Date: May 1, 2010
As a new mother, I definitely had my mommy meltdown moments. They snuck up on me, usually when I was endeavoring for the umpteenth time to finally get something done. That's when my baby girl, Samantha, would start to shriek because she wanted out of her two-speed swing, or when one of our three cats would hurl a hairball across the light-colored carpet, and when my lunch would explode in a muffled splat all over the inside of the microwave.
At times like these I'd get the hint and stop whatever I was doing. I'd pick up my pouty-lipped princess and begin to rhythmically rock and hum a lullaby. Samantha probably thought all this soothing behavior was for her benefit, but the truth was I was actually plotting my next 20-minute break — the best trick I've learned for avoiding mommy burnout.
So the next time life gives you 20 minutes, don't waste a single moment thinking that it's not enough. Jump right into one of these 20 relaxing rituals instead.
1. Enjoy the perfect cup of tea and your favorite tea cookies while daydreaming by an open window. My mother used to keep her "special cookies" hidden so the kids couldn't raid her secret stash. Now I do too.
2. Get your heart rate up with a brisk walk, preferably around the most scenic route in your neighborhood. As you walk, shake those child-toting or computer-using kinks out of your arms and shoulders.
3. Write four fanciful postcards to your dearest faraway friends. Short on postcards? Find the four prettiest pieces of notepaper in the house and write a hand-written note with the most grown-up pen you have.
4. Flip through that old stack of magazines you never have time to read. Tear out the pages with articles that really interest you, staple them together, and keep them in a magazine holder to grab on the way out the door. Read in the passenger seat, while waiting in line at the grocery store, or anywhere else you find yourself with a few minutes of spare time.
5. Set your DVR to record your favorite funny sitcoms. Then save viewing for when you really need a laugh. During these times, shut the door, turn out the lights, and enjoy fast-forwarding through the commercials.
6. Pick up the phone and call your best friend. Read her your perfect day and ask about hers.
7. Write your idea of the perfect day in a journal. Start with how you would like to wake up and proceed, hour by hour, until the bedtime ritual. Be as descriptive as possible.
8. Close the shades, turn on your favorite dance music and get down. Don't stop until your stress and strain shimmy away.
9. Sit outside under a tree. Listen. Write what you hear in a poem.
10. Take a mini-vacation to a foreign land. Spend $10 at an ethnic market on something you wouldn't usually buy.
11. Flip through your childhood photos or family photo albums. Reminiscing helps us remember what it was like to view the world through innocent eyes.
12. Buy yourself inexpensive bunches of flowers and arrange them in your prettiest vases around the house. During winter, try tangling a strand of Christmas lights through a gathering of bare tree branches.
13. Make a collage of images from magazines that represent your future hopes and goals. Dream big!
14. Turn on some soothing music, fire up as many candles as you can find, dim the lights, and sink into a sumptuous bubble bath.
15. Engage your inner child. Finger paint, play with clay or color with crayons. Focus on the fun of the process, not the quality of the product. You should also get to play uninterrupted sometimes.
16. Imagine a natural place where you feel safe and comfortable. What happens when you visualize yourself talking to an older, wiser version of yourself there? Write the results in your journal.
17. Write a gratitude list for all that you have. Then write a second for all the things you wish you had, as though you already have them.
18. Be a rock star. Sing in the shower as loudly as you like. Buy soaps and shampoos with scents that inspire you.
19. Soak your feet in a warm footbath for five minutes. Push the cuticles back with an orange stick and apply two coats of your brightest, most cheerful nail polish to your toes. Be quick; they'll need a few minutes to dry.
20. Set your alarm clock for 20 minutes, lie down and start counting backwards from 100. When your alarm goes off, you'll be rested and refreshed, whether you fell asleep or not.
Once you've found your favorite ways to briefly rekindle and relax, post your top five somewhere where you'll see them, like on the fridge or next to the bathroom mirror. When you steal 20 minutes for yourself, you make life a little brighter for the whole family. Make it a habit and you'll see.
Christina Katzis the author of Writer Mama and Get Known Before the Book Deal from Writer's Digest Books.