Sometimes our day to day activities can feel like too much. From packing lunches to dropping the kids off at school to arriving at work on time, it often seems as though there isn’t a moment to breathe.
But it’s when we have the least amount of time to pause that this pause matters the most.
Mindfulness practices allow us to cultivate space before we react to a stressor like our misplaced keys, a caseworker’s disagreeable statement, or our child spilling their dinner plate while the phone is ringing and their baby sister is crying. In creating a moment to pause, we may be able to turn reaction into reflection and gain control of the way we respond under pressure.
You can hone the ability to pause through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a contemporary buzzword, but it is also an evidence-based tool that can be used to relieve stress, which is important because unmanaged stress is insidious and adversely affects our emotional, physical and cognitive health.
Symptoms of Stress
- Easily agitated, moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, urge to take control
- Difficulty relaxing
- Low self esteem
- Low energy
- Upset stomach
- Aches, pains, tension
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgement
As a foster parent, you may know these feelings too well. Maybe you’re struggling to grapple with your foster child’s food insecurities, watching him eat far more than necessary each time you sit down for dinner. Maybe you have a home inspection coming up and you’re just noticing that the house hasn’t been mopped in weeks. Or maybe you’re trying to remain calm on the drive to a visitation that your foster child’s mother might miss again. Whatever is going on, in the life of a foster parent, the stress can often feel like too much.
So, how does mindfulness reduce stress? A large portion of mindfulness is the warding off of the stress response in the first place. Here are a few ways that mindfulness can help.
- Response Not Reaction – as mentioned previously, mindfulness allows you to create space before reacting to a situation, allowing you to respond in a thoughtful way rather than reacting. So, when you sit down to dinner after another long day and your foster child is overeating, you can take a moment to breathe before reacting by saying something unhelpful.
- Thought Awareness – mindfulness can make you more aware of your thoughts as something separate from yourself, which allows you to take them less seriously, and leaves the stress response uninitiated. As you’re rushing to work and step in something sticky on the dining room floor, you may have the thought you’re a bad foster parent who can’t keep the house clean. With mindfulness, you can see that the thought is separate from you and is not a truth that has to encompass you.
- Emotional Awareness – because mindfulness increases your ability to exist in the present moment, it causes you to be more aware of the emotions of others. So, if you arrive at the visitation and your foster child’s bio mom isn’t there, you can be less involved in your feelings about her bio mom and more supportive of your foster child’s emotional response.
- Physical Awareness – mindfulness practice makes you more aware of your physical body; being in touch can help you notice aches and pains and attend to them early.
You can find more detailed accounts of how practicing mindfulness helps manage stress here.
While mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry, there are resources that make it free to practice on your own. If you’re a licensed resource parent in New Jersey, you can find free guided meditation practices on embrella’s training site. Psychologist Tara Brach offers free meditations on her website, though these are not secular. Eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, developed by microbiologist and MIT professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, provide secular mindfulness practice. Find one here.
In her book Mindfulness for Carers, Dr. Cheryl Rezek discusses how the practice of mindfulness can be vital for carers of individuals who require special attention for their emotional needs. Since many foster youth have experienced trauma and may have increased emotional needs in response, mindfulness can be an effective tool for resource parents in providing their youth with proper care.
As a resource parent, you have the profound, unique and challenging job of creating a secure environment for a child who may not have felt safe in the past. This means it is vital to be conscious of your responses to stress so that you are aware of your reactions and responses that impact the environment in your home. In addition, it is important to manage stress so that the adverse effects like fatigue, moodiness, forgetfulness and headaches don’t negatively impact your ability to help your foster youth, and yourself, to cope.