Managing Stress with Mindfulness
Helpful Tips for Parents of Children with Autism
When we become parents, we fall in love with our miraculous little bundle of life. We also find ourselves stressed out with the demands of being a new parent. How we respond is largely a result of how we have previously learned to react to stressful events.
A diagnosis of autism can rock our universe, and our sense of security and freedom. Children with autism and other special needs generally are unable to communicate what they want or need and often struggle with socialization skills, so they have tantrums or engage in unsafe behaviors. Stresses mount as we seek services we need at home and at school, incorporate school meetings into our already busy schedule, juggle necessary doctor appointments and make plans for people to come into our home several times a week.
It can sometimes feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders or that our lives are spinning out of control. We often react with frustration.
This is where a daily mindfulness practice can offer some respite and help lift that weight.
Mindfulness is a process by which we shape our view of ourselves and our lives. We do this through formal practices, like yoga and meditation, and informal practices like just being present during everyday tasks.
To be mindful is essentially being aware in the present moment, on purpose, without judgment. Imagine saying, “I will be calm if my child throws a fit at Target” and then being determined to follow through. Setting our intention dramatically increases the likelihood that we’ll remain calm. But just being present is not easy; our thoughts tend to be restless and uncontrolled. We tend to make many judgments, too, about ourselves and those around us.
Think of mindfulness as a camera lens: it captures just the moment without judgment or labels. It just sees. And the path to mindfulness, like any other brain training, takes practice. Just as muscles get stronger with exercise, so does the mindful mind.
There are several exercises that can help us respond with calm and ease to stressful events. Here are three.
Awareness of Breath
For a couple of minutes, with eyes closed, bring your attention to your breath as it comes in and leaves the body, without trying to change it. Notice your breath in the expanding and contracting of the abdomen and hold your attention there. When you notice your mind wandering, kindly usher your awareness back to the breath.
Awareness of Daily Tasks
Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like opening a door. At the moment you touch the doorknob, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and where the door will lead you. Instead of automatically going through daily motions, take occasional moments to stop and be aware of what you are doing and the blessings these daily movements mean in your life.
Learn to open your ears to sound without being swayed by memories of or preconceived notions about music. Select a piece of music you have never heard. Close your eyes, and if you like, use a pair of headphones. Don’t think about the type of music it is, the title or the artist. Just hear it. Become absorbed in the sound. Listen to the contributions of each instrument. Then concentrate on the voice or voices. The idea is to experience listening without making judgements.
This lovely quote by the renowned author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross clarifies the value of mindfulness quite beautifully – “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest as if it was the only one we had.” Perhaps this “attitude of gratitude” for the everyday moments – mundane, painful, or joyful – are what allow us to appreciate even the most challenging work given to us in this life.