Microbreaks: How a Few Moments Well Spent Can Change Your Whole Day
Parents continue to be impacted by the toxic stress of the pandemic, compounded by national and international crises and tragedies. One parent’s recent description on social media struck me. “Standing on the corner of burned-out parenting and exhausted working,” the parent wrote. “It’s soul sucking and there are no breaks.”
With so much suffering, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. Not only will it benefit your physical and mental health, but you will be better able to co-regulate your child’s nervous system, one of our most important roles as parents.
You may find that notion laughable. “Who has the time for self-care?” you may be thinking. “I’m too busy falling apart!”
It’s a vicious cycle: we’re exhausted, we don’t have time to care for ourselves, and that makes us feel even more stressed and burned out.
So here’s a suggestion to break the cycle: microbreaks. These strategies require just minutes—or even seconds!—a day. You can try them at home, with your kids, even at your workplace—whether that’s at home (for now) or elsewhere. If you’re less pressed for time, you may want to try one of these approaches. But if you’re stretched to the limit, research shows these small, brief moments can help reduce stress.
The idea is to shift your focus momentarily to an experience that provides your body with a short burst of novel sensory input. We’re not talking about complicated or demanding experiences. Just outlets that offer you a momentary shift. A few suggestions:
- Step outside and look up at the sky for a few seconds
- Think of the last time you felt full of joy, and try to bring to mind all the sensory details of that moment.
- For three to five breaths, exhale more deeply than you inhale.
- Place a hand over your heart or on your cheek for several seconds, allowing the feeling of touch to register on your skin.
- Take a slow sip of cool water and concentrate on the feeling as it goes down your throat.
- Focus on an object for five seconds, taking in the details of its sound or appearance.
You get the idea. A microbreak can be anything that helps make you feel better in the moment. So take note of experiences and sensations that make you feel good, and repeat them with intention at least once an hour. You may be surprised how effectively this simple technique helps reduce stress levels.
Of course, another significant factor is micromoments of human connection. Many parents I talk to are too exhausted these days to arrange playdates for their kids or outings with other parents. For one thing, babysitting may be hard to come by. But remember that other people, especially those we trust, are good for us. Opening up to a trusted friend can make you feel less alone.
If you lack the energy to plan get-togethers, then be creative and find moments on the fly. When you take your child for a walk, exchange smiles with passersby. Wave to that elderly neighbor around the corner. Even exchanging greetings with a delivery person offers a moment of connection.
One mom I know who was missing adult contact makes a habit of sitting on the stoop with her children to wait for the mail each day. Her young kids have learned the name of the mail carrier and gift him occasionally with a leaf—or with a cup of water on hot days. Her microbreak was uplifting for all involved.
Another outlet is connecting with others at a park.
These moments of human connection are valuable to all. Just knowing you aren’t alone can help elevate your mood.
With news of new variants and rapid spread, it can feel like the current reality could go on forever. It’s helpful to remember that it really won’t. But in the meantime, we can all use our precious spare moments to connect with our surroundings, other people, and ourselves, and, in the process, feel a little better.
I share more about the importance of our own well-being and its impact on children in my latest book, Brain-Body Parenting.