwind after a long day and let the noise of the world fade away. Give yourself the gift of self-compassion by doing a tapping session, lean into how you’re feeling so you can feel supported. Creative expression is a great way to care for yourself– drawing, painting, gardening. If you’re in the mood for some laughter, hop on a quick phone call with a good friend who makes you laugh. Do something simply because you enjoy it. A nighttime self-care ritual is a great way to put you in a relaxed state and prep you for a good night’s sleep.
8. Morning Prep:
One way to makes sure the next morning isn’t super chaotic is to prep for it the night before. Depending on what your mornings usually look like, your night prep might be something as simple as getting your clothing (and your kid’s clothing) ready to go or deciding on 3 tasks you want to focus on for the next day. Think about what will help your mornings run more smoothly and do that. If you are constantly running late because you have to make the kids lunches, start making them up the night before to give you a head start to the day. Developing a routine each evening where you feel prepped and ready for the next day will not only reduce stress but keep life from becoming too crazy the minute you wake up. Our mornings tend to be chaotic, so I try to get as much done the night before as possible.
9. Limit Blue Light:
Despite how wonderful technology can be, it can also greatly affect our ability to get a restful night’s sleep – or even fall asleep for that matter. From your smartphone to your TV to video gaming devices, you want to make every effort to reduce how much you use these electronics as the sun goes down. Instead of watching that last episode on Netflix (guilty) or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook/Instagram/Tiktok 30 minutes before bed, try journaling or find a good book to help you unwind (see number 6). It’s especially important to keep your bedroom free from digital distractions. Set boundaries where you recognize that your bedroom is a place of relaxation. By establishing this nighttime ritual, you’re more likely to fall asleep faster and have a peaceful night’s sleep.
10. Guided Meditation:
Right before bed is a great time to try a guided meditation so you can calm your mind and prepare for a good night’s sleep. If you’re new to meditation or have trouble shutting off your thoughts at night, it might be overwhelming to even know where to start. This is where guided meditation comes in. This type of meditation can help you focus and get out of your own head while keeping those distracting thoughts at bay. There are several apps to help you get started including Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace. There are a ton of short and quick meditations to start with so just pick one and roll with it. Meditation takes practice (even the guided kind) so don’t give up if your mind should start to wander the first few times you try it. Be consistent and in just 5-10 minutes a day you can start feeling calmer and more mindful as you go about your day.
Autism mom life can be full of stress, craziness, and a never-ending list of to-dos. This is why it’s super important that you commit to morning and evening rituals that allow you to parent from a place of peace and calm – a little calm inside all the chaos that comes with special needs parenting. We can all use more peace, amen?
If you find yourself constantly on edge, overwhelmed by life, and unable to sleep at night, simply try to incorporate one or two of these habits into your day, and see what happens. You don’t have to commit a ton of time and effort to these mindfulness practices. Simply be consistent and make these rituals a part of your everyday life.
Start small and try one or two at a time just to ease yourself into the process. Don’t beat yourself up if your mind wanders during meditation or you don’t drink as much water as you would like. It’s all part of the journey and you’re going to slip up a time or two.
Give yourself patience and grace and keep at it. Finding your inner peace so you can show up as a calmer, happier mama doesn’t happen overnight but with a few of these ideas, you will be well on your way to a more peaceful mama.
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