From neurological changes during pregnancy to the demands of parenthood, we explore the science behind “mom-rage” and how mindfulness can help rewire our responses.

Here to help us explore the meaning behind anger, the difference between reactivity and responsiveness, and practical steps to navigate mom-rage with grace and understanding is Diana Winston. Diana is the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and is the author of The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness

Whether you’re a parent struggling with anger or simply curious about the transformative potential of mindfulness, this episode offers valuable insights and practical tools for navigating the complexities of parenthood and curating a mindfulness practice amidst the chaos of daily life.

Diana (00:00):

We can rewire, we can change our brain to cultivate more calm, more ease, more attention. I mean, this is measurable at this point. There’s physical fitness and then there’s mental fitness. We can work to become the kind of parent that we want to be to not feel like we’re stuck in mom-rage all the time.

Dr. Sarah (00:28):

Whether everything your spouse does seems to drive you nuts or you are noticing you have a really short fuse with your child, or maybe it’s just this nagging irritability that seems to always be lingering the background until it erupts for seemingly no identifiable reason. This sensitivity to having our buttons pushed to the max since we entered into parenthood is often referred to as mom rage. But what is the actual science behind this and is mindfulness the solution to this chronic and pervasive issue? So many of us face back on the podcast this week to talk about mom-rage and mindfulness is Diana Winston. Diana is the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, and she developed the evidence-based Mindful Awareness Practices Curriculum and the training and mindfulness facilitation, which trains mindfulness teachers worldwide. She’s also the author of The Little Book of Being Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness. Join us as we discuss the neurological reasons why parents are so susceptible to feelings of anger and we share effective techniques for managing this emotion. We also discuss the role of self-compassion in fostering emotional resilience. Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or new to the concept of mindfulness, Diana offers invaluable wisdom for any mom or dad. Even though we call it mom rage, it can definitely happen in dads too that are looking to reclaim their calm amidst the chaos and pressure of parenthood.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hi. Well, I am super, super honored to welcome Diana Winston back to the podcast. Thank you for coming and being here with us today.

Diana (02:47):

It’s great to be back.

Dr. Sarah (02:49):

Yeah, I still have moments where I remember in the first episode that you came on and did with us at the end, you did guided mindfulness exercise, and I think about that a lot as one of my favorite podcast moments of just in the moment when we were recording it, just feeling like, oh, that was so helpful for me and it felt so good, but that it was very cool to have that just sort of crystallize. It’s like a thing that lives in the podcast library now.

Diana (03:24):

Oh, that’s great to hear. Thanks for telling me.

Dr. Sarah (03:26):

Yeah. So in the last episode, we did a lot of really interesting conversation around mindfulness and your work and your research at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. You have a wonderful book, The Little Book of Being and really, you were the first person I thought of when I was thinking about doing an episode on Mom Rage because it’s a thing. We got to talk about what it is, but I feel like mindfulness, I know that parents are going to roll eyes when I say mindfulness is the antidote to mom rage. And also I think it is, and I bear with me, if you just rolled your eyes, listen to the end of this episode and then tell me if you still agree with your eye roll. What are your thoughts on mom rage just in general as an idea?

Diana (04:27):

Well, if people are angry, there’s a lot of good reasons why you’re angry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong or it’s pretty normal to be angry as a parent or as a mom. And that’s just if we take a broader look at why we’re angry, we look at what’s happening socially, politically in the world, the lack of childcare, the global crises that are happening, the fact that probably most of you or many of you’re working a second shift after you’ve worked in one way and then you come home and you take care of the kids and how much help we’re getting from our partners, or maybe we don’t have partners. I mean, there’s so many social, political, economic reasons why there is mom rage. So my first thought is just there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re angry, you’re actually responding appropriately to a lack of support that most women deal with.

Dr. Sarah (05:26):

Yeah, I think that’s super validating.


I also feel like when I think of mom rage, and I know the term kind of gets used around, it’s become a bit meme-ified, and so sometimes it’s talking about different things and I think we at some point should talk about the fact that at the end of the day, if you really just want to distill it down to an essential emotional experience of rage, what do we do with that? But if we’re looking at it sort of in this mom context, you up a really good point, which is there are pressures upon us pushing down upon us that can make us more vulnerable to feeling enraged and over basically overwhelmed by that feeling to a point that we kind of explode. But there’s also internal stuff. There’s pressure coming from inside the house too that we could talk about also.

Diana (06:23):

Absolutely. Yeah, and I mean you can speak more to the biology of it, what’s going on, especially for new moms and when we’re dealing with toddlers and multiple kids. I mean, do you want to say a little bit about that?

Dr. Sarah (06:37):

Yeah, totally. So when I’m talking to parents about mom rage, what I’m thinking in my mind from the inside stuff, what is the physiological and neurological stuff that puts new parents, and frankly we’re calling it mom rage, but there’s dad rage, there’s parent rage, we all know what we’re talking about here. It’s like that sort of this pressured intensity that kind of feels like it comes out of nowhere, but it’s also always kind of in the background if we’re not really attending to our regulation. And one of the reasons why this population is so vulnerable to it is because there are neurological, hormonal and physiological changes that happen in the brain, in the hormone system when you are pregnant, when you have just had a baby, when your partner has just had a baby, there’re shifts and a lot of them are really important. They have a tricky byproduct of making us more vulnerable to rage, but they’re also based in evolution.


You are, if we want our species to be set up for the best chance of survival, the primary caretaker of the babies, we want them to move into a much more alert state when their babies are born and there are changes in the brain to facilitate that. We know that the fight or flight response becomes more sensitive to becoming activated in pregnant and postpartum parents because it’s good for your baby’s survival for you to be on more high alert. And also it takes a toll. It takes a toll on a nervous system. It takes a toll on our mood. So there’s that one sort of the neurological piece, but then there’s sort of the systemic piece, I guess I’d say like the environmental piece that changes our body chemistry too, like sleep deprivation, lack of nutrition, dehydration, overstimulation from the environment being touched and pulled on and sucked on and screamed at and loud environments.


All of that sensory intensity that’s swirling also can push our already sensitive fighter flight system all into haywire all the time. And there’s also, I’ll add one extra piece, which is lack of recovery. So the chronicity of all of this for long periods of time, that can become really hard. And actually in addition to mom rage, it also makes us very vulnerable to burnout, which has a sort of self-feeding problem because the more burnout we are, the more vulnerable we are to rage. The more we experience rage, the more we burn out. So it’s very important that we pay attention to this. And I think we’re finally moving into a space where the research is starting to come. We’re collecting data, they’re doing research, but data’s still limited. We’ve got some studies, there are some good research that’s being done on pregnant and postpartum parents a little bit in the first year, but after that first year, there’s really not a lot of research. We kind of fall off of a research cliff in terms of after a year, what does parenthood look like in terms of the brain and all this stuff. So that’s what I can add to this piece.


I would love to hear what your thoughts are in terms of where the mindfulness work and the research on mindfulness in terms of whether it’s looking, I’m assuming there’s not a ton of research that says we’re studying mindfulness on maternal rage, but I’m sure they’re studying mindfulness on anger and regulation, emotion regulation challenges. So how do we take that info and apply it to this?

Diana (10:39):

Yeah, you’re right. There’s no research study on maternal rage, although that would be a great one for anybody out there.

Dr. Sarah (10:45):

You’d get a lot of candidates for your study, people would be like, oh, yeah, I meet criteria for that.

Diana (10:51):

But there’s certainly a lot of research on showing how mindfulness impacts emotional regulation, but there’s a lot on anxiety and depression. There’s some on anger, and we can make a lot of assumptions and deduce things from it. And also, of course, I have years and years of working with people and teaching people and helping them through rage and my own using mindfulness to work with rage. But I want to just take a step back and what is anger? Anger? We’ll, we’ll say anger, but anger rage, it’s all on the same continuum here, because I think of anger as a response to a perceived injustice. Someone does something that doesn’t feel fair. You sort of have a reaction like it shouldn’t be this way. Someone hurts you or they hurt someone you love, or there’s something in the world that’s going on. It just feels like there’s injustice happening.


I’ve been wrong. I’m frustrated my been violated in some way. And so we have this really in my mind, appropriate response, which is, and actually it’s like an energizing feeling of power that comes up. And of course, there’s lots of complex processes. It’s not just anger. There might be fear, there might be self-righteousness, there might be confusion. There’s a bunch of things going on. So there’s corresponding brain and body arousal states when we have this injustice, and it could be something we read about. It doesn’t have to be like someone does something directly to us. It could even just be the thought of, oh, no, this might happen to my kid. I’m worried about this and I’m angry. So there’s all this arousal. So the problem is that what happens for most people is it gets distorted. So if we can imagine this potentially energizing feeling, this feeling of power, but it just gets distorted and it’s hard to hold and it just comes out.


So it either goes out at somebody where we act and in ways that we regret, especially as moms yelling at our kids, yelling at someone, or it goes in blame ourselves, judge ourselves, I’m a jerk. I’m stupid. So the rage and the anger gets turned outward or inward and filled with, it’s just there’s a distortion to it, and we lose touch with the importance of it, but there’s actually wisdom in it. And if we can learn by using practices like mindfulness to calm our body and mind and not jump into the reactivity, either the anger out or the anger in, and we can reconnect with the wisdom in there and that it may be a potentially energizing sense of power. So it’s not hostility. It’s not hatred. That’s where it goes when it gets distorted and this acting out. But what we can look for is how to calm and reconnect and still and stay connected to the actual truth in there, which was there may have been an injustice.


It isn’t fair that you are not getting childcare or it costs thousands and thousands of dollars. These are reasonable requests. And then if we can connect with that and transform it, we might be able to act. And this is so relevant in this world today where most of us feel disempowered or we’re just angry, but we’re angry out of reactivity. So in the mindfulness world, we talk a lot about the difference between responsiveness and reactivity. And reactivity is just acting out of habitual patterns. Any consciousness or awareness, responsiveness is the opposite. It’s when we bring our awareness there and are able to act with a little bit more clarity and wisdom. And that’s kind of the invitation. So I might have sort of a radical approach to mindful,  to anger, but I don’t like when people demonize anger and like, oh, there’s something wrong with us.


Anger is bad. It’s not bad. There’s righteous anger. Think of Martin Luther King. Think of there’s so much that can be found, power and anger. So the problem is, the problem is it’s really hard to do. It’s really, really hard to do. It’s much easier because of our habits and our patterns, and then all the things you were mentioning we’re exhausted. So it’s hard to be mindful and present with our anger, or we’re hungry or we have a bunch of kids demanding things simultaneously. So what I think mean we can now get to this is how do you actually do what might be called mindfully held anger? How do we hold this anger with awareness and consciousness to potentially take the charge out of it some, but still stay connected to the wisdom that might be inside?

Dr. Sarah (16:14):

That resonates so much with me as a mom, but also as a therapist, because I do a lot of work with parents who definitely experienced rage. I also work with a lot of people in general in the mental health space, whether their parents or not have some difficulty with their relationship to anger. And I think that’s one of the reasons that they ultimately may end up in therapy with depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder or relationship challenges. And it sounds counterintuitive to think that anger issues could result in mental health issues. Well, I guess I don’t think it’s counterintuitive. I think it makes a lot of sense, but you’re talking about anger. It is a human emotion. It often makes sense actually, when we think about we strip away the extra layers we might add to it, but just look at its core, sort of what’s the wisdom, what’s the communication?


Something doesn’t feel good. I don’t like this. I don’t find this to be fair to me, this makes me feel powerless. This makes me feel small, helpless, disrespected, whatever. That’s information. And a lot of my work with my patients and my clients is helping them to listen to that anger with curiosity and compassion, and also trust that it’s there for a reason. What we do, it matters for our relationships, for our mental health, for our sense of self, all that stuff. But the feeling in and of itself at its core is actually super safe, super important, super healthy, how you’re distinguishing anger as a source of information, a source of almost like a cue to be self-compassionate rather than reactive. Makes a lot of sense. Aligns very much with the work that I do in therapy.

Diana (18:32):

Oh, great. That’s great to hear. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree. I mean so many of us have kind of rejected our anger, and then when it gets rejected, it shows up as hostility and aggression. And if we can, I mean, this is the thing from in the mindfulness perspective, and what I try to teach people is emotions are part of what it means to be human. They’re like weather patterns that are moving through us. And sometimes it’s a really stormy rainstorm, thunder or lightning, but it is something that is moving through us and will pass through just weather patterns. And so to be like, okay, this emotion is I’m okay with sadness. I’m okay with anxiety, but anger, no, that’s a storm I’m not willing to own or to allow to be there. That’s problematic. And when we can learn how to be, I mean, it’s hard because obviously all these people are in therapy because they need this work.


But when we start to be able to just, oh, wow, I’m really angry. And what is it? It’s a set of complex physiological and states physiological and mental states that are happening simultaneously. So when there’s anger, what’s happening, this is one of the big mindfulness tools, is to go into our bodies and feel what’s happening. So when I’m angry and first usually when I’m angry, I’m just angry and I’m not mindful at all, I’m having a reaction. So sometimes maybe I’ll just start to talk about some of the tools that sometimes with you need to do something to calm yourself down so that you can even begin to try to practice mindfulness. So that might mean taking a walk, getting out of the room, take some breaths, dealing with it later in the heat of the moment, especially if you’re newer to mindfulness practice, it’s really hard to be mindful of anger, to hold your anger mindfully.


But let’s say that you’re calmed down enough or you’re aware enough that you’re able to pay attention. And that is the imitation is really to turn our attention into our bodies. What is our body feeling right now? So when I’m angry, my heart is racing, my stomach is clenched, my hands are tight, I feel like shortness of breath, my jaw is tight. I bring my attention into my body and say, with anger, you want to do it outward. You want to be like, you jerk, you did this bad thing. But actually it’s kind of a move inward and take some breaths and bring some awareness to the multiple things that are going on. And then usually that’s accompanied by thoughts. So the thoughts are going, whatever they’re saying, he hurt me, my kid did something really horrible, whatever. And we notice that the thoughts are arising and we can even as we practice it, and we’ll have to back up in a little while because it takes practice and we can talk about that, but oh, they’re angry.


Thoughts are rising. Wow, I’m really angry. Anger is arising within me. That’s interesting. Instead of I’m a bad person, that I’m angry or totally lost in the anger. So we bring our awareness inward to notice the internal states and also the thoughts that are happening. So the first step really, so if you were going to do steps, it would be first to calm it down enough that you can even notice what’s here. Then secondly, bringing your attention inward to the thoughts and emotions and holding them with awareness. Not judging, not thinking there’s a problem that there’s, I mean, you may judge because people do, but just moving from, I’m having this horrible thing. There’s something wrong to, oh, here’s anger, as I said before, oh, that’s interesting. Anger is here. Look what’s happening in my body. And then the third piece is bringing kindness to ourselves because usually when we’re angry, there’s a lot more going on. I’m anxious, I’m worried, I’m grieving. So if we can start to tune in what actually is happening here? Oh, I’m really scared.


And then we offer a little compassion to ourself. I like to put my hand on my chest and just say, okay, you’ll get through this. I take a breath using our breath to calm the body and mind bringing some kindness. May I be at ease? And then this, as we begin to be aware and calm and not get rid of the anger, but hold it with awareness and with compassion, that’s when our prefrontal cortex comes back online. That’s when we start to be able to be like, oh, I need to take this action. But it’s a process that it’s not easy to do. Let me just give an example. I dunno if I’m jump in, but I’ll just use an example from the other day because I’m a mom and I have mom rage too, even though I am a mindfulness teacher. So my daughter’s a little older maybe than some of you, but she’s 14, and I had fallen asleep on the couch and then it was like 11 o’clock at night and she was awake, and I went into the bathroom and she was putting this cream on her face, and I looked at the cream and I was so exhausted just so it was a setup right away.


I was so exhausted. I was looking in the cream and it had something in it like an ingredient that I really didn’t think was appropriate for her age. Like Sephora is selling to tweens and teens, and it’s driving me nuts. And she thinks she needs hyaluronic acid, and she’s 14, whatever, driving me crazy. So I lost it. I just like, why did you buy this cream? I never said you could. This is ridiculous, blah, blah. I just went into it and she’s like, mommy, mommy. She got upset. And then I was able to suddenly realize what I was doing, and I just paused and I stopped and I walked out of the room and I took a few deep breaths and I just went, Diana, you’re tired. It’s not the end of the world. I kind of did some positive, what’s happening inside. And so I turned my attention.


I kind of walked away from her, so she knew I might not be coming back. So I just checked in and I saw this anger coursing through my body and this heaviness and the tension in my chest. And then as I breathed and just let myself have it, I started to notice anxiety. I was worried, what if she ruins her skin? I am angry at the, I don’t know, the marketing mechanisms that tell us that kids have to do this. So there was anger. Then I was worried, and then there was even a sadness, like, oh, she’s growing up. She’s using skincare products that are kind of for adults, weird. And so as I saw that I could bring a little bit more compassion to myself, calming, calming, easing, and then just a couple minutes later, I don’t know, I went back in, I said, look, I’m so exhausted. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. We’ll talk about it in the morning, which we did. And of course in the morning it wasn’t that huge of a deal, but that’s just an example. That’s how I worked with the anger in the moment. It didn’t mean I wasn’t angry, and it didn’t mean I didn’t even have a good reason to be angry. I kind of did.


But you can start to see how there’s a whole complexity of what’s going on that we can bring our awareness and bring our kindness to, because I also had to do a lot of like, it’s okay, breathe. I’ll get through this. I understand. I get it. Why it hurts. So and examples.

Dr. Sarah (26:42):

I love that example so much. It’s a beautiful example. It’s relatable. I’ve had my own version of it a bunch of times myself, but my favorite thing about this example that you gave is the fact that it’s an example of really effective mindfulness and you still yelled, really effective mindfulness does not mean we don’t get the rage and we don’t ever lose it. You can be a really mindful person with a really sophisticated mindfulness practice. You could be a person who’s just beginning to practice mindfulness or just dabbling in understanding how it works. And no matter what, you can be mindful and still be a human who experiences overpowering anger and dysregulation and loses it. But the mindfulness that you’re describing happen afterwards as a way to help you move out of it more gracefully for yourself with more self-compassion, more swiftly. Frankly, I could imagine if you hadn’t done this mindfulness practice, you would’ve stormed off and went to bed grumpy and she would’ve been grumpy and everyone would’ve woken up the next morning in a bad mood.


It would’ve extended the whole thing. Whereas I just think it’s a really helpful thing to point out. The point is not to ever expect ourselves to, oh, if we’re really good at mindfulness, it means we won’t ever have these issues. It’s more like, no, if we approach these very human and inevitable moments with a mindfulness approach, we can move through it more gracefully, more quickly, have an opportunity to come back and repair. And it just feels like that’s important to be like, that’s actually what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about being never, ever angry because you’ve mastered mindfulness.

Diana (28:45):

Yeah, we’re not mindfulness practitioners. We’re not zombies or perfect. I don’t know. I don’t know what the analogy would be like, but we have emotions. We’re real, we’re human. And then it’s kind of like what you do with your emotions and what you do with the anger and then how that anger can transform into kindness and compassion and awareness and ultimately clarity and wisdom. Now, I am going to make some changes with her that are coming out of not being on alert, but just like, let’s look at the ingredients and these products and make some decisions and let’s look at the science together, and all of that is coming out of wisdom. So yeah, no, I definitely, I am not a perfectly, I get angry, as you just heard.

Dr. Sarah (29:41):

And it’s good to point out explicitly these things coexist. Anger and mindfulness coexist beautifully actually, and which is kind of a bit of a paradigm shift when we’re thinking about it. I think a lot of people approach it like, well, how do we reduce the anger, reduce, maybe minimize the impact, but we’re going to get rid rid of anger. Like you said at the beginning. There’s wisdom in our anger. Our anger is here for a very important reason, and noticing it helps us to have an opportunity to go to the things that live below it, like your worries and your sadness, which then allowed you to, once you noticed those, you were able to actually make a plan that addressed the worry with your daughter. You were able to appreciate your grief of her getting older, which might make you approach your relationship with her with Annan, more mindfulness like, oh, this is fleeting. I want to be present for this, which has nothing to do with the face cream. It’s just when we’re mindful of our anger and we allow it to be a source of wisdom, look what it gives you insight into and then that can inform other aspects of how you’re showing up in the world that can make your life so much richer, all from anger.

Diana (31:06):

Yeah, really interesting. I think well said. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (31:11):

That’s beautiful. I love that. It makes me think too of you were talking about how if you think of anger as a perceived injustice, their cognition, their thoughts, their appraisals of the situation, something happens to me in the moment, either consciously or unconsciously. I give some sort of meaning to that thing that’s happened, and the meaning that I give it is going to determine whether or not I feel angry or not. I think a lot of times people miss that piece. They think something happened and it made me angry. Can you talk a little bit about how being aware of our thoughts is actually the thing that determines the emotional response rather than the thing itself? Does that make sense?

Diana (31:58):

I mean, sometimes there’s an immediate kind of animal response, right? Right.

Dr. Sarah (32:03):

Well, it feels that way, but my guess is consciously or unconsciously, something inside of us said, this is dangerous or this is unjust or mean. A lot of times a parent, for example, if a parent would say to me, I was saying it over and over and over again, and they were not listening and they were not listening, and I screamed, I just lost it. It makes me so mad when my child doesn’t listen to me. My child not listening to me is a prompting event. It’s a thing that is occurring in the moment. I might say that makes me mad or angry or enraged. But if I really helped a parent zoom into the sort of really middle space between the child not listening and them being mad, there’s a cognitive appraisal, there’s a meaning of that. And oftentimes, like you said, it can feel so instant and reactive, but it is like an interpretation, right?


I might not be aware that I’m making this interpretation, but in the back of my mind it’s saying, oh my God, they are rejecting my authority. That’s threatening to me. That makes me mad. Or what is the matter with them that they just always have to do it this way over and over, and that makes me frustrated. I really need to go and they’re not making this easy for me. They’re getting in my way. They’re thwarting my agenda. That’s also makes anger. So an exercise I often do with parents to help them figure out and identify some of the thoughts is to start to do that. Go in and say, okay, this happened. You felt this, but what happened? What meaning did you give that? And oftentimes they realize there’s a lot more happening in their mind that they actually, when they hear themselves say it out loud, I have the thought.


They’re really just doing this to piss me off. They’re doing it to push my buttons. And then when they hear themselves say that later, we’re not doing this in the moment, we’re doing it afterwards, and they’ve got some space from it. And they say, and I’m like, so they’re doing this to push my buttons. They’re really trying to make me mad. How much do you believe that that’s true? Is there any other thought that’s also possibly true in that moment? And inevitably, my calm parents that are with me in the calm moment are able to say that they’re probably also a little tired, or they really wanted to do this thing and I was making them stop. They weren’t actually trying to make me mad. They wanted to do what they were doing. They had their own agenda or they’re really little and it’s really hard for them to stop and listen. They actually really don’t want to make me mad. Making me mad doesn’t feel good to them. So those are all these sort of alternative interpretations. And when you have the thought, they really don’t like to make you mad. It doesn’t make them feel good when I’m mad. What feeling does that elicit? Usually not anger. Usually compassion or empathy or something neutral but not anger. So it’s like this exercise and sort of if we notice the thinking and we can reappraise it a little bit, we can sometimes shift the emotional response that comes afterwards.

Diana (35:42):

No, I think that’s a great strategy and it’s really helping us. I mean, it is hard to do it in the moment, super hard, but afterwards to reflect and then the more we reflect and it might kind of be able to emerge in the moment when you need it. I mean, how many times as parents, have we gotten it wrong countless times? Oh, they’re not listening when they’re listening or they’re out to get me when they were just hungry. I mean, it’s always just sort of, if I can kind of remember that, not take myself too seriously as a parent. Because in that rage voice that you’re talking about, the thoughts that accompany the anger, there’s always self-righteousness embedded in that I’m right. They hurt me, they’re out to get me. They’re being bad deliberately. And it’s just if we can start to identify those habitual places, and I think that’s what your exercise really does, then down the road in the moment, we might be like, oh, okay.


I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe assume something else. One of my friends has this beautiful thing that she does when people get angry at her. She just says, assume love. Just says that in her mind. Just assume love when people act out in different ways to strangers, whatever. And I think it makes sense why we take things so personally, but what I’ve learned as a parent is the less I can take things personally, the way better it is in my relationship with my kid and everybody, not just my child, but with everyone, it’s like it. It often isn’t personal, it’s them. You go into the cafe to get some coffee and the barista is not very nice, and you go, what did I do? It must’ve been something, right? And then if you can remember, wait, maybe they’re having a bad day. It’s not about me. These are ways to kind of bring our level of agitation, worry, anger, emotional, using positive self-talk, using clear comprehension to just come back down to center and not take things so personally. And of course, not easy to do. It’s not easy to do, but so important.

Dr. Sarah (38:07):

But if you start practicing it, like you were sort of saying, these are things that we can prescribe for you to do. And if you can do them in the moment, phenomenal. And also if you can do them retroactively, they still have a lot of impact. But I would even throw in, you can do them prophylactically. You could do them anticipating four in moments that aren’t hot to build that skill. And I am wondering too, could you a little bit about, I always tell parents, if you want to help your kid build a skill that’s causing tension in the power struggle stuff or whatever, cooperation, following instructions, whatever, organizing don’t teach. When you guys are in a fight about the thing, teach outside the heat of the moment, they will be more capable of integrating those skills and building them. True. Same is true for us if we want to be able to practice mindfulness in those really hot moments where it’s could seem unfathomable right now to imagine being able to just notice my anger and take a breath and take a step away and go into my body and notice my thoughts with compassion while the fricking house is burning down.


My kids are fighting and there’s so much chaos. And it’s like, yeah, that’s the Super Bowl of parenting. Let’s practice some flag football strategy is build your skills outside so that when you got to go to the playoffs, you got, you’re really, you could do it, but so what are things people can do to build mindfulness skills that they can then maybe hopefully access more easily in a hot moment?

Diana (40:04):

Okay, well, I’ll talk about that. But before we do that, I just want to offer one really simple practice in the moment, and then that’s a mindfulness based practice that I teach all the time because I gave kind of a complex thing of like, oh, notice this. Notice that. And for someone maybe who’s newer, that’s harder, but I’m going to just give a little short one and then we’ll talk about what to do. Prophylactically. Amazing. The practice that I like is called STOP. It stands for stop, take a breath, observe and proceed. If you notice that it could be angry, it could be anxious, it could be anything, but you just remember to stop, you’re going to invoke, bring mindfulness into the moment. So you would stop. It doesn’t mean you freeze or something, but just kind of stop the way you were heading and then take a breath and you can do that with your eyes open or closed, and then observe what’s happening inside me.


My heart’s racing, my stomach is clenched, my jaw is tight. You might be noticing emotion. You might be noticing a thought that jerk, why did they do that to me? Or you might even notice something external like sounds, or it could be anything, but just to notice something, take a breath or two again and then proceed. P with awareness. So it’s just you stop, you take a breath, and maybe people can do it with me right this second. We stop, we take a breath with your eyes open or closed, and observe what’s happening inside me right now. Might be external, but what’s inside me, it’s most obvious. Breathe and then proceed. P, you’re done with more awareness now. So it just kind of intervenes in the moment. And if we can do that when we’re angry, even if we still continue on, at least we’ve had a little bit of space, a little bit of awareness. So just offering that to all of you.


And then beyond that, having a regular mindfulness practice is the skill building place that will help you when the rubber meets the road, right? So it’s hard to be mindful if you don’t actually practice it or even have that much of an understanding of it. But even if you understand it, but you’re not really working it, it’s not going to be there when you need it. And when you’re in anger, that’s one of the most difficult emotions to be mindful of just because so intense typically. So that’s why you want to build up that capacity to be mindful so that when you meet the harder stuff, you’re going to have some skills to use in the moment. So my recommendation with people is that they start off with even just five minutes a day doing something really simple, noticing their breath or listening to the sounds.


And a very simple meditation would be just feeling your breath in your body, in your chest or your nose or your abdomen. And then when your attention wanders, noticing that and bringing it back. And that cultivates the basic skill. And at UCLA, we have a free app called UCLA Mindful, which has guided meditations, five minutes, three minutes, 10 minutes, and you can do it so you don’t have to do it yourself, but my recommendation is to do it on a regular basis, if not every day, just regularly. And plus added benefit. As a mom, we are so busy all the time and we rarely give ourselves time for ourselves. So it’s like your special time just for you where you don’t have to focus on kids on job and nothing except you. So it’s really helpful if you happen to want to practice mindfulness meditation.

Dr. Sarah (44:03):

That’s such a good resource. I’m going to link that in the show notes, in the show description, so people can just put it on your phone. Put on your phone, and if you have a minute, put it on your home screen, like the front page of your phone too. Just a little tip, right? Make it really in your face, have it be the first app that shows up on your screen because again, take away, make it as easy as possible for yourself to reach for it and think of it as an idea, as a resource to think of mindfulness as a resource. And before we go, I feel like it’s not lost on me that at full circle at the beginning of the episode, we talked about, we know there’s neurophysiological changes that happen in the brain and the body when you have kids, and that it increases the reactivity of our threat systems, all that fight or flight stuff.


And I also think it’s worth pointing out that the research that you do on practicing mindfulness shows an impact on those same threat response systems, but in a different direction. So if we want to counterbalance the stuff that’s happening in our bodies that just happens because we’re parents, it makes us more vulnerable to mom rage, then practicing something that scientifically shows that it helps reduce the fight or flight response and increases access to our sort of down regulator, the rest digest response, and probably may even rewire the brain. So I wonder, last thoughts, just final thoughts on, from a brain perspective, it sounds to me like this would be a pretty good sort of physical therapy for the brain if you’re experiencing mom rage.

Diana (46:07):

Yeah, I mean, the neuroscience around mindfulness shows that, for instance, advanced meditators have it’s thicker prefrontal cortexes than cortices cortex anyway than an average person. So these are people who’ve been in caves and the Himalayas and they’ve been meditating for 30 years, and they look at their brains and it doesn’t thin out in the same way that average person that happens with the average person, I bring this up not because, I mean, obviously nobody probably listening has been in a cave in the heid, but when they’ve, so the prefrontal cortex, as I’m sure they know so much from listening to you about the importance of that in terms of emotional regulation, delayed gratification, all of that, when they’ve studied novice meditators who’ve done, I think they did an average of 27 minutes a day over eight weeks, they noticed minute thickening in similar parts of the brain.


So we can, yes, we can rewire, we can change our brain to cultivate more calm, more ease, more attention. I mean, this is measurable at this point. And of course there’s a lot of research to do. It’s early, early, but there’s physical fitness and then there’s mental fitness. And this is a way that we can work to become the kind of parent that we want to be, to not feel like we’re stuck. I’m stuck in mom rage all the time. I can harness my mom rage for the wisdom in it, and I can also learn how to calm myself and be as present as I can to show up and be the best mom or parent that I can possibly be.

Dr. Sarah (47:59):

Yeah. Oh, I love that. Thank you so much. I hope we have many more future episodes with you because I always love our conversations.

Diana (48:09):

Oh, thanks so much. It’s great to talk to you too.

Dr. Sarah (48:18):If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, I want to hear from you, share your thoughts and your feedback with me by scrolling down to the ratings and review section on your Apple Podcasts app or whatever app you’re listening on. And let me know what you think of this episode or the show in general. Your support means the absolute world to me, and just a simple tap of five stars can make a real impact in how this show gets reached by parents everywhere. So thank you so much for listening, and don’t be a stranger.

204. The science of “mom-rage” and how to use mindfulness as a tool for being less reactive with Diana Winston