Feeling overwhelmed, stressed or slightly anxious? Life is busy, I get it! With three daughters I know how it feels. My to-do list is endless and I still feel pangs of guilt that I am never doing enough.
One of the easiest ways to deal with feelings such as these is to add a bit of mindfulness to your everyday life. The great thing is you don’t need loads of time to practice this – with some simple tricks, you can become more ‘mindful’ while getting on with your busy life. Here’s how:
Mindfulness has become a buzzword of late and there seem to be many interpretations for what it means but really, it’s pretty straightforward. It suggests that the mind is fully focused on what’s happening in the present, to what we are doing and to the space we are moving through. Recent studies have linked many health benefits, such as increased attention and focus, lowered anxiety levels and increased immune function, to the practice of mindfulness. The conversation around mindfulness is ever growing and you’ll even notice workshops springing up in corporate spaces and CEO’s who swear by the practice. More and more schools are also taking up the practice. But actually, it’s been around for centuries, we’ve just given it different names such as meditation, prayer, relaxation etc. It’s nothing new, but modern day life has left little time to fit it in.
But what about mindfulness at home and can we make it accessible to our children too?
The answer is straightforward: yes. Practising mindfulness can help kids learn to focus, manage stress, regulate emotions and develop a positive outlook. Positive effects on overall mental health and wellbeing have been reported by many families who use mindfulness practice. Best of all it can help with school work and stressful events such as exams. You might find initial resistance, but unlike adults, children’s habits are not as set in stone and they are much more open to new things.
So how can we go about it?
There are several ways to start, you could take a shortcut and download the various apps now available and designed for children. Some recommended ones include Headspace (for kids), Calm and Smiling Mind. However, if you prefer to keep it tech-free, a great starting point is by practising it yourself.
Become a role model
Set a routine each day where you and your child can sit down and close your eyes for a few minutes. Notice your breath, your thoughts and emotions and ask your child to follow suit. To make it easier, both of you think about one thing that you are grateful for at this time and focus on that. Initially, your child may think this slightly random but it’s important for them to see that taking care of your mental wellbeing is just as important as nutritious eating, physical health and academic pursuits such as reading. Invite your child to do this with you daily and hopefully, it will become a habit for them as well.
Allow for a brain break
We service our car, we descale our kettles, we take ourselves for facials and walk our dogs. But when was the last time you gave your mind a service by taking a break? And what about our children’s minds? School, clubs, homework, tutors, parties, playdates, visits to relatives, chores and much more fill up their busy days. It’s so important though to allow them to take a ‘brain-break’. They need to be able to hit that pause button every now and then and even, god-forbid, be bored – do nothing. Do this by making it a game with younger children. Make it a competition to see who can lie down with their eyes shut the longest? Encourage your child to close their eyes and ask them to tell you what they can feel. Even if it’s the soft pillow under their head. Allow them to go into as much detail as possible. Older children may find this more difficult and might even tell you they’re bored, believe it or not, that’s exactly what you want!
A mindful school-run
On the way to school, draw your attention to what you can see and point this out to your child. Simply noticing and appreciating your surroundings can make mindfulness an easy and effective tool that can be practised by the whole family. Once you start to point things out like the blossoms on trees, changing leaves in autumn or the first flowers in spring, your children will learn to become more aware of their surroundings. Appreciation of what’s happening around us, even on the school run can set your child up for a more relaxed and less harried start to the day. Try it out and let us know what happens.
Dani Binnington is a cook, yoga teacher and wellness warrior dedicated to providing practical steps for physical and mental wellbeing for the whole family.