How mindfulness may help parents with disabled children

If you’re the parent of a disabled child, you might benefit from practising mindfulness in:

  1. Your relationship with your partner.
  2. Your role as a parent.

But before we get into its usefulness and what the research says about it, let’s first take a look at what mindfulness actually is.

Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness has become a popular way for people to let go of their stress, and to ‘find’ themselves in the midst of their daily (and often very busy) lives.

Studies have shown that practising mindfulness helps foster positive feelings like contentment, self-awareness, empathy and self-control. It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones and builds those areas that lift mood [1]. The practice of mindfulness is usually a guided process, and there are a number of exercises that can be used by everyone; you don’t need to attend a class. But you can also practice mindfulness simply by concentrating on your own breathing.

There are lots of mobile apps with guided processes for mindfulness. Apps are a helpful option because they can sit in your pocket for the opportune moment – if you are busy looking after your disabled child, convenience is everything. Even if you only have time for 5-10 minutes it can still be very beneficial. It’s well worth doing a bit of research to find an app that you enjoy using, as the practice of mindfulness becomes more powerful when it becomes a daily habit. If you don’t like the sound of the person’s voice or what they are saying, you’ll be less likely to want to listen to the app!

Now, let’s get back to the two ways that it can help you, and what the research actually tells us.

1. Your relationship with your partner

We all face stressful, difficult and challenging situations, and our relationships would probably be a lot stronger without them. But it’s far too idealistic to expect stressful moments will completely go away; they are a fact of life in any relationship. Families with disabled children have to cope with significant emotional, social, physical and financial pressures, and everyone has different coping styles.

Some people cope by focusing on a problem and finding solutions and strategies to improve the situation. Other people focus on finding ways to feel better about a situation by reinterpreting it, distancing themselves, or even denying or avoiding it. Partners can find these differences frustrating. Mindfulness can help us with our reaction to stressful events. By mentally preparing the mind and the body, we can be less controlled by situations when they occur, and we can handle conflict better. This creates some space for us to be the best versions of ourselves for our partners [2].

Mindfulness is also very much geared towards experiencing the present moment, and having a moment-to-moment awareness of the world around us. By being truly ‘present’ with our partners, this can help us become better listeners and focus on how to improve the problems we face.

2. Your role as a parent

From a carried out on mothers with children who have autism (65%) and other disabilities (35%), mindfulness led to “significant improvements” in:

  • Stress.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Sleep quality.
  • Life satisfaction [3].

While this particular study carried out by the The American Academy of Pediatrics was aimed at mothers, the nature of the results suggest that fathers would also benefit. There’s more research to be done, but for now, the benefits are encouraging.

If you want to try out some mindfulness, search for ‘mindfulness apps’ in your search engine to bring up information about free and paid Apps for iPhone or Android, plus reviews for them. Some focus on topics such as relationships, health or sleep. Try out a few to find the right one for you.

Have you tried mindfulness for yourself, with your partner or with your family? Did you find that it made a difference? Or are you a little skeptical? We’d love to hear your thoughts – so please do leave us a comment or get in touch via our Facebook page.

References


[1] http://franticworld.com/what-can-mindfulness-do-for-you/

[2] Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behavior therapy, 35(3), 471-494 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789404800285

[3] Dykens, E. M., Fisher, M. H., Taylor, J. L., Lambert, W., & Miodrag, N. (2014). Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 134(2), e454-e463 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/07/16/peds.2013-3164

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