All around me in virtual spaces are people, especially moms, who have been thrust into the world of working from home while trying to imitate school and play the role of teacher for their kids. Even for those of us moms who are veterans trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance because our offices are within a few steps of our bedrooms and living rooms, this is different. Isolation has become our new normal — in an attempt to keep some normalcy and stay productive, many have turned to creating routines. Routines keep us on autopilot. That’s fine and even necessary in the typical real world, but nothing about the world as COVID-19 rapidly spreads is typical. What moms need right now are rituals.
Unlike routines, rituals do not simply focus on the steps, tasks, and checking off a box. Rituals help us move with focused intention. “Finding purpose can help us change our perspective, giving us a more positive outlook on life,” says Dr. Brandi Moore, Naturopathic Doctor and founder of Reclaim Integrative Health in Arizona. “It can also give us a reason to show up for ourselves.” And the morning time is exactly when we need to be present to individually prepare and set the inner tone for the rest of the day. It goes beyond productivity, eating a healthy breakfast, and trying to squeeze in exercise. Setting your daily intentions has a much wider reach than solely giving yourself another gold star on the it’s done board — it’s a real opportunity to be mindful and present at the beginning of your day to organically and fluidly make the decisions that will guide the rest of your day.
First, get real about defining what satisfies and nurtures your soul uniquely to you and only you. This feeds into how you’ll live each day out through your actions. Dr. Moore says she feels her best when she starts her day with movement. Instead of committing herself to a hard-and-fast rule about running so many miles every day at a set time, for example, she just focuses on getting moving. Whether it’s yoga or high-intensity interval training, she does it each day with how she determines movement will work best for her. The rewards are far-reaching. “It starts my day in a positive place…mentally and I feel like I can tackle any challenge I face that day,” she says.
“You can find purpose in the smallest task, giving your…morning routine more meaning,” says Dr. Moore. At the root of experiencing deeper value in your morning tasks is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your thoughts and feelings on exactly what you’re doing in the moment. If you wash your face every morning while thinking about the three million things you have to do today, you’re definitely in the norm, but you’re not present. Did you really experience it if you weren’t mentally and I venture to say emotionally involved? Probably and unfortunately not. Luckily, you can change your morning routines into morning rituals simply by being resolute about being present.
Here’s how I changed my morning routines into rituals that prioritize my self-care and mental well-being to put me in the best place despite difficult times.
Focus On The First 10 Minutes
My email inbox is where my life is. Work emails, sales promotions, news alerts, and words from friends seem to call me in my sleep. I’m in good company though, with 1 in 3 millennials checking their email within minutes of waking up. What I once considered a highly productive habit of a successful person has proven to set me up for a habit of attachment to my phone. Reading emails first thing leads to responding from bed, browsing a sale and throwing a couple of things in my shopping cart, checking Facebook, and an overall falling down a FOMO (fear of missing out)-induced rabbit hole. Forty-five minutes later and you’re trying to unglue your phone from your hand and get yourself mentally prepared for the day, anxiously.
Instead, take the lead your way to set the tone for your day. Like many moms, I’m working from home and caring for my children (somehow) at the same time. My days literally call for flexibility, and I need to start each day refreshed from the one before. My new morning routine focuses on both of these: I spend the first 10 minutes in bed drinking a full glass of water while stretching. I don’t think about my to-do list, what to make for breakfast, or even what happened yesterday. I clear my mind and think about how the crickety muscles in my back, from the position my little bed-sharer kicked me into, are loosening with every move. I feel my body lengthening and my mind rehydrating, and I’m ready to get up and get started.
Transform Your Hygiene
Anyone who’s had the rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the skincare collection on my bathroom vanity can attest to the sheer number of skin-care products I keep on hand. There’s my cleanser, face mask, toner, serums, moisturizers, primers, spot treatments, and face oils. They all have promises — to remove impurities, hydrate, brighten, even skin tone — and the results I wanted to see were all I thought about as I slathered, rubbed, and patted each product into my skin.
Create everyday spa-like moments in your bathroom by putting the focus back on you. The reason to clean any part of yourself is for your own care. As I cleanse my face, I think about starting with a clean slate and washing away yesterday’s stresses. As I tone, moisturize, and complete the rest of what used to just be a routine, I really tune in to the cooling, drying, and hydrating sensations. I feel the release in my skin as I put pressure on the spots above and in between my eyebrows, under my eyes, around my nose, and on my cheeks. I let it all feel good, like a mini facial with massage every morning. I apply my creams as a treat myself instead of going through the motions in hopes to see some magical results.
Write Down Your Day in a New Way
The to-do list ruled my day once upon a time. It was all about calendars, reminders, meetings, tasks to complete, and tracking it all. To some extent, these are a necessary evil. Without some organization to the day, it’s easy to lose time and watch the day get away from you. There’s also power in writing down your day, but use that power to do more than just remember, organize, and complete tasks.
Risa Williams, a therapist and life coach, says it’s equally important to write a list of what’s already done that you’re thankful for. “When you bring your focus back to appreciating things, it’s both a good way to ground yourself when your environment feels chaotic, and it’s also a good way to focus on the things that are already working out for you,” she says. “Focusing your attention on the positive things that you’re grateful for through journaling about them is a great way to help yourself calm down and soothe yourself.”
So when there seems to be 50 things on the list to do today, it’s OK to be thankful for the one or two tasks you’ve already done because they move you that much closer to your purpose.
Rituals will not necessarily completely change your life, but they can help shape the depth of how you experience it. When times are stressful and the mental fatigue of living through such uncertainty keeps you from achieving what you perceive as your peak performance at work or as a parent, you can reconnect with your true self and what’s most important internally through daily acts.
Moms don’t need another unrealistic expectation to add to the plate. We need more time and space to connect with ourselves, and we can find and relish in that space a few minutes at a time by turning our morning routines into morning rituals.