10 Ways for Busy Moms to Find Their Zen in 5 Minutes

These 5-minute mental makeovers will help you find your happy—fast.

Ways to Find Your Zen as a Busy Mom

Busy Moms Find Five Minutes Brunette Woman Laying Down White Dress Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Let's just say it had been a long day: My ambitious made-from-scratch mac ’n’ cheese had been sent back to the chef by my 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, and when I attempted to quickly sneak onto the computer to return an e-mail, 2-year-old Ethan insisted on co-piloting the mouse. Then we ran out of toilet paper, which necessitated an emergency pre-nap journey to the supermarket. My stress level called for a total-body seaweed wrap and an attendant bringing me emerald-colored drinks. However, with a playdate arriving imminently, I had to opt for the next best thing: I escaped to the bathroom (that sacred sanctuary of mothers everywhere) and listened to the shower run. Hey, if you close your eyes, that kind of sounds like Malibu. Decadent? Uh, nope. Effective? Actually, yes. 

Believe it or not, even five minutes of “me time” can help you recharge and make you more resilient, says Josie Znidarsic, D.O., who practices family medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. And it turns out there are better ways to unwind than hiding in the loo. Health and wellness experts—busy moms themselves—share brilliant ideas for hitting the reset button. 

1. Try a moment of mindfulness.

Practice this form of meditation, in which you focus on the present moment during everyday routines, says Kristen Race, Ph.D., author of Mindful Parenting. Before picking up the kids from school, turn off your phone and make a cup of green tea. Use all your senses: Feel the warmth in your hand, the steam on your nose, the liquid in your throat. You can do the same thing in the shower or while petting your dog.

2. Inhale a pleasant scent.

Amber Duncan, a clinically certified aromatherapist in Dayton, Ohio, and a mother of three kids under age 6, relies on scent to deal with her own daily stress. “I carry four or five different aromatherapy inhalers in my purse,” she says. Getting set up is simple: Buy empty nasal inhaler tubes (yes, they do look like tampons) and add a couple of drops of essential oil to the wick inside. Inhale for a few seconds to recharge. These are five aromas and it's purpose Duncan has at the ready:

  1. Holy Basil — Waking yourself up
  2. Scent Spearmint — Clearing a foggy brain
  3. Frankincense — Easing anxiety
  4. Lavender — Centering yourself when frazzled
  5. Ho Wood — Fighting off the virus your kid brought home

3. Escape into a book.

Research has found that silent reading slows your heart rate and reduces muscle tension within six minutes. Ella Berthoud, coauthor of The Novel Cure, shares reads that lend themselves to nibbles:

  1. Anthropology, by Dan Rhodes. Very short stories on topics like a two-year-long pregnancy, failed relationships, and sushi.
  2. Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. After reading a few entries, you might want to write your own! 
  3. Poem a Day, edited by Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery. Classic and current verses to get you contemplating. 

4. Reenergize with a smoothie.

When I’m dragging, that pint of Salted Caramel sings its siren song. “We’ve all been there. You crave something sweet or salty,” sympathizes Jessica Gavin, a certified food and culinary scientist in Orange, California. For a restorative way to crush cravings, she relies on smoothies. For each of these recipes—all perfect for breakfast—pop ingredients into a blender for 90 seconds.

  1. What’s-on-Hand Smoothie. Mix plain Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, greens like leaf spinach, and ground flaxseed. Use any combination to suit your taste, adding a tablespoon or two of flaxseed.
  2. Matcha Green-Tea Smoothie. Blend 2½ cups frozen sliced peaches, 1 sliced banana, 1 packed cup baby spinach, ¼ cup roasted pistachios, 2 teaspoons matcha green-tea powder, 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, and (optional) ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. 
  3. Carrot Orange Ginger Smoothie. With Turmeric mix 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup carrot juice, 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon turmeric, and 1 cup ice cubes.

5. Try the nature cure.

The great outdoors reminds you that you are part of something bigger. Treat yourself to this five-minute exercise from Sarah Vulgamore, the spiritual wellness director at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Minute 1: Find a spot where you connect with nature—a patch of grass in the backyard or a quiet window to look outside. If you’re a city dweller, a window seat where you can see the sky should do it.

Minutes 2–3: Observe and focus on the natural world around you until something catches your eye. Take deep, calming breaths.

Minutes 3–5: Think about how that one element of nature reflects something about you, and say or write down your conclusion. It doesn’t have to be profound: A thought like “the cardinal is red and that’s my favorite color” will do the trick. 

6. Download one of these five-minute “aaaah” apps.

Skip the quick hit of Facebook and download these instead:

  1. Sworkit. Select a body part and duration (starting at five minutes) and a video instructor leads you through a workout. Free for iOS and Android.
  2. Relax Rain. Close your eyes and be soothed by the rumbles of a thunderstorm or the patter of rain on a tin roof. Free for Android.
  3. Gratitude Journal. Pausing to write what you are thankful for will help put the latest glitter-glue disaster in perspective. $4.99, for iOS.

7. Snag some exercise endorphins.

Even brief bursts of exercise can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, research has found. Personal trainer Chana Balk, founder of Move It Momma, in Brooklyn, suggests finding ways to fit in fitness throughout your day. She created this routine to get your heart pumping:

  1. Warm up: high knees — 1 minute
  2. Squats — 30 seconds
  3. Lunges — 30 seconds
  4. Plank — 30 seconds
  5. Squats — 30 seconds
  6. Lunges — 30 seconds
  7. Plank — 30 seconds
  8. Stretch — 1 minute

8. Color yourself calm.

Filling in a pattern can ease anxiety more than drawing on a blank page, so get a geometric coloring book, says Donna Betts, Ph.D., president of the American Art Therapy Association. Or zone out to a paint-mixing video on Instagram. Find one at: @literaturechild, @sarajmolcan, or @kirstendo.

9. Create an instant spa. 

Did you know there’s one hiding in your kitchen? Rhonda James, owner of the Belly Up Spa in Lone Tree, Colorado, which caters to moms, suggests these easy, luxurious DIY ideas. 

  1. Honey Facial. Honey is both gentle and naturally antibacterial. Using your hands, lightly apply 2 teaspoons to your clean face and let it sit for a few minutes. Moisten fingertips with water and rub in a circular motion to exfoliate. Leave the honey on for another minute, then wipe off with a warm washcloth. 
  2. Lemon Elbow Smoothers. Cut a lemon in half and rub on your elbows to smooth the rough stuff. James also suggests that you can extend the treatment by placing the lemon halves on a table so you can close your eyes and “soak” your elbows in them for five minutes. 
  3. Coconut-Oil Hand Treatment. Coat your hands with coconut oil, then put on disposable powder-free vinyl gloves. “If you have a heating pad, turn it on and place it on top of your hands to help the oil soak in.” Remove the gloves after five minutes to find softer skin!

10. Open your ears to music therapy.

To Calm Down. Play the nature-inspired music of your choice, suggests Judi Bar, yoga program manager at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. Don headphones, close your eyes, and if you can swing it, lie down and cover your eyes with a rice-filled eye pillow warmed a bit in the microwave. “To fully immerse yourself in the music, focus on listening to individual notes or the waterfall sound in the background for three to five minutes,” says Bar. 

To Rev Up. Borrow your child’s toy drum. (No one’s looking!) “Drumming can release endorphins, those natural ‘feel good’ chemicals,” says Allison Gemmel Laframboise, a yoga and drumming teacher at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. “I use drumming to release stress, feel more freedom, and just let go!” To get started, drum to the rhythm of a spoken phrase, like “I eat peaches. I eat peaches. I eat peaches.” Then lose the phrase and just focus on the sound and feel of the pattern.