Let’s face it - being a mom is stressful. Every minute is filled with something to do, cooking food, getting the little ones dressed, waking them up, putting them to sleep, washing clothes, cleaning dishes, the list goes on. If you are trying to do all of this while working from home, the challenges are even more insurmountable. It almost feels impossible to find a quiet moment, especially in pandemic times.
By being personally aware of the stress, seeing all of the news headlines, or reading the various messages on your social media accounts - we know that moms are struggling. CNBC reports that, “9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from burnout. From attempting to manage remote schooling to rearranging their workdays to fill child-care gaps, there's no question it's mothers who are, more often than not, shouldering the increased responsibilities of caring for kids throughout the pandemic.” NPR also notes that, “moms are reaching [their] breaking point during the pandemic”. We all know this is true, and we need something to refill our buckets.
To help you overcome these challenges, this month at Huddle Up Moms, we are focusing on mindfulness. As our first blog of the month discussed, mindfulness is the ability to find a calm, focused attention on present matters at hand. As part of this month, we have been offering a series of mindfulness meditations that you can use to help cultivate mindful moments throughout your everyday lives. Though mindfulness is a trait characteristic, it is something that can be developed over time and with practice. Exciting new research shows that mindfulness helps improve the way we think and feel. In this blog, we discuss these findings, focusing on how your brain responds to mindfulness meditation.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be all-encompassing and should not replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
Meditation is a mindfulness practice that is meant to free the self from suffering. Buddhist spiritual texts expounded the idea that meditation could be used as a way to change the mind and alter consciousness, creating samadhi or enlightenment.
Many different types of meditation exist, such
as focused attention meditation, open monitoring meditation, loving kindness meditation, mantra meditation, moving meditation, and the list goes on. You can experience some of these by tuning into our February meditation series. Though each type has a different focus, most practices emphasize slow, deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
Excitingly, you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to obtain the many benefits of this practice. Even brief daily practices (~10 minutes) have been shown to confer benefit. Recent scientific research has identified three primary ways in which mindfulness meditation improves the way we think and feel:
1. Emotional Regulation ~ The Way We Feel
Mindfulness meditation improves how we feel. The primary Buddhist texts explain that one of meditation’s primary goals is aimed at freeing the self from suffering. Scientific research has shown that in fact, this is one of meditation's principal benefits. By meditating, you can decrease mood disturbance, depression, and anxiety, and if you suffer from a mood disorder, meditation can help relieve your symptoms. In effect, meditation causes our mood state to shift in a positive way. It enhances our emotional regulation, which may underlie many of the beneficial effects of this practice.
Yu-Yian Tang, Professor of Psychology and Internal Medicine, as well as Presidential Endowed Chair in Neuroscience, at Texas Tech University, notes that, “Emotion regulation refers to strategies that can influence which emotions arise and when, how long they occur, and how these emotions are experienced and expressed.”
Mama Mind Tip - Enhancing emotional regulation can help us regulate our response to our children. When a sticky, messy, stressful situation emerges (e.g., think about walking into a room you just cleaned to find the box of legos spilled all over the floor), try to name the emotion, pause, and take five deep breaths. You will be able to approach the situation in a calm manner, without exploding in anger.
2. Attention ~ The Way We Think
The practice of meditation requires a focused concentration. In fact, it is a practice of cultivating attention. Studies investigating both long-term meditators (including monks) and brief meditative practices (weeks to months of training in novice meditators) clearly show that one of the prominent improvements obtained from meditating is an enhancement in the ability to pay attention or to attend to information in our environment. This means that meditators are better able to inhibit unnecessary or unneeded responses.
Mama Mind Tip - Enhancing attention can help you to focus on your tasks, accomplishing your to-dos in a fast, efficient manner. Imagine you are trying to write a work document while the TV is on and your children are singing or screaming in the background. Meditate, pause, and take five deep breaths, and you will be able to concentrate and get your work done.
Meditation could be used as a way to change the mind and alter consciousness.
3. Self-awareness ~ The Way We Think
In Buddhist philosophy, it is thought that a static sense of self contributes to mental unrest. Through meditation, you can accomplish a detachment from the idea that the self is a non-changing entity and rather conceptualize it (and consciousness itself) as an experiential phenomenon – an emergent process that happens in the moment. Through self-reported measures, researchers have found that meditation alters several aspects of self-awareness such as boosting self-esteem, increasing acceptance of oneself, and enhancing non-attachment (the impermanent nature of the mind).
Mama Mind Tip - Enhancing self-awareness can help in so many ways. We often have doubts as mamas. Are we doing ok? Are we screwing this up? Meditation can help you have a more positive, accepting, and appreciative view of yourself and your abilities to take care of your family.
Your Brain on Mindfulness Meditation
Several key brain changes have been linked to mindfulness meditation. These brain regions are highlighted in blue (Image from Tang et al., 2015). Most strikingly, when presented with a stressful situation, the brain of meditators responds differently than non-meditators. Meditators show a decreased response or activation of the amygdala, a brain region critical in our fear and other emotional responses. Additionally, meditators show an increased activation of the prefrontal cortex, an area that regulates cognitive functioning including short-term memory, attention, planning, and problem solving. This shows that meditation enhances both the emotional and cognitive centers of our brain.
Meditation is a beneficial practice for many aspects of our mental wellbeing. On days when you need a rest, meditation is something that you can do to support brain health and just make you feel better. Remember, you don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to receive these benefits. Just 10 minutes a day can help! Mamas, make mindfulness a daily part of your daily routine, and make sure to check out our February meditation offerings.
To read more about how mindfulness meditation affects you and your brain:
Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3916
If you missed our earlier blog, check out Designing & Defining Mindfulness.
Please follow us on social media and continue learning about various mindfulness practices and how you can make a positive change in your life! Take a moment for YOU!
If you have topics or specific questions about your reproductive organs, please email huddleupmoms@gmail and we will do our best to incorporate your questions into our blogs/content.
Written by Julia C. Basso, PhD
Julia is a wearer of many hats. She is the Director of Research & Content Development. She is a neuroscientist at Virginia Tech working in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise as well as a teacher and practitioner of dance and yoga. She is also the proud mama of Juliette and Holden and a wife of a mad scientist. She is fascinated by the brain's capacity for plasticity and the body's ability to shape the brain. Her research centers around understanding how physical activity and mindfulness practices affect the brain functionally, physiologically, and morphologically. She understands both scientifically and personally that pregnancy and the postpartum period (and motherhood in general) are a time of significant change in a woman's life, and she is enthusiastic about being a part of Huddle Up Moms to help women successfully navigate their motherhood journeys.
You can learn more about Julia here.