Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word in conversations around how to deal with the stress of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the associated changes in routine and uncertainty regarding when things will get back to normal. This very important practice has also started to make its way into educational curricula globally, and it’s predicted that it will soon be added into the South African school curriculum too.
We spoke to Nan Lutz, mindfulness coach and Mindfulness Africa Director, to find out exactly what mindfulness is, and how it can be utilized to help parents and their children cope.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is something that we often do naturally. It’s about being in the present moment and paying attention to what we’re doing. In essence it’s “stop and smell the roses”, to count to 10 or take 3 deep breaths. It’s not the addiction to the busyness and distraction, to the daily grind of our pre-coronavirus day-to-day lifestyles. By being mindful, we bring an attitude of presence and understanding of who we are and how we show up in our own being. Kindness and compassion are a really important part of this – being kind and compassionate to both others, and to ourselves.
How can mindfulness help in our current situation?
When we’re in a prolonged state of anxiety, or facing a situation that stresses us or makes us fearful, we revert to our “lizard brain”, the primal or reptilian part of our brain that’s all about having lunch, or being lunch. This is a default, survival response, and it’s why we have a negative bias as humans. This is also known as “fight or flight” mode. Our brains are wired to perceive both physical and imagined threats, and respond by preparing us to flee or fight – sending blood to our extremities, away from our brains that can rationalize that we aren’t actually about to be eaten. This response is designed to help us survive, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, but we don’t have the physical exertion to release these hormones, like a zebra running away from a lion would.
One way around this anxiety response is mindfulness. You can use mindfulness to develop awareness of the situation, and bring kindness and compassion to yourself to balance that fear response. In this way, we’re able to make more skilful decisions and cope better with stress.
What are some techniques that parents can use with their kids to be more mindful?
Create a routine
• Create a new routine with your child, and make sure this is one that’s helpful for both you and your child in terms of workload and support
• Don’t try to include an 8-hour school day in this routine
Change your attitude
• Children will model your attitude – change your frame of mind from “this is a disaster” to “I will overcome this” or “this has been done before” or “I can do this”
• View mindfulness as learning, and allow it to take up some space in your child’s “school day”
• Make a choice to show up and be present with your children, giving them your undivided attention for a period each day to create that soothing connection
Mindful breathing and movement
• When in a stressful situation, take a moment to take 3 deep breaths, focusing on the inhale and the exhale
• Use a breathing buddy with your child – a soft toy or pillow that can be placed on their stomach as they take 3 deep belly breaths, or practice gentle breathing. Have them focus on their breathing buddy as it rocks with their breathing
• Take a walk around the garden or house, taking time to notice things like a flower or insect using all your senses
• Set a time in the day to write down something you’re grateful for, and place it into a “gratitude jar” or write down 3 things that you’re grateful for in a daily gratitude journal
• At bedtime, ask your children what happened today that went well, or that they are grateful for. You can also ask what they’re looking forward to tomorrow, expanding their mind and learning ability
Spend time with pets
• Stroking a pet’s fur will introduce a new texture sensation that can help bring you out of a state of fear. This can also work with soft toys
• A dog’s facial geometry is comforting to people. Stare into a dog’s eyes to get your brain to release oxytocin, the love & connection hormone
Practical ideas for parents to help kids in a panic situation
Sometimes we, or our kids, get into a state of panic or anxiety that’s difficult to break out of. Here are some top tips to help bring you or your kids back into a more present state:
1. Take 3 deep breaths, focusing on your breathing
2. Stroke materials with different textures, to soothe and realign the brain. If you or your child are particularly anxious, carry something with a soft texture with you in the car or your bag
3. Use your senses to notice things around you: Use 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 to notice:
• 5 things that you can SEE
• 4 things that you can TOUCH
• 3 things that you can HEAR
• 2 things that you can SMELL
• 1 thing that you can TASTE
4. Making use of a BrightSparkz tutor can help ease your child’s anxiety and return a sense of normality during stressful situations.