More stress relievers for families: Music, meditation and forgiveness

Published: Thursday, April 21 2011 5:30 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: Second of two articles

Children, as was discussed in a previous article, have their own stresses that affect them just as severely as adults. They also can feel, but not understand, a parent’s more significant stresses.

Here are some additional suggestions that may help families deal with stress.

8. Physiological: Significant stress almost always causes a physical change. Often, we must do something physical to relieve the stress we feel. Aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming and running can help. Slow, deep breathing can also help break physical cycles of stress. Help young children have fun and learn deep breathing at the same time with a large bubble-blowing contest. You have to breathe deeply and blow very slowly to create a big bubble. This works best when you use a bubble wand with a 1- to 2-inch-diameter hole.

9. Friends and relationships: Help children develop and maintain good friendships and lasting relationships. In the event of a move, help them preserve old relationships and create new ones. Spend time listening, acknowledge their emotions, and help them understand their own feelings during these difficult times of struggles and stress.

10. Meditation: This usually refers to deep thought, at times accompanied by study and prayer. But there is another type of meditation that is useful for relieving stress. It’s called mindfulness meditation. There are three essential components: Enjoy the activity as if it were new, focus completely on the activity and lose track of time.

This type of meditation is unique to the individual and usually changes over time. For some, washing dishes, taking a bath, riding a dirt bike, fishing, playing with a friend or pet, or taking a walk may meet the required components. For others, gardening, reading, canoeing or an interesting conversation can create this type of relaxation. Children often meet the requirements of mindfulness meditation through active play.

11. Gratitude: Maintain and show an attitude of gratitude and teach children to do the same. In his book “Standing for Something,” President Gordon B. Hinckley discussed gratitude and other neglected virtues that will strengthen our homes. Spending more time thinking about what you have is less stressful than spending a lot of time worrying about what you do not have.

12. Music: Using music for relaxation may not be as easy as it seems.

Have you ever driven down a highway at 65 or 75 mph before turning into a town where the speed limit abruptly changes to 25? Sometimes the change is more irritating than relaxing until you mentally and physically adjust to the slower speed. It is the same with music.

Music is individual, but there are some general rules. It must be something physically relaxing that you enjoy.

Many years ago, as a children’s therapist, I worked with a young man who told me he relaxed to music by a particular band. Instead of arguing with him, I suggested we check it out and asked that he bring his music to our next session. I had some very basic bio-feedback equipment that would measure his physiology and tell us if his body was relaxing or tensing. I hooked him up and turned on the music. This particular music was irritating and grating to me, so I left the room. After a while I returned, and we looked at his measured physical results together. It was obvious to both of us that this music did not help him relax.

If you enjoy it, slow baroque music (i.e., Pachelbel’s Canon) is wonderfully and deeply relaxing. However, if you were especially stressed, to sit down and listen to slow baroque music would actually increase your anxiety instead of reduce it. It would be similar to the abrupt change in speed limits.

More relaxing music is compatible with deep, slow breathing and is conducive to meditating; whereas, less relaxing music almost forces us to move. More relaxing music can help us be open to the whisperings of the Spirit.

13. Forgive and let go: Carrying around grudges, bitterness and anger is stressful and can consume a lot of energy. Forgive quickly. You just do not have the extra energy to carry around the additional burden.

I used to teach a repeating workshop for adults. During part of the workshop, I talked about letting go. My partner would be with the group, and I would come in late with a backpack. I would talk about how much pain I was in and how much my back hurt. Invariably someone would have the common sense to suggest I remove what was obviously a very heavy pack. At first I would ignore them, but after a while I would acknowledge their comments and concerns and remove the pack. I would, however, continue to carry this bulky and heavy backpack in my arms as one by one I removed very large rocks and talked about each one. They all represented stressful events or relationships in my life. One by one, after talking about each for a while, I would allow the rock to land on the table with a thud.

I remember one woman picking up a large rock while I wasn’t looking, wrapping it in tissue and putting it into her purse. There was something she wasn’t ready to let go of, and this rock represented that burden.

Some situations and events, however, are serious enough that they need to be reported and require appropriate precautions. We can forgive and let go, but at the same time love ourselves enough to never allow anyone else to put us in the same dangerous situation again. We can let go of the hate and burdens associated with what happened and still report it to the proper authorities.

14. Believe in Christ, live the commandments and teach your children to do the same. It is my testimony that this really is where you will find safety and peace.”

Charles "Pete" Petersen has been a child therapist and has worked with people with disabilities for three decades. He is currently writing an online encyclopedia of parenting. Email him at crpetepetersen@ymail.com.

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