Today's blog is written by Paige Orlandi-Holmes, a Licensed Therapist providing mental health counseling services at Counseling Professionals PLLC, a private practice with offices in Cary and North Raleigh. The Work/Life Team is so thankful when therapists from the community volunteer to share their expertise with our employees and their families.
1. What does it take for someone to attain mindfulness?
Mindfulness is something that can be accessible to anyone. I think this is often a misconception about the practice of mindfulness – that it’s this lofty goal of complete zen and expert meditation or awareness. It doesn’t have to be that way. Anyone can take little steps to make their lives or their families more mindful, more present, and more calm.
2. What do we know about how mindfulness helps kids at home and in schools?
There is now a lot of peer-reviewed research on this topic. Numerous studies about mindfulness in schools show improved attention for kids in the classroom, better performance on tasks, improved emotional regulation and less reactivity in kids’ behaviors. In addition, mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce feelings of stress or anxiety in kids and improve their resilience when dealing with upsetting situations.
3. How can parents integrate mindfulness at home as a family?
There are lots of ways! A big one is teaching mindful breathing exercises to your kids as a tool they can use to calm themselves down and self-regulate emotions. My favorite breathing exercise for young kids is balloon breaths (place hands on belly, visualize blowing it up like a balloon, then let it out making a psshhh noise like a balloon does when the air is let out). This is essentially called diaphragmatic breathing, which has been shown to lower blood pressure. There’s also the always-enjoyable lion breaths (when you breathe out, stick out your tongues, hold your hands up like claws, and let the breath be like a guttural growl), and you can also try breathing on a pinwheel to watch it spin. There are the 4 by 4 breaths, which is a good one for all ages in my opinion (draw a square in the air with your finger counting silently to 4 for each side…for 1st and 3rd sides of the square you are breathing in for 4 and out for 4. For the 2nd and 4th sides of the square that you draw, you are holding it and aren’t breathing at all). For any kids or adults that struggle with anxiety, there is alternate nostril breathing, which is a bit more involved and thus the best to get you centered and focused on your body. A video instruction of that can be found here.
I also recommend doing something regularly and creating a habit that helps your kids be calmer and more present. Some examples are to do mindful coloring once or twice a week - meaning coloring in a peaceful room while practicing deep breaths and working on clearing your minds and focusing on only the coloring and breathing- or doing body scans every night before going to bed. Body scans are also called progressive relaxation - you can do one of these on your own just by talking through relaxing one body part at a time, e.g. saying goodnight to each body part, or you can find recordings of these online and just play them while you all try it together.
4. How can parents or individuals use mindfulness on their own and throughout the day?
Mindfulness can absolutely be a simple form of self-care for adults who find themselves drained, stressed, or without much time for themselves. Even if it’s small things here and there. Here are some ideas:
-Taking deep breaths (lion breath, alternate nostril breathing, etc) when in traffic.
-Every time you see a stop sign, use it as a reminder to take a moment to be present, give yourself a break from worries, and breathe deeply.
-Eating a meal slowly and appreciating the nourishment instead of eating on the fly, while watching TV, or while working. Mindful eating also helps you to view food and your body positively instead of some of the typical negative views of food or dieting.
-Taking a moment to scan your body and pay attention to where it feels tense so that you can then visualize breathing deep relaxation into those areas.
-Be present in the little moments like brushing your teeth or putting on your shoes, focusing on your body and the moment instead of allowing your mind to be worried or elsewhere.
-Express gratitude for your body, your family, and good things in your life, either mentally or in a journal every day or week.
5. How do therapists integrate mindfulness into counseling?
Mindfulness is used in our practice with all ages by our providers. It can be a powerful tool to help manage stress, recover from trauma, cope with grief, and more. Often times we teach our clients – both kids and adults- how to pay attention to how anxiety or sadness manifests in their bodies and how to recognize when it starts to show up, so that they can then use coping tools like breathing exercises, positive self-talk, mindful movement, and more.
6. What are some of the best mindfulness activities for kids and families?
As you now know, mindfulness is something that can be accessible to anyone. There are many activities that are fun and easy for kids (or even adults)! Mindful jars was a fan favorite for young kids when I taught mindfulness as a school counselor – this entails some craft supplies: jars, glitter glue, hot glue gun. Essentially the kids make a jar of glittery water, almost like a snow globe, and it can be used as a tool to calm their minds. Parents can teach them that when they shake up the glitter and it spins around with chaos, that it can be just like an anxious mind with thoughts spinning around. Parents and kids can practice together calming their own minds while they watch the glitter settle down to the bottom of the jar. There are lots of instructions for Mindful jars online if parents need some guidance on this activity.
Mantras is another fun activity you can do as a family. Mantras as many of us know are like mottos that are repeated in mindfulness and meditation practice to become more centered and present. A fun family activity is to get a big sheet of paper and brainstorm your favorite mantras together. “Let it go,” “I am thankful,” “I am okay,” “I am safe,” “Be still,” or “I am loved” are some great examples. Song lyrics can give you mantra examples too, which could be a better idea if you have adolescents who relate to songs more than random phrases (e.g. Firework by Katy Perry and some songs by Demi Lovato and Pink invoke confidence and positive emotions). After brainstorming, you can practice as a family closing your eyes altogether, taking some deep breaths, and choosing a mantra or two to say silently to yourselves.
It’s always a good idea after trying a mindfulness activity with your kids to talk about how it felt afterwards. This can help your kids become more self-aware and notice how their thoughts and actions can impact their moods.
I hope these ideas are enjoyable and helpful, and good luck on your mindful journeys!
Paige Orlandi-Holmes is a Licensed Therapist providing mental health counseling services at Counseling Professionals PLLC, a private practice with offices in Cary and North Raleigh. More information on the providers at this practice and services offered can be found at www.counselingprofessionalspllc.com.