By Danielle D’Amico, BSN, RN, Nurse Coordinator, Spina Bifida Program
Youth with chronic conditions like spina bifida and their families can experience high levels of stress. Spending too much time being consumed by stress can make you more likely to experience anxiety and symptoms of depression.
How you respond to or cope with this stress can impact both health and psychosocial outcomes. As we welcome winter – our coldest season of the year – and the New Year, and settle into hibernation, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is one strategy to help you and your family cope with the stress of spina bifida.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.
Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you direct your attention away from negative thinking and engage with the world around you.
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. Some examples include:
- Pay attention. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in our busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses – touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.
- Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring open and accepting attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
- Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
- Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.
- Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience, and then return your focus to your breath.
- Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn, and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.