Mindfulness for You and Your Family

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As the morning alarm goes off, family members of all ages rush off to start the daily grind of everyday life. Children and teens hurry to face a day of getting ready for school, learning all day, sport practice or music lessons after school, dinner with their parents, and an evening spent doing chores and homework. Their parents often have to be up well before their kids to prepare themselves, get breakfast ready, rush them off to school, and themselves to work, on time, work stressful jobs, then chauffeuring their kids to practice, then home to make dinner, clean, and take care of numerous other responsibilities. Simply reading this paragraph is exhausting!

What is Mindfulness?

Yes, in today’s society, families lead very busy lives! This is where a lesson on mindfulness is very helpful. Mindfulness meditation is based on centuries-old Buddhist practices which Western culture has been utilizing in everyday practice in recent years. With mindfulness, one learns to simply pay attention, deliberately and with intent, to become more aware of their surroundings, emotions, thoughts and sensations.  Mindfulness can help adults, children, and adolescents cope with stress, anxiety, mood disorders, pain and illness, sleep difficulties, impulsivity, and attention problems.

The basic foundation of mindfulness requires a person to bring their attention to the breath, and by doing so, become more aware of their emotional or physical state. For example, when feeling anxious, in pain, tired, or stressed we may take short shallow breaths, thereby not allowing enough oxygen into the lungs. Just learning proper diaphragmatic breathing (using the diaphragm muscle to move air deep into the stomach rather than the chest) can help momentarily slow down heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce tension in muscles and reduce sweat gland production. All of these contribute to symptoms triggered during the fight or flight response which is activated during highly stressful events and panic attacks. Through continued practice of diaphragmatic breathing, or “relaxation breathing” a person can experience longer-lasting benefits.

How to Practice Mindfulness?

The following describes how to use the breath as a mindful practice:

Setting up your relaxation areaFind a quiet place, silence your phone, and ask others not to interrupt – put up the “do not disturb” sign. Wear comfortable or loose clothing and sit with your feet flat on the ground and hands on your lap or at your side.

Monitoring your breathingPlace one hand on your abdomen, the other on your chest. The hand on your abdomen should do most of the moving while the other one should be mostly still. Take a deep breath through your nose from your abdomen by pushing your stomach out. Then, place both hands on your abdomen, fingertips touching. When breathing correctly, your fingertips should separate. Exhale slowly from your mouth. Breathe in for 3 seconds, then out for 3 seconds. Gradually increase the time for each breath. Continue breathing at comfortable pace and if you feel dizzy, try breathing less deeply and at more normal rate.

Repeat these statements to yourself while breathing –  “With each breath, I feel myself becoming more relaxed.”  Or “With each breath, I feel my body sinking further in this chair.”

Practice this technique at a consistent time and place (i.e. – every morning before breakfast, before kids get home from school, as a family right before bedtime). After enough practice, you will be able to use it at other times and situations to quickly relax yourself or manage really stressful situations and emotions. Using these coping skills gives your mind and thoughts something productive to do, rather than worry about the “what if’s”.

Taking Five

As a family, everyone can gather together for 5 minutes a day for mindful breathing. Alternatively, each family member may break off to a quiet space of their choosing, then gather together to discuss the day’s events.

Everyday Tasks

Household chores such as cleaning your room, doing laundry and dishes can be boring and frustrating.  Become aware of these feelings, accept them as normal and common emotions that people have when doing chores, then return to the task.

Taking Notice

When in a new environment such as the first day of school, or new sport team, your child might feel scared. Ask your child to become mindful of the new situation by noticing 3 sights (desk, artwork, bleachers) and 3 smells (paint, grass, rubber sports equipment). The next time your child is in that same environment, re-noticing these sights and smells will be familiar and allow them to feel more at ease.

It takes time to become comfortable with mindfulness. Support and guidance of a trained Psychologist can help you use mindfulness as a therapeutic technique. The therapists at Therapy Changes are ready to assist you in achieving the benefits of Mindfulness.

Image: THE ZEN DIARY by David Gabriel Fischer on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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