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Mindfulness for Parents: How to Cope with Stress

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Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in each moment, noticing and observing emotions and thoughts without judgment and viewing oneself from a place of compassion.

Scholarly research demonstrates that mindfulness practice alters the brain structures that lead to improved psychological well-being (happier, more relaxed and more appreciative), increased attention and reduced stress and anxiety. Mindfulness has even been shown to change brain chemistry in the areas of our brain that help us manage emotions and areas related to memory and attention. It does not take away stress and feelings or change what happens to you, but it does change your relationship with what happens. There is so much power in tuning in so you can tune out chaos, stress and feelings of burnout.

How can I cope?

Your ability to be mindful can be improved through meditative practice. People who regularly meditate consistently experience higher levels of self-compassion and overall well-being and significantly lower levels of psychological symptoms, burnout and difficulties with managing emotions.

Without mindfulness, you may be more likely to fall into more automatic processing of what’s going on inside of you when you are triggered. With automatic processing, you are more likely to have reactive behavior that only exacerbates the strong feelings you are having. For example, quickly snapping at your children making the precious time spent together now feel negative. Reactive behavior comes from allowing the emotion to control you or attempting to escape from the emotion. Reactive behavior can look like dismissiveness, blaming, rejection, anger or yelling and avoiding what is making you anxious.

When you practice mindfulness during stressful times when strong emotions are triggered inside of you, you are more likely to be present in the moment and aware of your feelings and thoughts. Then, you are also more likely to notice how these thoughts and feelings impact how you respond to yourself and others around you.

So, how does this affect parents then?

Being mindful allows you to manage more difficult times in a healthier way because you are in control of your behavior regardless of your child’s behavior. In the moment, when you are more aware that you are triggered, you can stop yourself from reacting and be proactive in calming yourself. Once you’re calm, you can better see what they need from your child’s perspective, separating their needs from your own emotions and stress, and respond and connect to their needs accordingly.

Being mindful also means you can model managing emotions for your children. For example, the more you yell, the more your child yells or vice versa. The same can happen with the more you stay calm and mindful, the more your child will learn to stay calm and mindful. Parents are their children’s first teachers. Children are sponges and learn so much from you – even things like coping with stress and frustration.

4-to-1 rule

There’s a popular 4-to-1 rule that every parent should try: For every one negative interaction you have with your children, you should have four positive interactions after. The more positive interactions you have with your children daily, the easier it becomes to handle moments of the conflict that are bound to arise. The same principle applies to your child. Children – and adults – thrive off of positive affirmations. This is an excellent time to allow positivity to shine.

Activities and resources

You will be better able to teach your children the importance of mindfulness if you practice it yourself. Make a commitment to practice mindfulness every single day. Choose a time in your daily routine to incorporate the practice and post it on a visual schedule. We are more likely to stick with new behaviors if we are purposeful and intentional with our behaviors.

Start small and stay consistent. Even a small amount of time devoted to mindfulness each day (5-10 minutes) can reap large benefits.

Guided mindfulness activities can be found online or on apps. Relaxation apps are great options to help guide you in your deep breathing and other mindfulness strategies. Apps like Headspace, Smiling Mind, iMindfulness and Mindfulness Daily are evidence-based apps that can be helpful to you on your mindfulness journey. Other apps like Stop-Breathe-and-Think, Calm and Insight Meditation Timer are great choices, too. Apps specifically focused on mindfulness for anxiety include MindShift and Unwinding Anxiety.

Remember that it is okay if you haven't been caring for yourself as well as you know you can or had the ability to be as present as you would like. Getting upset and talking negatively to ourselves only hurts us more. You are here and doing well, be kind to yourself and do what you can by setting an attainable priority.

For more information on Dr. Annotti, click here.

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