There’s nothing else quite like caring full time for a person living with special needs. Challenging yet rewarding, the life of a carer is one full of responsibility- which can come with a lot of stress. Since persistent or chronic stress has the ability to impact our own personal health, it’s always a good idea to monitor tension levels and engage in positive, healthy outlets for self care.
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s possible to fit moments of self-care into even the busiest everyday schedule. Check out some great examples below:
Establish a Bedtime Routine
According to the McMaster Children’s Hospital, sleep problems affecting the whole family are especially common in those who care for a child with a disability. Children with disabilities are more likely to have trouble sleeping and wake up more frequently during the night, due to either physical or behavioral symptoms. The families and healthcare professionals surveyed by the hospital expressed concern not only at the idea that poor sleep for a child could impair their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, but also that they themselves would be impacted as caregivers. In fact, the participants admitted to feeling more fatigued, irritable, impatient, and forgetful than normal, and drank significantly more caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea.
With this study in mind, it might be beneficial to break down what different approaches other parents might be using. Parents, an online magazine, collected sleep tips from real parents of children with disabilities, which included the following:
- Spacing out feeding time to 2 hours before bedtime
- Using natural remedies like melatonin and soothing essential oils
- Discussing medication regimes with a doctor
- Exploring the link between gastrointestinal (GI) or circulatory issues and sleep
There’s a broad spectrum of thought on best practices here, whether it is an over-the-counter solution or a modification of an existing daily routine- but the main idea is that by helping your child fall asleep more comfortably, it could become that much easier for you to function in a healthier way.
Make Nutrition a Family Affair
Continuing on in the same vein, something that affects the health of a family as a whole is eating habits. Because many children with disabilities have health or motor issues that have an impact on their nutritional habits, it can be hard to get them to eat a well-balanced diet- and as a result, your own diet might also not be as rounded as you’d like.
Fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy, and whole grains are all nutritional components that help stave off diseases and promote healthy development. It’s important to try and wean your family off of over-processed food as much as possible, so consider trying out a cookbook like Deceptively Delicious, which focuses on how to pack superfoods into traditional dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and mac and cheese- all accompanied by hilarious and relatable anecdotes. Who knows- you might even surprise yourself! In any case, making eating healthy inclusive is one of the best ways to improve your health and practice self-care in a way that has long-term benefits, and not just for you.
Fit in Exercise
As much as we’d all love to be able to take an hour to take a new yoga class, those of us with packed schedules and tons of responsibilities know that just isn’t feasible. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to take time out for fitness; it just means you need to find an alternative that fits your schedule.
Not all of us have the time to hit the gym, especially taking into account the needs of those under our care. Using health and fitness apps is a great way to take advantage of resources at your fingertips, and engage in short but effective workouts that help to banish chronic stress. It doesn’t have to be all high impact either- there are great online yoga classes out there that only require 10 minutes, a mat, and Internet connection for.
Take Creative Breaks
Working all day, every day with no pause is a surefire way to wind up experiencing burnout. Taking regular rest and meal breaks help to stay focused and energized not just for the day ahead, but for the days that follow as well.
Even if you can’t take a physical break during the day, it’s healthy to give yourself a mental release periodically. Some of us find it really satisfying to make lists throughout the day- what are you thankful for? What do you want for dinner? What’s the best thing that’s happened today, that you can’t wait to tell a friend or loved one about? Taking time to savor the little things gives us better appreciation for them during life’s challenges.
Find a Support Network
Feeling isolated is a common issue for caregivers, which can also contribute to chronic stress and burnout symptoms. Those without the support of like-minded individuals can feel as though no one understands what they’re going through, or that they can’t vent about how they’re feeling. While it is normal to feel this way, it can get overwhelming at times!
While friends or even a significant other might not be able to identify with your thoughts or feelings, connecting with local support groups or online discussion forums might be able to help you by relating to the experience you share. Perhaps the best feeling associated with social networking in this way is the idea of forming strong friendships with people you would otherwise have never met.
Practicing self-care helps you to maintain your sense of self, and lead a healthier, happier life- ultimately making you a better carer. In short, there’s absolutely nothing selfish about self-care: in many instances, it’s the healthiest thing you can do for you, and your family.