How to Mentally Find Peace Amidst the Chaos: A Guide for Parents
As a homeschooling parent, I may find moments of absolute chaos that leave me almost in a catatonic state of shock. As parents, we may even feel like we would rather lay in bed than face the day. There are the bills, the stack of dishes, the arguing children, the loud television, the roving pets, the negative news, and the dust bunnies in the corner. There are less-than-stellar toilets and unwashed clothes and even commitments to the local volunteer shelter. How do you keep peace in your world of chaos as a parent, whether you home-school or have children in public school? You can keep the peace by practicing meditation, yoga, and reflective writing in a journal.
Meditating is important. I used to think it involved some higher level of existence or some unique skill. I imagined monks sitting in a cross-legged position, with fingers delicately balanced on their knees, and ancient singing hymns. I figured that I could never meditate and that it was reserved for some special class of people. I was completely wrong. I have become friends with medication. A long time ago, a friend mentioned to me that meditating helped them to become 'present.' The friend explained that 'being present' means enjoying the moment, the second, currently at hand, and attempting to find peace and happiness at that moment. A lot of times, we are striving for goals, wanting things, desiring certain outcomes, and racing to a finish line. But what about the scenes, people and events along the way? They matter, and this is where meditation comes in. It helps one to focus on their breath, at that very moment, and control the pattern in a manner that is calming, soothing and relaxing. It doesn't involve being sleepy or hypnotized.
I found that the easiest way to meditate was by using apps.Some of my favorite apps to mediate have been Headspace, Calm, Stop Breathe Think, and the one by FItness22 called Meditation and Relaxation. There are many others, of course. These offer free meditative exercises that start you off as a beginner. They also offer specific medication, for stress, depression, anxiety, and other forms of cognitive or mental needs. I have even integrated these apps as part of my children's homeschool curriculum, as half of their homeschool is done on tablets.
In addition to homeschool apps like Acellus and Teach Your Monster to Read, the kids can easily access and utilize apps like HeadSpace and Calm. It's great to see their peaceful countenance as they sink into the meditation with their headphones on. I have noticed that deeper breathing, practiced through the meditation apps, has helped ease my anxiety.
I recently had an anxiety-inducing event, as I took my family to the beach and on the moment of getting in the car to go to the hotel to check out, my car decided to die. I didn't go into a full-on panic; I breathed, relaxed, then felt more read to deal with the situation. Meditation helps deal with something called the "monkey brain." Monkey brain is when the mind is constantly chattering things like "What ifs." What if you fail? What if you don't accomplish all your goals? Meditation helps you quite that monkey brain. When you begin to meditate, the brain will chatter, it will disrupt you. When this happens, you have to consciously redirect the brain and even say quietly or aloud, "I am meditating at this time. Stop talking". In a way, you are training your brain to drown out sound, but it's very much like an exercise. Please don't feel as if you are 'failing' at meditation if your 'to do' lists keep popping up or appearing at the corners of your mind, or even in the forefront while meditating. You just gently tell the monkey in your brain that you are busy, and then you do this as much as you can and continue exercising that spiritual, mental brain 'muscle.' "During the process of meditation, accumulated stresses are removed, energy is increased, and health is positively affected overall.
Research has reinforced a plethora of health benefits correlated with the practice of meditation. These include stress reduction, decreased anxiety, decreased depression, and the decline in both physical and psychological pain, improved memory, increased efficiency, reduced blood pressure and heart rate and an increase in oxygen utilization. Meditation increases regional cerebral blood flow in the frontal, and anterior cingulate regions of the brain increase efficiency in the brain's executive attentional network and increase electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence. With aging, the brain cortical thickness (gray matter, which contains neurons) decreases, whereas meditation experience is associated with an increase in gray matter in the brain. (Sharma, 2015)
I first heard of yoga a long time ago when McDonald's rolled out those adult happy meals. The adult happy meals came with a bottle of water, healthy options, and a random exercise DVD. The DVD I received was concerned with yoga. I tried it and felt silly doing the sun salutations and awkward attempting the downward dog. Like the adult happy meals, the yoga was a trend that I tried and abandoned. I regret to say this, as yoga has recently been adopted by myself and my hesitant husband. His chronic back pain had sent him to the chiropractor, who then suggested yoga.
We have been doing Yoga on the Beachbody on Demand app through the television, which is excellent, as we can customize our Yoga experiences. In the beginning, yoga feels 'weird.' It feels like nothing is happening, and almost feel pretentious. But this is not at all true.
Yoga is about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being aware or conscious of the present moment, as we have discussed. Yoga allows you to accept your current thoughts, feeling, and sensations within your body. It's nothing something we are familiar with because it's something we have to practice. Imagine: For many years, your brain has adjusted to schedules, times constraints, deadlines, chaos, turmoil and making sure this list has been made, and that appointment was attended to. We have conditioned ourselves to become multi-taskers to an extreme, mentally unhealthy level. Sometimes, we even want to push our feelings and thoughts into the backburner because maybe those thoughts might impede our social and financial progress. Yoga causes you to look at those thoughts and emotions in the eye, accept them without judgment, and become aware and awakened to the moment at hand. Again, it's work because of how life has conditioned us. Yoga melds meditation with physical attunement, regardless of whether one is thin, obese, or even in a wheelchair. It has less to do with increased heart rate and cardio output, and more to do with breathing and lengthening exercises that activate long muscles and the body's core. Yoga is being studied now as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and there is scientific evidence, based on these studies, which show that Yoga increases one's quality of life. Yoga has been proven to improve emotional well-being, cognitive function, physical wellbeing, and even sleep patterns. Grensman, (2018)
Yoga may not seem easy at first, as some of the moves are quite advanced. One should begin with a beginner's yoga to get the feel of the movements, and then one can start advancing to the flowing and advanced levels. But the goal of yoga isn't to push up the echelon until you are doing a handstand with your legs forming a figure eight. (That is NOT going to happen in this household anytime soon!) The goal is to meditate, breathe, and engage the muscles in a way that focuses on core strength, length, and relaxation. I have found that doing the Yoga has been relaxing and has even increased my sleep and has made me more aware of my breathing. I feel healthier and more flexible due to Yoga.
Keep a Journal
Sometimes, we get on Facebook or Twitter, hovering over the keyboard, wanting to just RANT about something awful, bitter, saddening, or overtly personal. Sometimes we want everyone to know what we are feeling, and when we share it, we might feel embarrassed. I know that we all have seen Facebook share a 'memory' of something we wrote six years ago, and we all collectively cringe at the angry, strange blurb we shared many moons ago. I have pulled back from sharing much of anything too 'textually' personal on Facebook. This is mostly because, unless you're a celebrity or someone with thousands of followers, people do not care about your rants. In fact, the rants can be used against you, or even to humiliate you, further pushing you to the point of mental confusion, chaos, and wreaked havoc.
What's better is this: Journal writing. I was drawn to journal writing by two concurrent events. A friend gifted me a "Mom's Journal" on my birthday. It was a book where you had to answer questions regarding your motherhood and children. Then, I read up on 'bullet journaling,' as I saw it splattered all around Instagram. I almost gave up on journaling due to bullet journaling. Bullet journaling involved complex images and word art on special, dotted paper. It seemed more complicated than it's worth! Did I have time to draw and create fancy words in a journal every week? I probably don't, ever. But, you can journal without all the fancy proverbial footwork.
Grab a journal that you love. It can be a simple journal, a composition notebook, a themed journal, and just really any journal. Find pens you love. Then put today's date and begin writing. Don't worry about filling out all the lines. Don't worry if you just want to make a random list of thoughts. Just write, and make it a habit if you can. If you forget to write, pick up the journal and write again. Write about frustrations, secrets, goals, and great moments you experienced with your kids. Talk about how you hate tailgaters or those crazy Spring Break parents who suddenly forgot that a turn only lane doesn't magically become a double lane that allows them to cut in front of you as you drive into that already packed theme park. (Deep, deep breathe...) Writing is about being allowed to express yourself, even if you aren't a writer and even if you have the artistic skills of a cat.
There are clinical advantages to writing. "Journal writing assignments can benefit students by enhancing reflection, facilitating critical thought, expressing feelings, and writing focused arguments. Also, journals can assist athletic training students with exploring different options for handling daily experiences." (Walker, 2006) Journal writing offers you a chance to feel complete, well-rounded, and more mentally organized. You feel more in control in that you are being who you are exactly in that moment without having to be judged by the Twitter or Facebook realm. If you're mad at your significant other, and you don't want to open that can of worms while they are at work, you can write about your frustrations and your plans. We all know that arguing over text or the internet realm never goes well. It increases feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression. "Writers are focusing on cognition and emotions developed greater awareness of the positive benefits of a stressful event. This effect was apparently mediated by greater cognitive processing during writing." (Ullrich, 2002)
Ultimately, meditation, yoga and journal writing can help you to find peace in a world that is full of recklessness and chaos. As a homeschooling parent, my thoughts, feelings, and motions may spiral out of control. We, collectively as parents, may even feel we are losing grasp of everything we have worked for. We may even feel like it's time to send the children back to public school just to find some mental peace. Sometimes, we come up with entirely crazy scenarios, like running away to the beach, to clear our minds. We can find a mental beach, or psychological mountain home, within the realm of our minds through meditation, yoga and reflective writing within a journal.
Grensman, A., Acharya, B. D., Wändell, P., Nilsson, G. H., Falkenberg, T., Sundin, Ö., & Werner, S. (2018). Effect of traditional yoga, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, on health-related quality of life: a randomized controlled trial on patients on sick leave because of burnout. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 18, 80. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-018-2141-9
Sharma, H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233–237. http://doi.org/10.4103/0974-8520.182756
Walker, S. E. (2006). Journal Writing as a Teaching Technique to Promote Reflection. Journal of Athletic Training, 41(2), 216–221.
Ullrich, P. (2002) Journaling about stressful events: effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Ann Behav Med. 2002 summer; 24(3):244-50.
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© 2018 Charlotte Doyle