Parenting a child with special needs is a hard job!
People who have not walked in your shoes do not understand your mental load of
· constant worry
· keeping track of daily medical and developmental needs
· ongoing stress
· loads of appointments
· marital challenges
· chronic grief
· overwhelming guilt
· financial strain
and the list goes on.
Carrying such a heavy mental load definitely affects you physically as well.
The biggest challenge of all this is that it is never-ending. Depending on the abilities/disabilities of your child, most are going to need our care at some level well beyond young adulthood, unlike their typically developing peers.
Just thinking of this is enough to send us running to hide under the covers some days!
So, how do you take care of yourself to endure this marathon of parenting? How do you ensure that you will always be able to be physically and mentally available for your family?
You have to start by understanding that taking care of yourself is not selfish and is nothing to feel guilty about. I want to help you learn how to truly make yourself a priority while running through the chaos of special needs parenting.
Free and Easy Self-Care Tools:
Self-care doesn’t have to be vacations and expensive massages. Although, I am a huge fan of both of those, they aren’t attainable for most of us on a regular basis. And even if you do get annual vacations and regular massages, it’s not enough to counter-balance that long list of stressors and grief that you carry as a special needs parent.
You need free and easy self-care tools that you can do every day. So, I put together this list for you to pull from on an ongoing basis to help tip that scale in the right direction. If one side of the scale holds all your stressors and grief, you need to pile up the other side with de-stressors and joy.
Self-Care Tool #1: Meditation
Don’t be scared off by this word if you aren’t experienced at meditation. If you are a newbie, think of it as intentional breathing. Just be still, close your eyes and take five long, slow breaths. Feel the air expanding out your belly and chest as you breathe in. Feel the coolness of it as it flows out of your nose.
If you want to take it one step further, download my top 5 list of free 3-minute meditations. You can keep the links in your phone and do one or two each day. You are worth three minutes!
Self-Care Tool #2: Mindfulness
Just like meditation, mindfulness can be a big and overwhelming concept. I’m here to make it all EASY. I know you don’t have the time for anything else.
Practicing mindfulness during your day doesn’t have to even take any extra time. It just takes thinking of what you’re already doing in a different way.
First, decide what task you will do mindfully (instead of mindlessly). Start small. Something like washing your hands, folding laundry, or drinking coffee.
Deciding to do a task mindfully means that you will focus on your body and all your senses during that activity.
· How does it feel on your hands to hold your warm mug of coffee?
· How heavy is it when you lift it to your face?
· What does the aroma smell like as it hits your nose?
· Does the smell cause any other physical sensations in your body (salivation, joy, calm)?
· How does it feel as the warm liquid hits your tongue and goes down your throat?
· Can you feel the warmth further down your body?
When your brain starts to interrupt with thoughts of today’s to-do list or what you should make for dinner tonight (and it will), just shift back to your senses.
Self-Care Tool #3: Clear Your Plate
Say no to things. Do not do things because you think you “should” or because you feel guilty for not doing them. If it doesn’t serve your mental health, say no.
Cancel things that you don’t want to do. Do not feel guilty for doing it. Your happiness and ability to cope with your harder-than-average life are important and deserve to be a priority.
It was a game changer for me when I started making sure I had down time in my schedule every single day. That is something that was non-existent for me for years and years.
And if I have a week that is super busy due to extra appointments and events, I make sure the following week has nothing extra planned. Seeing that empty week ahead on the calendar reduces the anxiety that starts rising when I see how busy the current week is.
Self-Care Tool #4: Movement
You already know all the reasons why exercise and movement are good for you physically and mentally. And there are a ba-gillion classes you can access online from Aerobics to Zumba.
But, if going for a run or working out isn’t a part of your daily routine, exercise can feel overwhelming and easy not to do.
I’m all about the baby steps. So here are a few simple starters you can add in and build on them when you’re ready.
· If you have stairs in your house, decide to go up and down them a certain number of times each day.
· Instead of looking for the closest parking spot when you go to the store, park at the back of the lot and take a short walk to the building.
· Put on music and crazy dance while you’re cleaning or making dinner.
Self-Care Tool #5: Creativity
This is a tool not commonly thought of for self-care. But I have discovered that it is extremely calming to the nervous system. And creativity uses different parts of your brain than the parts that we use every day for all our lists, to-dos and reminders.
Creativity has endless possibilities.
Since you are reading a blog on parenting children with special needs, I am going out on a limb to guess that you have kids. And if you have kids, you most likely have all sorts of creative resources in your house.
Pull out your kids’ toys or art supplies and play. Make playdough sculptures. Paint kindness rocks. Draw a doodle picture. Color in the coloring books. Let your mind focus on the creativity, not the end product.
Self-Care Tool #6: Writing
If you aren’t a person who journals naturally, I feel you. It’s daunting. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve started a journal with such high hopes of documenting my life, just to find it later with the last entry from four months ago.
Writing doesn’t have to be faithfully keeping a daily journal. If you can do that, then go for it! It’s a wonderful habit.
But if journaling is not your cup of tea, I’ll share my easy, baby-step ideas. By writing, I don’t mean typing or updating social media. I mean actual pen-to-paper handwriting.
· Keep a one-sentence journal. You literally just write one sentence per day.
· Morning brain dump. Whether it’s your to-do list or random thoughts, it can help so much to write it down and get it out of your brain. Any time of day is fine, obviously, but I love getting it out in the morning.
· Affirmation statements – Whether in Sharpie on the bathroom mirror, shaving cream on the shower wall or a post-it note on the fridge, leave yourself encouraging messages.
Self-Care Tool #7: Be in Nature
I cannot stress this one enough. Mother Nature has food for your soul. The mystery, beauty,
and magic of nature are life-giving.
Put bare feet in the grass. Sit against a tree. Close your eyes and quietly listen to everything you hear outside. Talk to your houseplant. Take a walk in the snow. Sit on your front porch and watch the world for 20 minutes.
I don’t care how you add more nature into your life, just do it. It brings so much healing and rejuvenation.
Need More Help?
Do these sound great, but impossible to truly implement? If you’d like to learn more and do more so that you can feel happier, check out my free 5-Day Challenge.
I challenge you to take care of yourself. I challenge you to make yourself a priority. I challenge you to show up for yourself every day.
I challenge you to join me for five days straight for my It’s Your Turn Challenge. Because it IS your turn.
It’s YOUR turn to feel good.
It’s YOUR turn to feel calm.
It’s YOUR turn to feel happy.
The challenge starts on February 15th. Register here.
Do it for you. Do it for your family.