Mindfulness in the NICU

Having a premature baby hospitalized is a very stressful event for parents and for their families.

When we experience stress, our body activates an alarm-system, known as the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, which makes us release stress hormones that activate the body’s emergency systems. When this mechanism is experienced repeatedly, it affects our mood, how we react to our environment, our interpretation of events, and even how our body’s immune system fights diseases.

How stressful an event is for us depends on how we perceive it. If we can change the way we perceive an event, we can change our response to it.

Mindfulness can help parents who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, by switching off the stress reaction and activating the calming response.

But how can we do this when we are anxious, in pain and worried about our baby? We can do this by noticing what is happening to us, paying attention to the uncomfortable physical sensations and therefore shifting from thinking about the threat and all of the possible consequences to simply experiencing it as it is. With mindfulness practice we begin to notice habitual patterns of thinking or behavior and therefore, we have the opportunity to respond differently.

 

© 2018 Paula Valenzuela

 

Mindfulness is about deliberately paying attention to things we normally would not even notice, and becoming aware of our present moment experience as it arises, non-judgmentally, and with kindness and compassion.

It involves noticing what is happening physically in the body and where, and also being aware of what emotions are arising and the tone of these feelings, as well as noticing the stories we tell ourselves. The emphasis is always on what is happening, not why it is happening.

We explore our experience in this moment, whatever that experience is, using our senses- sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. We do not try to empty our minds; instead we observe our thoughts and notice the stories that we tell ourselves. By bringing them to awareness, we are in a better position to discard those that are unhelpful and deliberately encourage those that are helpful.

Throughout the activities offered by PreeMe+You, you can find different ways to bring mindfulness to your daily life, while you are standing next to your baby’s crib at the NICU, sitting in the waiting room, or when you are at home after a long day at the hospital. There is never one way to do something and the instructions are for guidance only, so feel free to do it as it is best for you.

Mindful activities and practices are becoming recognized as a way to manage stressful health journeys. We wanted pass forward some mindfulness ideas and techniques we have picked up that may help you in your NICU journey. Give them a try and share what has helped you and your family.

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