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A simple exercise to get you started

One way to introduce mindfulness in your life is to practice the STOP technique. STOP is an easy way to learn how to observe your reactions to stressors and give yourself space to choose how to respond. When you notice yourself getting upset, angry, or worried, do the following:

  • Stop (or slow down) what you are doing.
  • Take several deep breaths. It can be especially calming to breathe in to the count of four, and out to the count of eight. 
  • Observe how you are feeling. What sensations do you notice in your body? What are you thinking?
  • Process your possibilities and proceed, bringing a sense of calm awareness to your experience.

Many caregivers have found the STOP technique to be helpful when responding to their distressed child, managing complicated healthcare choices, and learning unexpected news about their child’s condition.

As always, it helps to be kind to yourself. Be open to new possibilities for reacting, and forgive yourself if you have already lashed out. There will always be an opportunity to STOP again. 

An exercise for especially difficult moments

When parenting a child with a serious illness, you learn that there will be many bumps in the road. There may be treatments that don’t have the outcome you wished for, difficult procedures that cause your child pain or fear, and days when you feel you don’t have the capacity to meet your child’s needs in addition to life’s other demands. Or you may get stuck in a cycle of worry, even if it seems nothing has happened to trigger it.

In these cases, you may find that the STOP technique feels too difficult in the moment. Instead, try the HEAL method. Here’s how it works:

  • Have a positive moment. The easiest ways to do this are to recall a happy memory, such as a time when you couldn’t stop laughing, or find something beautiful where you are now - such as a view out the window, or a kind person you appreciate. The memory or positive moment doesn’t have to involve your child or family at all - choose whatever comes up first. 
  • Enhance the positive moment. Remember or notice everything you can with all five senses. What images, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches are associated with the memory or moment? How does it feel in your body right now? 
  • Absorb these feelings. Once you have the positive moment strong in your mind, you can imagine your entire body taking in the good feelings and being nourished by them.
  • Link this positive feeling to what you are going through now. It can help to know that even when things are extremely difficult, there is always the possibility to open to something good.
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    Other exercises for daily life

    It may feel difficult to try to apply mindfulness techniques immediately to the most painful or overwhelming parts of the day. If that is the case, you can warm up your “mindfulness muscle” by practicing mindfulness exercises during your normal activities, so that you feel more prepared to face challenges with a kind attitude. Here are some examples of exercises you can try:

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    Mindful eating

    Mindful eating is a practice that involves paying attention to your food and body as you eat. One basic approach is simply to eat a meal slowly, without distractions (such as a television), noticing how hunger rises and falls. You can pay attention to the physical sensations of chewing, swallowing, and lifting your fork. Notice how easy it is to get distracted and what it feels like to bring your attention back to eating. (This can be a great activity for the whole family!)

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    Mindful movement

    Mindful movement includes types of physical activity like yoga, qigong, or tai chi, which focus on the breath and paying attention to the sensations in your body. There are many free videos online, or you can find a class in  your area.

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    Walking meditation

    Walking meditation simply involves walking slowly wherever you are - even back and forth in a small area - while paying attention to the sensations in the feet as you lift them and bring them down. This can be a wonderful practice in a hospital when you need a break, or outside if the weather allows.

What can help you stay mindful?

Setting an intention to be mindful is easy, but remembering to stick with it isn’t always so simple. Most of us have reactive patterns, and changing those patterns doesn’t happen overnight. Being mindful is, at its core, a way of being that requires lots of reminders. Here are some ways that you can help yourself remember to stick to your intention:

  • Set a concrete goal to practice a mindfulness exercise every day.
  • Add a physical reminder to your environment, such as a beaded bracelet or a sign, that reminds you to pause, take a breath, and continue with a kind attitude.
  • Try guided meditations.
  • Practice self-care so you feel rested and strong.
  • Get the whole family involved. Letting your family know what you are trying to do, and why, can help them support you. Many mindfulness exercises, such as guided meditations or mindful eating, can be done together.
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