Breakfast in bed is lovely, really, but it’s over in mere minutes. This Mother’s Day, ask for gifts (or give them to yourself) that will make a lasting impact on your well-being and provide some of what all moms need more of: sleep, energy, support, relaxation, and fun. Each of the following suggestions can go a long way toward making motherhood less taxing and Mother’s Day more meaningful.
Clear your head (and protect your DNA)
You already know meditation can reduce stress by helping the mind to short-circuit habitual, negative stress responses. But research shows meditation has health benefits that extend all the way down to your very DNA. A 2010 study by the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain found regular meditators had greater activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects DNA sequences called telomeres, than people who attended the same retreat center but didn't meditate. Earlier research by Nobel Prize–winning biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, has linked human lifespan to telomere length, which is partly determined by your response to stress. All it takes to start meditating is five minutes, sitting quietly and listening to your breath. A great primer is Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation (Workman, 2010) by Sharon Salzberg, which includes instructions for a 28-day program and an audio CD with meditation instructions.
You likely won’t be surprised to hear that a 2010 survey found that working moms get less sleep than working dads. Although, sadly, you can’t bottle sleep and sip it when you need an extra dose—and caffeine doesn't count, since it doesn't provide true rest and can even keep you from getting the sleep you so desperately need—you can buy a bottle of sleep-encouraging aromatherapy. Aroma-To-Go’s Sweet Dreams blend combines lavender and chamomile essential oils in an easy-to-use roll-on. Keep one at your bedside and dab some on your temples when you’re ready to call it a night; then breathe deep and drift off.
Rethink date night
Yes, you could save the money you’d spend on a sitter and stay home watching movies on demand. But you won't be doing your relationship any favors. Research shows couples who pursue novel activities—going to a restaurant they’ve never tried, exploring a new neighborhood—have stronger romantic feelings for each other than those who do the same things over and over. More recently, researchers found people who are working toward a goal report a higher level of relationship satisfaction that is also apparent to outside observers. For the biggest boost in romantic attachment, combine both tactics, suggest prominent relationship researchers Arthur Aron, PhD, Frank Fincham, PhD, and Greg Strong, PhD. Perfect example: Plan a backpacking or cycling trip and get in shape on weekend hikes or bike rides together in preparation. The regular excursions will provide a shared activity, while the trip will give you a goal to work toward and a novel experience to share.
Tea for you
It’s associated with better bone health, higher metabolism, and reduced risk of certain cancers. And in a major, newly published, 13-year Dutch study, the more tea people drank, the less likely they were to develop cardiovascular disease. Is there anything tea can’t do? Well, it can’t make itself. Enter an electric tea kettle: Simply fill with filtered water, flick a switch, and you've got hot water in less than a minute. Trust us, you will drink more tea. Some favorites: Zhi Sweet Desert Delight, a sweet-spicy caffeine-free brew of rooibos (red tea), cinnamon, anise, and cacao nibs; Organic India Tulsi Green Tea, an antioxidant-rich metabolism booster that also relieves stress (thanks to herbal tulsi); and The Republic of Tea Mango Ceylon Black Tea Bags, an energizing blend of black tea and mango blossoms.
Massage is no mere indulgence. It reduces muscle-tension-related aches and pains; it boosts circulation; and, according to a 2010 study performed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, it increases immune-cell circulation and reduces stress-hormone levels in the bloodstream. All that, plus it feels fantastic. Family members can contribute to buying you a gift certificate at a local day spa; if the total ends up being more than the cost of one massage, you’ll have a great incentive to book another appointment in a month or two.
Make time for friends
Motherhood can be isolating—the sheer amount of time and energy devoted to child rearing (not to mention working, working out, sleeping, and focusing on your major love relationship) can mean there’s little left over for friendship. But numerous studies suggest that friends simply make life better: In an Australian study, older adults with a tight circle of friends had a 22 percent lower relative risk for mortality. Harvard researchers have found that having a strong social network promotes brain function as people age. And one University of Virginia study found that even challenging obstacles (in this case, climbing a steep hill while wearing a weighted backpack) seem less daunting when shared with a friend. One of the best gifts you could give yourself is a regular date with a friend or group of friends; a steady tennis game, cup of coffee, or girls’ night out will sustain you through good times and bad, and may even help you live longer. Few items on your to-do list can claim the same importance.
Remember other mothers
Mother’s Day is all about you—mostly. It’s also an occasion to honor all the mothers in your family, including those who have come before you. Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters (Da Capo, 2006), suggests keeping alive the memory of mothers who are no longer here by dedicating part of your Mother’s Day to reminiscing. “Tell a story to your kids about your mom or grandmother, or look at pictures together, or bake her banana bread recipe as a family activity,” she suggests. You’ll do more than honor your loved ones: Research has found that reminiscing with others—particularly about positive experiences—also produces a swell of positive emotions, including joy, amusement, and contentment.
Take a tonic
How to choose the right adaptogenic herb
You take great care of your kids and your husband, but if your own health falls last on your list, consider boosting your reserves with an adaptogen, a family of herbs that benefit a variety of health challenges. “Adaptogens improve our resistance to stressors of all types, emotional and physical. They are a true mind-body therapy that can normalize a wide range of physiological functions,” says Tori Hudson, ND, a naturopathic physician in Portland, Oregon, and author of Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Here’s a guide to which adaptogen might best support your health.
For “mommy brain:" rhodiola. “This herb has a long history of use in Eastern European countries and a fair amount of research showing that it improves memory, cognitive performance, and physical endurance,” says Hudson. Dose: 100–200 mg daily
To balance hormones: maca. If you suffer from irregular cycles, PMS, or symptoms from perimenopause or menopause, try this root, which has been a Peruvian-diet staple for generations. “Maca has something to offer women of all ages, and can be taken long-term,” says Hudson. Dose: Two 500-mg capsules daily of a supplement containing a standardized extract of Lepidium peruvianum.
To bolster your defenses: astragalus.If you catch every virus that crosses your path, try this herb, which boosts your immune system. Dose: 300–500 mg daily at the first sign of sickness until the illness has subsided
A great book
You want your children to read quality books—why settle for less for yourself? Here are a handful of exceptional books that explore the many moods of motherhood.
The Color of Water (Riverhead, 1997) was written by James McBride about his mother, Ruth McBride, an immigrant Polish Jew who leaves her family in Virginia, moves to Harlem, marries a black man, and ultimately raises 12 children despite racism and poverty.
Lit (Harper Perennial, 2009), is a riveting account of Mary Karr's spiritual awakening, which requires her to admit her alcoholism, make amends with her own mother, and learn how to be a single mother to her son.
My Hollywood (Knopf, 2010), Mona Simpson’s most recent novel, takes turns telling the story of Claire, a new mom and composer, and Lola, the Filipino nanny Claire hires to take care of her daughter while she tries to keep her career alive.
Deep Down True (Penguin, 2011) by Juliette Fay takes a sympathetic, realistic, and touching look at raising kids, dating, and friendship after divorce.
Do 20 minutes of planning for two weeks of less stress
You may not want to do anything resembling a chore on Mother’s Day, but Tsh Oxenreider, founder of simplemom.net and author of Organized Simplicity (Betterway Home, 2010), advocates taking a few minutes to sketch out a two-week meal plan. “When you plan a menu, the stress of staring at the fridge at 5 p.m., wondering what to cook, is gone. You simply refer to your plan and start cooking.” It also requires you to shop for food only twice a month, and then it can lower your grocery bill since you can plan double- (or even triple-) duty for every ingredient you buy. Serve roast chicken one night, chicken salad another, and chicken noodle soup with homemade stock yet another. Best of all, she says, “Once you start the habit of menu planning, it takes only a few minutes and you’re done.” Isn’t Mother’s Day an auspicious day to start a habit that will make all other days easier (and more delicious)?
And, of course, chocolate
Trite as it may be, no self-respecting list of appropriate Mother’s Day gifts can omit chocolate. But we'd never suggest run-of-the-mill confections. Motherhood is often surprising, and sometimes bittersweet—your chocolate should be too. Theo’s organic, fair-trade Bread & Chocolate bar, with buttery artisan bread crumbs and sea salt, is complex enough torepresent the full spectrum of modern maternity.
About the author: Kate Hanley is the founder of msmindbody.com, the mother of two kids, and a major proponent of giving moms massage gift certificates for Mother's Day. (Hint, hint, honey.)