The holidays are both demanding and stressful for parents and caregivers. It is especially important to practice self-care. Author Eleanor Brown said it most beautifully; “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” While being a parent or caregiver is an amazing and wonderful blessing, it is also full of days that leave most feeling overworked, under-appreciated, and often exhausted. Read on for valuable tips to help.
- Get some physical help!
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Whether it is every single day or just from time to time. Know that it is okay to ask for help when needed from family, friends, and your community.
Asking for help is not limited to taking care of children. Help can include someone to help with preparing meals, grocery shopping, laundry, yard work, or even tasks around the house. The more help you can get as a parent or caregiver, especially with a special needs child, the more time you’ll have for your children and yourself.
- Learn to manage stress effectively.
Being a parent or caregiver to a child or children with autism comes with many challenges and stresses. It can be difficult to navigate the struggles at home and the stress experienced at home. Stress often leads to tensions with loved ones and a feeling of being emotionally and physically drained. It is imperative to learn ways to effectively manage stress in your life.
Some suggestions include knowing when to take a break, talking with someone, getting some fresh air, using essential oils, taking a calming bubble bath, or practicing yoga.
- Join a support group.
There are many support groups for parents who have children with autism and other developmental disabilities. These groups are typically available from several different nonprofit organizations, but you can also find them via a Google search or social media, through church, and by asking the school counselor. Most groups have convenient meeting times or even offer options to meet via Zoom. Support groups allow parents and caregivers a place to discuss their stories of both struggle and triumph, share advice, and make friends.
4. Spend some much-needed time alone.
Time alone is essential to all of us! While some only need to go for a short walk, drink their coffee in peace, exercise, or read in uninterrupted silence, others may thrive with more alone time. Make time alone fit into your busy schedule, while in the carpool line, during nap time, or after the children go to bed. Find what works for your schedule, and makes you happy, and do it!
- Add journaling to a routine.
Erin Leyba, a clinical licensed social worker and psychology doctorate holder who writes for Psychology Today, recommends that parents with children with autism should try writing in a journal. Leyba suggests sitting down and writing for 20 minutes about anything and everything a parent has on his or her mind. She says that this can bring up issues and concerns that the parent has, including those he or she never thought about or considered before.
Overall, journaling/expressive writing has been found to:
- Boost your mood/affect;
- Enhance your sense of well-being;
- Reduce symptoms of depression before an important event (like an exam);
- Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma;
Improve your working memory (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005).
An article in Positive Psychology shares a tremendous amount of ways that journaling can impact your mood and mental health.
A few of these include the fact that it offers you a daily opportunity to recover from the daily stressors and leave the unimportant stuff behind; it gives you a chance to get all of your emotions out on paper, reducing your stress and releasing tension; it promotes and enhances your creativity in a way that once-in-a-while journaling simply can’t match; it boosts your overall sense of gratitude and your sensitivity to all that you have to be grateful for.
How can you not try out journaling with these benefits?
- Learn mindfulness and meditation practices.
There is an extreme amount of research that regularly practicing either meditation or mindfulness produces significant health and mental health benefits. To start a routine, you don’t need more than 10 minutes. Set aside time in the morning before the kids wake up, on the drive to work (by listening to something), or before you go to bed. As you get more comfortable with it, you can increase the minutes you can complete. Conveniently, there are a variety of free apps that individuals can download and start their new meditation/mindfulness practice no matter where they are. These are amazing practices that parents with children should get into! Start de-stressing by breathing, letting go, and focusing on the here and now.
7. Seek out therapeutic support.
Everyone, not just parents or caregivers of children with autism, needs to remember that it is okay to ask for help, including professional help. There are multiple types of professional support available including therapeutic support, individual counseling, family counseling, professional mentorship, support groups, or counseling support via an app, Zoom, or phone number. There are numerous options for finding help available, you can search via the internet, speak with your doctor, or school counselor for recommendations, or call your health insurance company and request a list of providers and the services they offer.
Many families find counseling beneficial as it can assist parents and caregivers in adjusting to a new diagnosis, give lessons in new parenting skills or ways of thinking about situations, suggest stress-management techniques, and cultivate ways to stay connected to your partner and life outside of your child.
- Get out in nature and exercise.
There are numerous benefits that both exercise and being in nature offer. Even getting outside for fresh air and a little sun for just 20 minutes a day can have a positive impact on your overall health. Ways to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air include; walking your dog, hiking in a local park, going on a picnic with your family, heading to the beach, or going paddle boarding. Whatever outdoor activities you love, plan more time each week to get out and get moving!
In conclusion, parenting can be difficult and physically and mentally draining, and often even harder when one is a parent or caregiver to a child with Autism. You need to be proactive and identify ways that you need to self-care and then implement ways to practice self-care. It is extremely important to remember that in NO way are you a selfish person for wanting or needing time to take care of yourself, asking for support, or taking time to be alone.
By focusing on yourself, you will be a much more effective parent for your child.
Written by Lainey McMahon