In my last post, I shared research findings on two stress interventions for special needs parents that proved effective. One was a mindfulness program and the other a program based in positive psychology. I summarized the findings about the stress reduction strategies as follows:
1) How we understand our circumstances matters for our well-being.
2) Small, daily practices can make a big difference.
Those two statements could tie a metaphorical bow on the research, but I instead posed some questions that poked at the internal resistance I was feeling. I asked,
How does it feel to read [those summary statements]? Is it easy to believe they’re true? Do you believe they apply to you (or the families you serve)…?
Just as I asked you to do, I let the questions tumble around in my mind for weeks. I noticed feelings of hope, apprehension, frustration and self-doubt. I was frustrated by the simplicity and neatness of the “nutshell” statements compared to the messy, complex, and sometimes colossal reality of stress and anxiety that is often part of parenting a child on the autism spectrum.
Stress, slush and transformative practices
On a cold, rain-sopped spring day, I came upon an apt illustration: Experiencing chronic stress is like trying to walk in deep slush. You pull your foot up only to have slush surge around your ankle with each step. You look ahead to firmer ground, but each straining step makes little progress and spends precious energy. Small distances feel like miles.
So, rationally, we may believe that how we understand our circumstances matters for our well-being. We may believe that small, daily practices can reduce stress. But how do we take steps to manage stress when we’re flooded with it? I’ll share some learnings that I’ve gleaned from mindfulness, many wise friends, and more moments of burnout and beginning again than I care to remember:
1) Grow an attitude of acceptance. Accepting reality can reduce uncertainty and help ground us in now (versus reaching for solid ground). Acceptance says, “Yes, this is hard. It has been hard. We can expect that it will be hard. It has also been delightful and beautiful and will continue to be so. So here we are.” Come back and sit in this place of calm acceptance and gratitude, especially when you notice yourself straining to be somewhere else or wanting to swap your circumstances for someone else’s.
2) Assemble a stress toolbox. Maybe we need to strap some snow shoes on over our rain boots so we don’t sink so deeply as often. Perhaps we can set aside times to rest and breathe along the way. From a place of acceptance, we can more readily ask for help, a key step in building out our village of support. For me, building mindfulness practices into my day has helped me better apply all the other tools in my stress toolbox.
3) Take steps 1 and 2 alongside supportive friends and allies, over and over. Need help building your support network? Contact us and we’ll begin together. Subscribe to our blog for a breath of fresh air from our Oxygen Mask podcast series (launching April 30).
These are not revolutionary ideas, but they are transformative practices. And, in order to be useful, practices must be, well, practiced. I urge you (and remind myself) to try them. Practice makes progress.