The busyness of this time of year can cause added stress for families. As parents we’re balancing the extra shopping, decorating, special events, added financial costs, cleaning, traveling, family gatherings, and meal preparations.
When we become stressed our patience level, emotional capacity, and physical energy quickly drain. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our children react to our stress responses. Our heightened emotions send a message that they should become stressed as well.
For families of children with disabilities, this strain can be amplified. The changes in routine, less attention from parents, additional social gatherings, and people in the home can fuel meltdowns.
Thankfully there are simple ways that families can relieve stress levels. These five-to ten-minute activities can help calm, relax, and reset our minds and emotions. Try enjoying these activities as a family, helping your children practice these exercises on their own, as well as stealing away to your bedroom for a relaxing mini-vacation.
- Calming with the Senses
A great way to reverse the building tension is to take a short break to soothe our minds and bodies. Focusing on sensory input slows the part of our brains that is revved up in stress and anxiety.
You can choose one of the senses to focus on or create a multi-sensory spa in your living room or bedroom. Your choices may depend on your child’s unique likes or aversions to types of sensory input.
- Touch: Snuggle up in your favorite soft sweater or a cozy quilt. Relax under a heated or weighted blanket. For the kids, pull out their favorite pjs and cover them in a weighted blanket or place a weighted stuffed animal on their laps.
- Smell: Light a scented candle, diffuse lavender oil, rub on scented lotion, or wear a scented heat wrap.
- Sound: Turn on some calming music (other than holiday music), play quiet nature sounds, or light a crackling fire in the fireplace.
- Sight: Look out the window, gaze at the fire in the fireplace, or play relaxing nature scenes on the TV. Limiting our visual input can also calm our nervous systems. Dim the lighting or use an eye mask.
- Taste: Leisurely enjoy your favorite hot beverage, a mint, a piece of chocolate, or fruit.
- Tensing and Relaxing Muscles
A very effective way to calm our minds and bodies is to first tense our muscles then relax them. This exercise uses a different part of the brain than the emotional center and can actually improve brain chemistry. You can make this activity last as short or as long as you like.
Try this quick exercise:
- Pretend that you’re holding a lemon in your hand. Even better—get a lemon out of the fridge or a stress ball if you have one.
- Squeeze…squeeze hard for five seconds.
- Quickly drop the lemon or ball.
- Repeat in your other hand.
For a longer exercise:
- Sit comfortably in a chair or lie flat on the floor or bed.
- Inhale a deep, slow cleansing breath. Then slowly exhale.
- Beginning at the top of your head, slowly move down through your different muscle groups (face, shoulders, arms, hands, abs, legs, all the way down to your toes).
- Tense each muscle group for five seconds then relax.
- Take a slow, deep breath.
- Then go back to your day.
- Mindful Walk
This activity combines physical activity, getting outside, being mindful of our surroundings, and engaging in the present moment. The result can be a greatly improved mood.
- Get out of the house to go for a walk.
- As you quietly stroll, observe what you see, hear, and smell.
- If you go on a walk together as a family, on the way back share with one another what you noticed.
Kristin Faith Evans, MA, MS, LMSW
Kristin is an author, speaker, mental health counselor, and a mother of two children with rare genetic disorders and complex needs. She’s passionate about empowering other parents of children with disabilities. Learn more at www.DisabilityParenting.com