Fall Family Newsletter- More Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation response involves adding a word or phrase to your deep breathing exercise to help focus your mind and relax your body. As you breathe, repeat a word or phrase, like ‘love,’ ‘breathing in calm,’ or ‘peace.’ Your mind may wander, which is ok and to be expected. Just refocus on the word. You can do this with your eyes closed or focus on an object. If you only have 5 minutes for this exercise, great. If you can work up to doing it for 20 minutes, even better!
Guided Imagery is a great way to calm the mind and has been proven to decrease feelings of pain. Start by deep breathing for a few minutes. With your eyes closed, picture yourself in a place that brings you memories of joy. Engage your senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Is it warm or cold? You may feel a cool breeze and smell cookies baking. You may hear birds chirping or children giggling. Leaves crunch as you walk. Your mind may wander but return to your oasis.
More from Shannon Brown- What is Self Care?
Self-care is a specific action you take to care for your own mental, emotional, or physical health. Taking a walk, writing in a journal, or doing an enjoyable activity with a friend, are all examples of self-care that can help relieve stress and improve well-being.
I know self-care can feel impossible and certainly doesn’t always feel like caring when you are used to taking care of others. We’ve all had moments when we feel we are hanging on by a thread and can’t possibly manage one more thing. But these are the stressful times when we need self-care the most. So we are going to start with a simple way to relieve stress. Start with the basics. Like the flight attendants always say, put the oxygen mask on yourself before placing it on someone else. Ready? Breathe. No, I mean really BREATHE. Take a long, slow, deep breath through your nose, making your belly rise, then exhale slowly through your mouth.
While the flight or fight response of stress can kick us into action and keep us alert when something is wrong by causing our bodies to do things like release adrenaline and increase our heart rate, chronic stress can have pretty negative consequences on our body and mind. Stress can raise blood pressure, causes fatigue, and prevent a good night’s sleep. Stress can make you feel more emotional, jittery, or like your mind is foggy and can even cause physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.
When we are stressed we tend to take shallow, rapid breaths. Taking slow deep breaths and filling lungs entirely with air can have an immediate calming and relaxing effect, increasing the flow of blood and oxygen throughout your body and lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing also releases endorphins which can help reduce pain.
Take moments, as brief as they may be, to just close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax and recharge. Below is a breathing exercise for you to try.
You can even do this with your children, to help when they may be having pain, feeling anxious about a medical procedure or having first day of school jitters. Having a tool to use on their own for self-care in difficult situations can help your child feel more in control and in-turn boost their confidence.
Belly Breathing Exercise
- Sit or lie down comfortably. If possible, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
- With your eyes closed, try to relax all of your muscles. Be sure to relax your face, jaw, neck, and shoulders as we often keep those muscles tense.
- Inhale deeply through your nose for 5 slow counts. Imagine a balloon in your belly expanding as you fill your lungs completely with air.
- Exhale fully through your mouth for 5 slow counts. Imagine the balloon in your belly deflating as you exhale and empty your lungs.
- Continue taking deep, slow inhales and exhales for 5-10 minutes, or as time allows. Try to focus on your breathing and counting during the exercise.
When doing breathing exercises with your children, you can have them spin a pinwheel with their breath or blow a slow stream of bubbles. Your child will benefit from breathing deeply and also be provided with an additional distraction to take their mind off pain or other worries.
If you prefer a guided audio breathing exercise, this site has three short recordings you can try.
Returning to school
Some children may be hesitant or fearful of going back to school again. This can stem from a changed appearance that they are feeling self-conscious about, or a changed dynamic in their social circle after being away from friends for a long period of time. These kinds of thoughts are normal with returning to school again after receiving treatment, and it is important to understand what is making them avoid going back. Here are some things that can help!
- Have an open conversation with your child about what is bothering them, and brainstorm together to come up with a solution.
- Keep contact with your child’s teachers and school counselor, as they may have ideas to implement at school that could help.
- Consider having a member of your child’s oncology team, whether a social worker, child life specialist, or nurse make a visit to your child’s school if possible. They can meet with your child’s teacher and class to explain in age appropriate ways what your child’s cancer journey has been like. This can be a great way to reassure the other children that your child is the same, even if they look different than before. This discussion can also help put a halt to rumors children may have hear about cancer, for example that it may be contagious. This could make it easier as your child transitions to school and won’t have to answer as many questions concerning cancer, which may be difficult to speak about.
- If a school visit is not possible by oncology staff, it would be helpful to prepare your child at home for possible questions other kids may have. Other children will likely not understand what they have been through, and may ask questions that they do not realize are strange or intrusive. Some examples of this are “Can I catch it?” “Why do you look different?” “Can you still play?”. It is important for children to know how to navigate these situations, so preparing them with possible answers could help them to feel more confident if they are not comfortable speaking on the topic of cancer. Some examples of changing the topic could include “Thanks for asking, but I don’t want to talk about it right now” or “ I’m not sure how to answer that”. You can your child can brain storm other more fitting responses based on their comfort level!
- If your child is not able to go to school while receiving treatment, or experiences long absences, there may be different challenges to face. It is normal for your child to feel frustrated, angry, and jealous of their friends and siblings when they lose their everyday routine. Staying home from school also likely means staying away from other social activities and extracurricular as well. Luckily, there are ways to help cope with this and keep social ties, as well as things to do at home!
- Staying active with schoolwork to the extent your child is able will be beneficial. You may be surprised at your child’s interest in keeping up with homework and classes when they feel well enough, so contact your child’s teacher about coming up with a game plan and ways to stay on track at home.
- Keeping connected with classmates and friends inside and outside of school is a fun way to keep your child’s spirits up! Thanks to technology, there are many different ways to stay in touch. Maybe if you speak with the teacher, your child’s class can have webcam calls with them, so that they still feel a part of the classroom and are surrounded by friends. Perhaps online messaging or text/picture messaging can help your child stay connected to friends. These ties to the ones they love can boost their spirits when they are feeling down.
- There is a fun program called Monkey In My Chair that is an interactive way for children to feel a part of their classroom. With this program, a large stuffed monkey takes their seat in school when they can’t be there. This is fun because there is also an interactive link that gives access to Monkey Message, which is a way for students to share monkey photos, updates and notes. A child at home can be sent pictures of their monkey and laugh with their friends! This is a creative way to stay connected, if interested in applying to this service, here is the link http://monkeyinmychair.org/get
- Another way to help with the challenges that come along with staying home from school, is getting creative with the free time that you do have when you are feeling well. There are outlets such as scrapbooking that could help your child reminisce on their favorite memories, or times that make them feel strong. Journaling is also a great option to reflect on new experiences, and to show how far they have come over time. Fun activities like drawing cartoons or making bracelets may be something your child did not have time to do before, so why not make the most of the opportunity to have free time now!
Back-to-School Survival Kit
- Pack these extras in your child’s backpack to make the first days back smoother:
- Pictures of mom and dad
- Love notes
- Energizing snacks- protein bars, fruit and small bags of crackers or nuts will keep your kids’ energy going throughout the day
- Set up a homework station
- Fill some caddies with pens, pencils, erasers, colored pencils, markers and erasers. Stock your station with paper, calculators, rulers ad any other necessities so that your kids are ready to go after school. Add a timer so they can learn about time management. Setting a timer in 10 or 20 minute increments helps get homework done. They can work for a period and then take a break.
- Plan out lunches. Make sure you have plenty of lunch and snack ideas handy.
- Get plenty of rest. Everyone, including mom and dad, need to make sure they are resting up at the start of the school year.
A new school year can create a new mix on daily life. Make the most of it by planning and preparing for it.