Caring for a child for disability is one of the most challenging, stressful things a parent can encounter. Since the conditions rarely disappear over time, it can lead to years of pent-up stress for mothers and fathers.
Recently, a new study offered mindfulness programs and "positive psychology" to help mothers of children with autism and other mental-development disability. After weeks of treatment, the meditation showed to reduce their stress, anxiety and depression.
"There are literally decades of studies that have described the high levels of stress and distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms that moms and dads of children with developmental disabilities suffer, and I didn't want to describe anymore, I wanted to do something about it," Elizabeth Dykens, study leader and an associate director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, explained to Reuters.
While such families often focus on the disabled child, Dykens wanted to make life a little easier for the caregiver. In fact, improving the mental health of parents is likely to make them better caregivers, which in turn could enhance the child's development.
Large bodies of previous research have demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapies are effective at lowering symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. But most of those interventions were child-oriented.
"So this is really for parents – it was for their mental health and well-being, for their own adult development," said Dykens.
For the study, 243 participants of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities were randomly assigned into groups that would receive either mindfulness training or a positive psychology program named Positive Adult Development. Whereas mindfulness hones attention at the present moment while incorporating deep breathing and gentle movements like yoga poses, qi gong and meditation, PAD was more focused on thoughts and practicing gratitude.
Dykens pointed out that both methods would counteract anger, disappointment, guilt or sadness that families often face while dealing with their kids' challenging problems.
At the beginning, about 85 percent of mothers had substantial levels of stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent suffered from anxiety disorders. Yet by the end of the six weeks, both groups displayed significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety levels.
Mothers in the mindfulness group had better improvements in anxiety and sleep and well-being compared to the women in the PAD group.
The study underpins that even the hardest of life's situations have a light at the end of the tunnel, and with meditation, yoga or Dahn Yoga exercises, people can work through them one by one.