I’m raising three kids. Except for a brief interlude when our 2. baby was born we’ve never lived close to family or a network of old friends. Sometimes that has been really difficult. In the short term, finding ways to keep going when I was tired beyond measure helped me get through. These mini breaks gave me breathing space and a mental rest. In the mid-to-long term, building a support network and finding the courage to ask for and accept help, was a game changer.
Today, I want to share some of the mini breaks that I’ve used for more than a decade. I hope they can help you get through a tough day with a smile (even if it’s a fake one – read to the end for why even this helps).
“Self-care is about creating a life we don’t want to escape from…
It’s not just just the bubble baths and treating ourselves. It’s the things that are uncomfortable like setting boundaries, like asking for help, like countering the shoulds that go through our mind all the time because that’s ultimately what’s going to allow us to create a life that we don’t want to escape. “
This is the beginning of a conversation between Sundae Schneider-Bean and Dr. Melissa Tiessen on the Expat Happy Hour podcast, episode 220. It struck me because as a parent there have been times when I’ve been really bad at some of these things.
Self care is not selfish. Self-care is an essential part of caring for others by being our best, most rested and healthy self. NOT looking after ourself is selfish. Putting YOU first does not mean you’re choosing you over “them”. It does mean mindfully and consistently looking after your mental, physical and spiritual health.
We can't escape from parenting
I remember afternoons where I asked my kids to play doctor so I could be the patient and lie still on the floor with my eyes closed while they poked and prodded me. Anything for a rest.
We can’t escape from parenting and as a parent abroad it can be especially hard as you’re trying to adjust to so many things and wanting to prove to the doubters that you can do this. You might not have a support network you feel comfortable leaning on and if you have a partner, they may be extra stressed. But you do not have to do this alone.
While creating a community to hold and support you is immensely important (read this) you also need to have ways to manage your day-to-day stressors. There are times and places in our lives where taking any kind of break feels impossible. This is where the mini-breaks come in. A tiny escape to help you keep going.
It’s ok to be tired, to feel stressed, to want some quiet time, to want to go to the bathroom without someone crying or knocking on the door, to need a break. Let’s acknowledge that.
I was fortunate to have a husband that supported my need for childcare for our babies for a few hours a week. I knew a few hours off made me a better mother and it helped the children build relationships and trust with other adults. Living outside of our home community can mean they miss out on these important developmental steps.
But I had to ask for this space. I identified my need and together we found a way to fulfil it. We had conversations, found a carer and had to “defend” our decision to family members that couldn’t understand why we would let a stranger raise our babies.
Every bit counts, but don't forget the big picture
We can’t always take a few hours off. Sometimes we need a break RIGHT NOW because it’s all too much. Mini breaks can help reset a bad day, calm you and help you feel more like yourself. These small “interventions” can and do add up to overall better care of yourself but they are quick fixes and shouldn’t replace the long-term goal of consistent self-care on a larger scale.
As mentioned above, self-care sometimes means doing the hard stuff, the uncomfortable things. This can mean scheduling overdue doctors appointments (dental check-up anyone?), getting clear on your boundaries and sticking to them, or asking for help when it feels difficult to do so. But you might be surprised – e.g. maybe there are expats in your community that don’t have kids along and would be happy to give yours a cuddle when you need a break.
If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no.
Mini mental breaks
In our daily life the mini mental breaks can give us a little relief. They are exercises you can do anywhere, anytime in less time than it takes a toddler to unroll a roll of toilet paper. They work by using your breath and/or by consciously activating your senses to calm yourself and re-focus your energy.
Print out the (updated!) list of 40+ mini breaks (tap on image to download) and use them as inspiration. Or – if you’re feeling motivated – cut them out and drop them in a jar. Pick one to do every day or grab one “in case of emergency”.
Read this post for a few more ideas on creating calm in the midst of chaos.
My top 4 mini mental breaks
I sincerely hope you find a few things on the list that help you create some breathing space when life gets stressful. My favorites are:
Learn to use your breath to calm yourself.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Repeat 3x.
Give & Get 3-breath hugs. These are long hugs that really calm both people and create a connection. I tell my kids my heart needs the time to talk to theirs.
Even if you don't feel like it, fake smiling tricks your brain into feeling better. Smiling for a few seconds (aim for at least 15) will actually make you feel happier. And, it's contagious - in a good way.
Click on image to read more about the "magic" we have within our brains.
When you get frazzled take yourself to a special place in your mind; a place where you felt calm. I fly to the top of a mountain in Switzerland. This is a memory from my life BC (before children), where I had few commitments and many freedoms. Going here gives me a sense of space and serenity. Click on image for hiking tips in Switzerland.
Some more links
Mindful drawing/doodling by Drawn to a Story
More break ideas by Glücksclaudi (in German)
Find a deeper connection as a family with FAMILY FLIGHT SCHOOL, my new program for expat parents & their might kids. Enter to win a ticket by 16 April.
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There are great ideas, Anna! As a mother to two energetic boys (a 3.5 and 1 year old) and an expat, I definitely need mini-breaks (emphasis on the ‘mini’!). I love the idea of a long enough hug so that your hearts can speak to each other – that is so beautiful. Another one I would add: read a poem or quote (they’re so short and can really take you out of a stressful moment). I’ll definitely be trying some of your strategies!
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