If you have one (or more!) child under four, you can probably tick this list off with me.
- Less time
- Less sleep
- Less energy
- More chores
- More anxiety
- More stress
Put bluntly, your child is programmed to run you ragged, from physical needs to reckless curiosity. You never, ever switch off – even if you visit the bathroom, you stay alert for howls of outrage or ominous silence.
Our attentiveness is the single biggest reason the human race is still around. It’s also slowly killing us as we were never meant to parent in a vacuum. Women are (mostly) wired to work in groups and surround themselves with other women as a safety net. Before mass mobility, you would most likely spend your entire life within the same village or group, giving you other, trusted adults and older kids to distract the baby when you needed to do everyday chores. Our lifestyle today is easier, thanks to washing machines and microwaves, but it’s also more fragmented, with fewer social touch points during the day. As a result, we find ourselves multitasking. And we are exceptionally bad at it.
Psychologists have estimated that we only consciously process 40 pieces of information at any one time, whilst taking in over 11 million bits of other information, unconsciously. Everything, from sensory cues to what your stomach is doing with your breakfast. This does not leave us a lot of room for responding to extra stimulation.
Multitasking actually reduces the brain’s focusing ability. Psychologists, Gorman and Green ran a study in 2016 that compared the concentration of two groups. Group A browsed the internet, whilst Group B meditated. During the tests, the meditators showed greater improvement in their ability to concentrate. In fact, in a similar study in 2012 run by Dr Mrazek, meditation actually helped students increase their entrance exam score by up to 30%
So, why does this matter to you, as a mother?
Your child has basically trained you into mental distraction. It’s become your default mode, but it’s not a healthy mindset. You are more responsive to stress, mood swings and negative thinking. Your brain literally starts to nitpick, bringing up past mistakes and anxieties. It’s another survival technique, developed when our ability to learn from crucial mistakes kept us alive. Now, it mostly keeps us stressed and I have personally found it gets worse with a lack of sleep.
Meditation allows us to reset the default mode and soothe the wandering mind. After a day of low-level stress, yelling and occasional frights (“watch that car!), wouldn’t it just be nice to turn off the lists in your head and float away? Well, meditation helps that to happen.
There is some evidence that meditation can actually leave your brain healthier – a 2016 study from Dr Luders at the UCLA found some evidence that meditation slows down brain cell death. In her control group, the participants (in their 50s) who had frequently meditated had brains that were an average of 7.5 years younger than those who had not.
In addition to health, meditation can help with mood swings and depression. It’s called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in medicine and a number of studies in this field have shown it to be effective alongside drugs and can even reach people who did not improve with medication. Strikingly, the study by Sona Dimidjian in 2016 showed that pregnant women could use MBCT to lower the risk of depression.
You don’t even have to do a lot of meditation to get the benefits. Just eight minutes a day, for two weeks will increase your concentration and reduce stress. I personally get my done in the morning, before I even get out of bed, using meditation apps or a simple breathing exercise.
Meditation is the ultimate portable tool. You can do it whilst walking, you can do it in the shower, on the bus or just before bed.
In part two, I will help you get started.