Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Shonda Moralis, MSW, LCSW, the author of Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms and Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All. She’s a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in stress-related disorders and mindfulness-based therapy. Shonda currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Welcome, Shonda Moralis. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Shonda Moralis: Thanks, Zibby. We’re thrilled to be here.

Zibby: We’re also here with Shonda’s daughter, Anika, which is such a joy. Thanks for coming.

Anika: Thank you for having us.

Zibby: How old are you?

Anika: I’m seventeen.

Zibby: Okay, let me just put you the spot. You’re already in college?

Anika: Yes.

Zibby: Seventeen, that’s pretty impressive.

Anika: Thank you.

Zibby: This won’t come out until later, but we are filming this right around Thanksgiving, so I feel like this is a very family-friend moment.

Shonda: That’s right. She’s home for Thanksgiving break. Happy to have our freshman.

Zibby: I figured, aw. So two books, Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms, which was amazing; Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All, which really is the same as moms when you get down to it.

Shonda: Sometimes. You don’t have to be a mom to really take advantage of the second book.

Zibby: No, I’m kidding. I was just kidding. Yes, you do not have to be moms, of course. Can you please tell listeners what both the books are about?

Shonda: Breathe, Empower, Achieve is about empowering women to step off that hamster wheel and create a life of balance so we can unleash our capacity for greatness. Breathe, Mama, Breathe is geared more toward the busy moms. That’s about creating more connection, calm, and contentment in motherhood. They both contain mindful breaks, which are these five-minute practices that help us to come back to the moment, remind us, and opportunities to enjoy our lives and take advantage of those beautiful moments that we tend to just not even notice when we’re running on automatic pilot.

Zibby: It was so funny because you have all these different times of day. It’s different situations where you can have a mindfulness moment. You give great advice, “This is exactly how to do it. Breathe here,” but they’re all the same situations that any, at least in Breathe, Mama, Breathe, that any mom is going to go through over the course of the day at some point: the drop-off, the sports event, all those things. To me when I was reading them, I was thinking, well, these are some of the times when I can read. It’s almost like these are the times I read, those little moments. I guess if you read or you breathe, as long as you’re doing something for yourself.

Shonda: Right. You mentioned that before. I would invite you to pause before you pull that book out and you get started. Reading, it can be really mindful, but it’s also — partially, we lose ourselves in a story. The purpose of mindfulness is to be aware first of, I’m going to read now. I’m going to sit here and enjoy this book, and to take that in, even if that’s five seconds.

Zibby: You do have reading as one of the things at the end.

Shonda: Right, reading with our kids, definitely.

Zibby: For someone who’s really busy and is not totally sold on the mindfulness thing in general, convert me.

Shonda: Absolutely. I get it because I was a skeptic when I started. I started mediating when Anika was about three. I was a very devoted meditator. I took a class where the homework was to meditate for a half an hour every day. I’m a recovering perfectionistic and people-pleaser, so was like, okay, absolutely. I’m going to do my homework. I did. After just a few weeks, what I started to notice was that by slowing down just a notch, I was actually more productive and more efficient. I was a hard sell because I like to get things done, and I still do. Writing these books, we tend to write what we need to read and remember for ourselves. It’s still that reminder for me too. I have to remind myself to hop off this hamster wheel and pause and take a few deep breaths or take a mindful break because if we don’t, then the pace of our day just feels so frantic and urgent.

The invitation is to — not everybody is going to meditate for half an hour every day. That’s what I found when I first started teaching this. To fast forward, when Anika was about to turn ten and I was pregnant with my son, I knew I wouldn’t be meditating for a half an hour every day. I came up with these five-minute practices so I could keep mindfulness in my life. When women or people say, “I don’t have time for any of this,” I get it. I would invite you to pause and take two deep breaths. We have time for that. That’s five seconds. That’s ten seconds out of your day. When you start to do that, you notice that we slow down the pace of the day just a notch. It feels less frantic and urgent and more calm. We can sustain our energy longer.

Zibby: You just mentioned you’re a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser. You just kind of threw that in there. I’m so interested in that.

Shonda: You’re going to hang onto that.

Zibby: Yeah. Tell me a little more about that.

Shonda: What do you want to know?

Zibby: Paint a picture for me of what you were like before and how you got out of that.

Shonda: When I was my daughter’s age, I was really in the height of perfectionism, body image on the border of eating disorder but not quite, very much worried about what I looked like, and had to have the perfect grades, the perfect look, the perfect outfit. I ended up having what turned out to be the only, knock on wood, the only panic attack I’ve ever had was sitting, in my junior year, in the cafeteria during a study hall. I didn’t know what it was. In fact, I didn’t even recognize what it was until years later when I was training to be a therapist. I was like, , I had a panic attack. That’s what that was, and so very slowly over time, just sort of let go of some of that perfectionistic tendencies and partially just growing up and seeing that it was okay to be good enough, which I talk about in the book as well.

Zibby: The most convincing part, I found, of the argument, aside from what you just said about breathing and all the rest, which — I know that. I know that. I know. I know it’s good for me. You cited studies that show the brain actually physically changes in MRI scans after only eight weeks of a daily meditation practice. That’s true? Amazing.

Shonda: Yes, it’s true. It’s fascinating. It’s a study by Brita Holzel. There are now thousands of studies that are out on mindfulness and meditation that show all the way down to the cellular level. We change our telomeres, the caps at the end of our chromosomes that are responsible for aging. When they wear out, then we start to age and get sick and die. The longer they stay intact, the longer we live a healthy life. Long-term meditation keeps our telomeres intact longer. It really is exercise for our brains and for our bodies and our overall health.

Zibby: Wow, amazing. You also gave a statistic that happiness is forty percent in our control, fifty percent genes, ten percent environment, which to me means that I could completely strike out on the happiness scale and never get to a hundred percent. I don’t think that’s how you meant the statistic.

Shonda: That’s right. That’s so funny that you took it that way.

Zibby: I know. Am I a total pessimist? Yes.

Shonda: I totally see it as, yay, we all have control over this. It’s not saying that you can only be fifty percent happy, that’s the only chance you have. To me, it’s so hopeful, especially with clients or patients who will struggle with depression, let’s say, or that feeling of helplessness, that I don’t have control over my life, or I had so many horrible things happen to me. What am I supposed to do about this? To know that forty percent is under our control is, to me, amazing. Yes, of course, we’re not all going to be happy a hundred percent. That would be kind of boring anyway, even though .

Zibby: Yeah, who wants all those happy people around? You have a scene where you take what you call a SNAP break, capital S-N-A-P, a SNAP break in the closet. Show me that scene again. Tell me what was going on with the kids.

Shonda: As you can attest, honey, my daughter, life happens. It was probably one of those winter days where we’re all trapped inside. Oh, I know. It was coming home from a work meeting. I was just exhausted. There was kind of chaos going on in the house. The quietest part of my house would be closing the bedroom door and then going into the closet and closing the closet door and sitting and —

Zibby: — Are we talking walk-in closet?

Shonda: Not quite.

Zibby: Just a little thing with the sliding doors?

Shonda: Yes, not spacious at all. The dog still tries to get her nose under the door and find out where I am. However, it’s this idea of we have to go and do whatever we need to do because kids find us in the bathroom. That’s the problem. We have to go somewhere else where they may not be able to find us, at least for a couple of minutes. It’s about stopping and noticing what’s going on — for me in that moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed; my muscles were tight, tension headache — and accepting this is how it is in this moment. That really can get us in trouble, when we — human nature is to tense up and resist against unpleasantness, unpleasant thoughts and emotions and situations. Allowing, and then we pay attention to the breath. We just notice that rising and falling that happens in our belly. It can ground us and bring us back to that moment and keep us in our bodies. It’s a very quick way to bring our attention back to the moment and calm down in a stressful situation. It’s helpful if you can go into the closet, but you don’t always have to do that. You can do it anywhere.

Zibby: So many people are talking about getting out of the closet. You want everybody to go back into the closet.

Shonda: That’s right. I go back in.

Zibby: You never know what you’re going to learn. To break it up one more time, SNAP, S-N-A-P, the S is for stopping. N is for noticing.

Shonda: Noticing what’s happening.

Zibby: A is for?

Shonda: Accepting.

Zibby: Accepting. And P is?

Shonda: Pay attention to the breath.

Zibby: Should you do a couple SNAPs while you’re in the closet?

Shonda: You can.

Zibby: The three-breath hug was another one of my favorites. Tell me about that one.

Shonda: Everybody loves to hear about this. This is very simply just training our kids or our partner to give a big bear hug and then coordinate our inhales and our exhales together. It’s very calming. It’s very connecting. What we tend to do is give a hug and we just kind of release. To really do that and bring our attention together, it’s so calming. I like to tell the story of, once again, Anika sitting here. She was about five. I had taught her the three-breath hug to help her calm down. I was having a mommy meltdown, in the bathroom this time. She slid a note under the door that said, “Meet me in my room for a three-breath hug.”

Zibby: That is so cute. I love that part of the book. This was amazing.

Shonda: What’s even cooler is just maybe two years ago, a friend of mine was like, “Hey, do you have some mindfulness-for-kids books? Can I borrow those?” I was like, sure. I just paged through to see what was in there, and I found the note as a bookmark.

Zibby: No!

Shonda: Yes. Posted it on Instagram. She made me take it off.

Anika: I don’t remember that.

Zibby: Do you remember the three-breath hugs?

Anika: Yeah.

Zibby: Do you still do them?

Anika: Sometimes. A little bit.

Shonda: I don’t know as deliberately, but yeah. You’re a good hugger.

Zibby: Do you feel like you’ve taken some of these mindfulness techniques? Do you feel like you implement mindfulness in your day-to-day life?

Anika: Yeah, probably not as much as I should. When I do, I definitely notice a difference too.

Zibby: What are times when you feel like you might have a mindful moment that other people might just plow through the day?

Anika: One of the biggest things is when something is going wrong. I have a moment where I realize that I have to accept what is going on. I can’t change it.

Shonda: Gives you a little bit of perspective, which is the point of being able to see that there’s a bigger picture here. It feels so urgent and/or terrible in the moment, but to be able to step back and get that bird’s eye view.

Zibby: Tell me how this whole book came about. You’re a therapist. Tell me how it came about.

Shonda: The first book, Breathe, Mama, Breathe, was because I was pregnant with my son and was also working with a lot of stressed-out moms. We all had this intention of, I’m going to sit and meditate twenty minutes a day, thirty minutes a day. Then it doesn’t happen or it really kind of is impossible, especially when we’re in the thick of it, in the trenches with little ones. There was that piece. Then I was writing blog posts. I was writing a bunch of blog posts just to help my clients. It pulled together and said, this could be a workbook. Then I thought, hmm, maybe this is the makings of a book. It’s not going to hurt if I pitch it to an agent. I got an agent. Then she pitched it to publishers. The rest is history. It wasn’t an intentional book-writing process, especially in the beginning.

Zibby: Have you always liked to write?

Shonda: Yes, but not in that compulsive “I must write every day” kind of way, sort of in spurts throughout my life. I always liked to write. I was told that I was a good writer, but I wasn’t sure what I had to tell. I didn’t know what stories I had to tell when I was younger. Now I feel wisdom, I guess, in my older age, and more experience.

Zibby: Now you’ve written two mindfulness books. Are you going to target a different population with the third book? What’s your plan?

Shonda: I’m not sure. Women’s issues is definitely my thing. It was in my twenties. Then motherhood and therapy took center stage. Then as Anika started growing up too, the past few years she’s really gotten into feminism and women’s rights. It’s sort of reignited my passion for that too, which is so exciting to be in that space together. Gay Hendricks wrote The Big Leap. He talks about creative fermentation. My second book just came out about a month and a half ago. I feel like I’m in that period of creative fermentation, which sometimes feels uncomfortable. I also welcome it because I just follow my curiosity and then hit upon things.

Zibby: What is creative fermentation?

Shonda: It’s having that space, which is part of what we talk about with mindfulness. Rather than feeling like you need to just barrel ahead and make something happen, allowing this space of allowing, and following curiosity, and reading and learning, and see what starts to bubble up, what starts to come together.

Zibby: Do you like to read? Do you find time to read?

Shonda: I love to read.

Zibby: You too, Anika?

Anika: With school, I’m reading a lot. I don’t have as much time for reading for fun, but she reads all the time.

Shonda: I love to read, yes.

Zibby: What kind of books do you like?

Shonda: Probably not as much as I — you know, with kids, it seems like every time I sit down, my son is like, “Do you want to play baseball? Do you want to play basketball? Do you want to play football?” There’s that, so after he goes to bed.

Zibby: Moms don’t have time to read books.

Shonda: That’s right, exactly. I love to read a handful of nonfiction at one time. I toggle back and forth. Then usually one fiction at bedtime.

Zibby: People ask me often, “When do you find time to read?” I’m like, some books, I save for bedtime just to get lost in that. I feel like nonfiction is more daytime.

Shonda: Definitely. I sit up in bed and read the nonfiction. Then when I lay down, I read the fiction. It’s a system.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, because you had said you were a bibliophile, so lover of books.

Shonda: Yes.

Zibby: Do you collect books? Do you like to keep them in the house? Are you a Kindle person?

Shonda: I definitely like real. I like to handle books. I love the library too though. We do some of both.

Zibby: That’s great. I just want to talk about this one moment in your life, if you don’t mind going back to it. You had skin cancer on your face while you were pregnant. Then you had a poison sumac attack. Your mother-in-law had terminal cancer. Then you got mastitis. Oh, my gosh. How did you get through that moment? How did mindfulness help you through?

Shonda: That was probably, I would say, the darkest moment I had. I still remember lying in bed. My son was probably three weeks old, that intense time of sleep deprivation. That really knocked me over, sleep deprivation. I wasn’t expecting it, but I had a moment where I really thought about, if I could just disappear right now. I didn’t have a plan. I wouldn’t do anything. I thought of my daughter. I thought, obviously, I’m not going to take matters into my own hands and actually hurt myself, but there was a moment of, I wish I could just disappear. This is so overwhelming and intense right now. I just felt like I was drowning. What I did was came back to mindfulness and came back to my breath. In this moment, can I just accept I am feeling bowled over right now? I felt that inhale and that exhale, just like I’m talking about in the closet. Moment to moment, hour to hour, and kind of just got through that. As a mental health professional too, I would say, definitely my gynecologist was looped in. She knew me for ten years. She was really noticing something too. We said we’ll keep an eye on this. When I started to get a little bit more sleep, I came out of that. It really felt intense in that moment. Even as a therapist, I didn’t see that coming. We really need to take care of each other and pay attention when moms are in that postnatal phase to really watch out for each other.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Shonda: I always recommend The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published to anybody who asks me. I followed that like my bible. It was wonderful. And just to keep writing even though the self-doubt will show up. You’re going to wonder if this is any good. I talk about, in Breathe, Empower, Achieve, about the U-shaped curve. We always have this dip in our creativity where we feel like, this is terrible. I’m terrible. What am I doing here? Forget it. That’s when we throw in the towel. Don’t throw in the towel. Just keep going. Eventually, you’ll come out the other side.

Zibby: Hold onto the towel while you go into the closet.

Shonda: That’s right.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Anika, thanks for joining us.

Anika: Thank you.

Shonda: Thank you, Zibby.