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The Benefits of Time for Yourself
Amid a demanding teaching schedule, mothering two young children, and life's inevitable little surprises, Plymouth, Wisconsin-based college professor Alayne Peterson has a special routine she sticks to at least once a week, after the kids are in bed: "I grab whatever I can find to read, run the tub hot and soak for at least 45 minutes," she says. She always includes her favorite bath salts—different scents depending on the season. "And If I want to dial up the 'luxe,' I'll have a glass of chardonnay."
Ah, "me-time"—so lovely that just reading about it is relaxing. But there's more to this grownup time-out than just chilling out: Taking a break from your daily demands can keep your immune system ticking and ward off the effects of aging, says M.J. Ryan, a life coach and author of AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For, Not only that, you're doing your family a favor. "If you just exhale, what would happen? You have to inhale as well. When you replenish yourself in whatever way works for you, you have physical stamina and emotional resilience—and that is key to good parenting," Ryan says. "Self-care is never selfish."
Happily, 65% of the Motherboard Moms we polled at themotherboard.com say they manage to carve out a little me-time every day—and they do so in many different ways. Here are 10 simple and surprising strategies for squeezing in your own personal getaway from the grind.
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Go Shopping, Solo
Even if you're just heading to the market for groceries, there's something so pleasurable about doing it alone, many moms say, that it becomes a getaway in disguise. "I can wander and let my thoughts wander without having to deal with the whining of small people," says Peterson, the professor. And afterward, there's that achievement buzz that comes from knocking another item off your to-do list. Win-win.
Giving your undivided attention to one task—no matter what it is—can be very restful for the brain, says life coach Ryan. That's true for Motherboard spokesmom Maureen Petrosky. "I've found that when you have to balance two completely different components of your life—like work and family—it's easy to be worrying about the one you are not actually present in. For instance, I find myself checking my phone and e-mail while I'm with the kids, and vice versa—when I'm at work I'm checking to see that the kids are okay. Instead, I've found that if I pay attention to the moment I am in, whatever that moment is, I get so much more done and enjoy it so much more," she says.
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Pencil In a Pedi
This one ranks high among moms, for good reason: "Especially if you're a stay-at-home mom, you can retreat into sweatpants-land," says Carley Knobloch, a Los Angeles-based life coach, mom, and founder of Digitwirl, a weekly web show about using technology to simplify your life. "There's a part of your brain that wants to know what the heck happened to the stylish, put-together person you once were. A pedicure is a small gesture, but it can reassure you—and the world—that underneath the sweatpants is a woman who does care about her appearance."
"I first started getting pedicures when my son was an infant," says Joy Myers, a PR consultant in Birmingham, Alabama. "My mother-in-law actually insisted on taking me, to get me out of the house. I still do it to this day, even though my son is in school and not nearly as demanding of my time."
Myers points out that a pedicure meets several needs: "It's a quick escape that doesn't take a lot of planning. It's quiet—no one expects you to talk if you don't want to—and it doesn't kill the budget. A pedicure is a taste of the spa world that works for me. And I have beautiful painted toes as a result that I can admire for weeks after!" Even if you have to do it yourself, a pedicure provides a mood boost that lasts far beyond the 30 minutes you took to give yourself one.
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Train for a Race
Nichole Lobdell, a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, never thought running could help her relax. "I thought I'd prefer pampering, but that just gave me time to think about my son, my husband, work, or the mound of chores awaiting my return. I couldn't shut down," she says. So Lobdell started training for a half-marathon. "I raised money for a charity I believed in, lost weight, and felt refreshed," she says. Now she's prepping for a second race, jogging three times a week with an iPhone app that tracks her mileage and plays her favorite tunes. "I let my mind wander to the beat and feel my breath, and that relaxes me."
So, you like the sound of a cardio chill-out... but are not ready for distance running? "Start small, and be creative," says Katrin Schumann, co-author of Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too. "Take a walk during your lunch break. Or get up half an hour earlier on the weekend and do an exercise video." As the ads say, Just do it!
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Okay, maybe Facebook has a bad rap as a timesuck but let's face it: When a busy mom is looking for a cheap 30-minute (or less) escape—one that's endlessly amenable to a busy schedule—social networking tools can be indispensable for everything from combating isolation to brainstorming project ideas, says life coach Ryan.
"I'd rather chill with my iPad than take a bubble bath any day," says Erin Street, an editor in Alabama—and self-described "bona fide extrovert." She explains: "When my son goes to bed, I pull out my iPad to see what's happening in the world. It helps me connect with like-minded people. On good days and rotten ones, I know I can turn to my trusty online friends for thought-provoking reading and discussion—and I can even sneak that in during lunch or while in line at the cleaners."
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Talk with a Faraway Friend
Multitask during me-time? It sounds contradictory, but it can work—if the chill-out method in question is chatting with one of your besties on the phone. "It's like this," says Julie Macon, a writer and mom of two in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: "You can't invite a friend over to sit with you while you do laundry, but you can do stuff that's mindless and repetitive and annoying while talking to your friends on the phone. Sometimes you just don't want to write another e-mail."
"Women are hardwired to connect," says life coach Ryan, and a phone call is one of the easiest—and most intimate—ways to make that happen without much energy or effort. "I love hearing my friends laugh," says Macon. "That alone can brighten my day."
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Learn Something New
"For me, learning new things puts me in touch with a part of my brain that isn't accessed when I'm making school lunches or reading Goodnight Moon," says life coach Knobloch. "I feel challenged and engaged and passionate. Motherhood is all those things, too, but it's only one dimension of who I am."
Many moms find they're able to carve out time to pursue a passion or explore an interest—from Italian cooking to French lessons, from scuba diving to salsa dancing—once their kids are in school full-time. "That's when many parents begin to ask themselves, Where am I? What do I want?" says Schumann. But if you still have little ones at home, don't write off the possibility of taking a one-night workshop (colleges, high schools, and community centers often offer great options) or an online class. It could be just the inspiring pick-me-up you need. "Living a life of curiosity, in which we challenge ourselves to think and connect, is immensely satisfying," Schumann notes. "When we give up on being curious, we are simply sleepwalking through life."
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Get Some Fresh Air
Many studies have confirmed the mood-boosting effects of spending time in nature (getting sufficient doses of vitamin D might be part of the effect), so it's no wonder that many moms say they love to retreat to the great outdoors—be that a park, their own backyard, or the beach. "Walking in the woods is energizing and calming at the same time," one Motherboard Mom told us.
Jeana Prewitt, of Franklin, Tennessee, says gardening has always provided respite from the demands of motherhood. "It's a sanity preserver," she says, adding, "I can coo over plants that delight me, I can take a thousand pictures of them, and I can show them off to all my friends. Yet they never roll their eyes, groan, or scowl in response."
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Curl Up with a Good Read
Settling down with a book is "very gratifying, yet chronically undervalued and overlooked," says Schumann. "If you have time to watch mindless television, you have time to read for a few minutes. And it may make you feel energized rather than euthanized."
For Tori Marlan, a writer who recently moved with her husband and daughter to Montreal from Austin, reading has always been a me-time pleasure, but now it's taken on another dimension of significance. "It makes me feel connected to the world, which has always been important to me, but is even more important now that I have a toddler. It combats the feeling that being a mom is all-consuming and threatening to keep my life insular." Marlan says, too, that reading helps her both acclimate to her new home and keep tabs on her native country. "I'm ravenous when I pick up The Walrus (kind of like Canada's New Yorker) and ravenous, too, whenever I read something from or about home—I don't want to stop being in the know!"
If you feel strapped for reading time, try saving online articles with free software like Instapaper. When you do find three or five minutes, you'll have a mini-library of quick reads at your fingertips—accessible on the go via smartphone.
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Make a Date with the Yoga Mat
You've probably heard about the increasing number of studies backing yoga as a powerful antidote to stress, not to mention its many additional benefits. (A small 2010 study, for example, found it effective against fibromyalgia symptoms.) Elizabeth Burnworth, a mom of two in Columbia, South Carolina, has long been a yoga aficionado, but only recently has she made a twice-weekly class a non-negotiable part of life. Her tip to making it work? Buddy up with your instructor. "She puts the pressure on me if I start laming out. She knows it is a commitment I'm making to myself. It reminds me that everything can wait."
You'll get the most out of yoga if you practice regularly, but if a weekly class is a challenging fit for your schedule, don't give up, says Schumann: "All it takes to begin the journey back to yourself is a small daily commitment. Figure out what makes you tick and take just a few minutes to indulge in this activity." She tells the story of one mom who, unable to squeeze in a weekly class, gets up every morning and does one handstand. "It's just enough to set her off on the right foot and to keep her connected to an activity that gives her tremendous energy," Schumann says.
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Take a Joyride
Some days, even a short car trip with the kids can be enough to make you need a very long nap. "It begins with dragging my toddler by hand and lifting her (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the car seat, doing up the straps," says Emily Willis, a Nashville floral designer and mom of two. "Then come the conversations with my son about the possibility of life on other planets, ghosts and more, all while delivering food snacks or dropped toys to both children, singing songs, correcting behaviors and ignoring tantrums. Sometimes I finish my journey and don't remember looking at the road once." No wonder Willis relishes the opportunity to take a solo drive. "It gives me a sense of enormous freedom to turn the key and go. And it's just relaxing to simply drive in silence, alone with my thoughts," she says.
Motherboard Moms also cite going for a drive as a favorite form of me-time. "Sometimes I just need to get into a new environment if I'm feeling stressed," says one. "Getting in my car, blasting the music, and going for a ride to nowhere in particular usually helps give me a new perspective."