Everything seems to cause stress these days and it’s the last thing modern parents need for their mental health. Parent’s attention is often led one way and the other. Meanwhile their minds ruminate about - not only the wide array of current world issues affecting us all - but the kids’ wellbeing is also forefront and takes top priority. It can become hard to remember we’re here right now, and for parents the “here and now” is an important place to be.
Mindfulness and associated practices have been shown to lift the mood, increase focus and attention, and even offer physical health benefits like lowered blood pressure and better sleep. For parents - who rarely get enough sleep and are always on guard - these benefits may prove particularly useful.
So what is mindfulness?
In essence, mindfulness is a basic human ability to know what’s going on and feel okay with it. When we’re mindful we live in the present moment and are aware of right now, but there’s an added sense of letting things be how they are. We stay calm, and not over-reactive as people seem to have become these days. It takes some work to get to this place, though.
People have different ways of practicing mindfulness. When it comes to parenting, time can be hard to come by so there may be some apprehension.
“I have no time for mindfulness practices when there’s kids running around!”
And rightfully so. Being a parent is no easy task. However there’s no right or wrong way to be mindful, and even for time-pressed individuals it's completely doable.
Some people take a brief walk out in nature. Being around trees and under the sky can be grounding for some, and makes them automatically present. A trip outside doesn’t have to be an extended hike - it can be a stroll during a coffee break or after lunch at work, visiting the backyard during naptime if you’ve got a little one, or more when you’ve got a helping hand. The calming effect of nature and the outdoors has been long recognized by the mental health community as good for the mind.
Others attain mindfulness through yoga. You’ve probably heard about it, but just in case: It’s a centuries-old Indian practice where stretching, specific exercises, and poses are performed along with awareness of the sensations in the body. It’s an active way of achieving mindfulness and especially good if you’re into fitness. Along with mindfulness, yoga promotes physical stamina and flexibility.
Perhaps the most direct way to explore mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is the actual practice of mindfulness itself. One sits, closes their eyes, and focuses either on the breath, sensation in the body, sounds in the environment, or other stimuli, and try to avoid mental distractions. When a distraction comes along, the idea is to calmly be aware of what has happened, and come back to the present moment.
Mindfulness meditation has seen a surge in popularity recently with around 14% of US adults at least trying it once.
Yoga and meditation are extremely effective for some… but also time consuming. It may be difficult for parents to meditate or do yoga for more than a few minutes. Still those minutes can be used to great effect. There are boundless resources available online for yoga and meditation instructions, as well as apps and courses one can sign up for. With a little research, finding the one that’s best for you will be convenient.
Less smartphone, more face time
When it comes to parenting and mindfulness, the smartphone is counterproductive. Being glued to the phone while trying to raise a kid or be an authority figure can work against the parent.
To break the phone addiction, putting it away has to be a conscious decision that the parent makes before speaking to their child. Smartphones are indeed addictive, and going without it can even produce anxiety for some individuals. But it is possible to get used to that feeling and accept it. Feeling a little nervous isn’t the end of the world. But the end result will be getting more face to face time with the kids.
One more tip for in-the-moment mindfulness: focus on your breathing.
You can do it for yourself and it also helps the kids if they’re having a hard time dealing with stress.
How it works: Breathe in for about four seconds, hold for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds - depending on your lungs it may be three or five seconds, but the idea is the same. Closing your eyes and focusing on this breath technique can calm the mind and body quite effectively.
If the stress is getting to you and self-help techniques are not working, please reach out for professional mental health treatment. Bregman Medical Group offers online psychiatry and therapy right to your device. Simply schedule an appointment at www.bregmanmd.com or call 786-321-4909.