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Under the best of circumstances, parenthood can feel like the opposite of calm. And as the world endures an unparalleled public health crisis, we are living under conditions that are decidedly not the best. Now that one in four Americans is sheltering in place, nine out of 10 children are out of school, and non-essential employees are working from home (if they’re lucky), many of us are living our lives under a banner of stress and uncertainty. But as always, inescapable stress is the mother of escapist invention. And if you have a vehicle at your disposal, there are some calming exercises you can do in your car that can help mitigate persistent feelings of overwhelm.
Not only is your car useful for getting around at a time when using public transportation is discouraged, it can be a space for meditation (read: time away from your children), mindfulness (read: more time away from your children), and reflection (read: even more time away from your children). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, moms were responsible for the majority of the parenting and household duties, despite more of us working outside the home than ever before. And now that children are stuck at home, daycares are closed, and social distancing practices prohibit playdates or calling in the grandparent calvary when we need to work or take a moment to ourselves, moms are undoubtedly shouldering additional burdens borne of this unprecedented time.
As we all work to stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s vital that we also find ways to tend to ourselves and our wellbeing. Reported instances of depression and anxiety are already increasing as a result of the virus and the necessary precautions and protections now in place, as if we needed one more reason to practice self-care.
So if you have a car nearby, grab your keys, try your hand at one (or all) of the following calming exercises, and give yourself a much-needed break.
1. Lion’s Breath
This yoga breathing technique is great for releasing tension in your face, a place where many of us carry our stress. The experts at Offbeat Yoga advise taking “a deep belly breath in through your nose, and then breathe out while sticking out your tongue and crossing your eyes.” Sure, you might *feel* a touch ridiculous, but remember: everyone is at home, so it’s not like a single person will see and be able to pass judgment on you sitting in your car, doing your best lion impression.
2. 1-minute Breathing Exercise
When stopped at a traffic light, you can utilize deep breathing to get back to neutral. A special report on stress management published by Harvard Medical School explains how this works: place one hand just below your belly button, breathe in deeply, pause for three seconds, then breathe out, completely emptying your lungs. You should then pause for another three seconds with your lungs empty before repeating these exercises. Another helpful tip, per Harvard Medical School, is to “quietly repeat to yourself ‘I am’ as you breathe in, and ‘at peace’ as you breathe out.” Hey, we’re all about speaking things we want into existence.
3. 3-minute Tension Check
If you have more than one minute in your car — say, you’re sitting outside the grocery store gathering energy to go inside for your weekly essentials run or in your driveway scrolling Instagram before going back inside your home — you can take three minutes to relax your muscles and check for any tension you may be carrying. According to the same experts at Harvard Medical School, here’s how to make the most of three minutes alone in your car: while sitting, relax your jaw, open your mouth slightly, and drop your shoulders. Next, take your hands off the steering wheel and allow them to fall to your side. Then loosen your fingers, uncross your legs and/or ankles if they were crossed, and let yourself sink into the driver’s seat as “your feet grow roots into the floor.” Then take a few slow, deep breaths in and out. (And honestly no jury would convict you for sitting like this for way longer than 3 minutes.)
4. Skull Shining Breath
While considered “advanced” in terms of relative of difficulty, these exercises can help you start your day off in a more positive life. As Jordan Shakeshaft wrote for Greatist in 2012, this technique is ab-intensive, so if you’re recovering from abdominal surgery or have any other ab-issue, maybe hold off or talk to your doctor before doing this. (Yes, this is a relaxation technique that might require clearance from your doctor — we aren’t f*cking around about getting some peace back into our bodies right now.)
To begin, sit up straight and put your hands on your knees. Next, take one long, slow breath in through your nostrils, then, on the exhale, force the air out through your nose by using your ab muscles. Your body will take it from there, naturally pulling in air again. You basically just have to focus on exhaling as hard as you can. Once you get in the flow, you can build up to 1 inhale/exhale every 2 seconds for a total of 10 breaths.
5. Guided Imagery
This technique is all about getting yourself mentally to another place, which is great since we aren’t allowed to literally go to other places. These exercises will help you envision serene places, experiences, or scenes that can help you relax. Since using your imagination takes work, we love using an app for this. Any of these guided imagery apps for Android or iPhone will supply you with soothing images if conjuring one up yourself is more work than you’re interested in putting in right now (respect). Focus on the image, close your eyes, and see yourself in the image. Practice slow, steady breathing throughout these exercises.
6. Mindful Meditation
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness — a form of meditation that you’ve undoubtedly heard or read about, if you’re not already practicing* it — can help reduce acute instances of depression and anxiety and can even change a person’s genes and lower their blood pressure. According to the folks at Mindful, a non-profit dedicated to the exploration of mindfulness, you should set a time limit when practicing mindfulness meditation, focus on how your body feels and how your breathe feels as it goes in and out of your body, and try not to let your mind wander. (Hint: your mind totally will wander, and when it does, be kind to yourself and just allow your focus to come back to your body and your breath.) These exercises should ground you in the present and help you not dwell too much on the past or the future. And if that’s not the ultimately goal right now, we seriously don’t know what is.
*Doing it once and swearing you’re going to keep doing it all the time