You may find yourself struggling with emotional exhaustion, like many of the parents, teachers, and kids I work with these days.
We are all trying to pace ourselves through the ultra-marathon of 2020. This endurance race is filled with obstacles including the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustices, street violence, extreme weather, and political polarization. We’re tired of even hearing about it.
The air around us is filled with this psychological smog as we try to simply get through the day.
We just want to raise and teach our children in peace. We just want to tend to our work and home responsibilities without all the extra chaos. It’s challenging enough!
You may be struggling to catch your breath, clear your mind, or find your footing in this race. You may feel distracted, distressed, or even filled with despair. Your life has definitely been disrupted.
How are your children doing?
Are they struggling to sustain their attention and effort on schoolwork? Are they struggling to regulate their emotions – especially fear and frustration, anxiety and anger? Are their nervous systems showing signs of being frayed – heightened irritability, impatience, withdrawal, or tiredness?
We know what our children need. They need clear, calm, and kind attention from their adult caregivers. They need consistent structure and predictable routines. Warm empathy for their difficult feelings and firm accountability for their behavior choices. They need us to show up with our own nervous systems in tact, being responsive to their needs not reactive.
That’s where mindfulness-based stress relief comes in.
You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t cultivate clear, calm, and kind behaviors in your children, if you’re not cultivating that state of mind in yourself.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an intensive, evidence-based treatment program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the late 1970’s. It’s been replicated and extended in hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies since then. It involves weekly 2-hour classes in mindfulness meditation, yoga exercises, and skillful ways of attending to and restructuring your thoughts and feelings (to be more peaceful and productive). It also involves daily practice and reflection for the duration of the program. Its benefits include decreased amounts of toxic stress, increased attention skills, improved emotional regulation, and enhanced personal and social well-being.
Even lighter doses of this intensive program have been shown to have beneficial effects on people’s nervous systems and their subjective experiences of daily life. That is, you tend to do better and feel better with some amount of regular mindfulness practices. I call this “Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief.”
You’ll likely feel better and do better as long as your practice follows two basic principles:
(a) Integrity/Fidelity – Mindfulness practices are simple, but not necessarily easy. Like any life skill, you are more likely to benefit from proper training and guidance with an experienced, qualified instructor.
(b) Consistency/Regularity – Doing mindfulness “once-in-a-while” or “only when I’m stressed-out,” and then expecting it to be effective when you need it, is not a recipe for success. To realize the benefits requires regular practice. Even a few minutes a day, most days of the week, has been shown to help relieve stress and improve functioning.
What are the basics of mindfulness practice?
Mindfulness is simply a way of paying attention. It’s learning how to pay attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. It’s paying attention to what’s happening here and now, with kindness and curiosity.
Mindfulness is present-moment awareness and acceptance – which can serve as the basis for making conscious choices about how to respond to life challenges, rather than mindlessly react to them.
That’s the secret sauce. That’s where and how we transform our relationship with stress, and live more peacefully and productively.
There’s nothing magical or mystical about mindfulness. It’s a mental skill that can be developed and refined in anyone. It’s simply learning how to pay attention to your restless body, your racing mind, and your daily interactions with more ease. (And less dis-ease.)
Where to begin?
Begin with simple, guided practices with a trained instructor. Seek live classes and/or recorded ones.
Or use one of these free phone apps to get started: Calm, Insight Timer, or HeadSpace.
Standard basic practices include:
- Pausing with Presence
- Mindful Breathing
- Body Awareness
- Mindful Movement
- Awareness of Thoughts
- Awareness of Emotions
- Mindful Compassion Practices
You can start with 1-2 minute practices and build to 5-10-15 minutes a day, which you really can do! If interested, you may add in some regular 30, 45, or 60 minute practices. It’s all good.
It’s all better than being emotionally exhausted from chronic, toxic stress.
We really can do better. We can be with the challenges of daily life, even now – especially now – with more clarity, calm, and compassion for ourselves and our children.
It just takes practice. I hope you’ll make that commitment to yourself and your kids! Reach out if you have more questions.
Pause. Breathe. Proceed.