How to Manage Stress When Raising a Child with Special Needs
It's April. So many things to talk about in April. Autism awareness, OT month, Sibling month...but it's also Stress Awareness Month.
Everyone experiences stress and actually it doesn't have to be bad. In fact, in an amazing Ted Talk, Kelly McGonigal talks about how depending on what you think about the stress it might not be as bad as you think. But regardless of your feelings about it, stress is real for everyone.
I think stress for any parent is unique for a couple of reasons. One, because we are responsible for these little humans we have brought into the world. And two, I think stress is more intense now because our media focuses on sensationalized negativity. And we are OVERWHELMED with information. From everywhere, all the time. So I do believe that managing stress today is more important than ever.
So let's look at how PACEPs (parents and caregivers of exceptional people) can manage stress.
COVID taught me the importance of this (read more here). Make sure to take care of your own physical, emotional, and mental health needs. And it's not bubble baths and trips to the beach (though that's amazing and I'll share more next month) What does it look like? Well, it's stuff like exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, spending time doing activities you enjoy, and seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist/coach.
Find a support network:
That last one is so important I'm adding it twice. Remember you aren't alone in this. Don't isolate (another COVID lesson). Spend time with people that get it and can hold space for you AND people you can just have fun with. And they don't need to be the same people. This is so important. Connect with other parents of special needs children through support groups, online forums, or other resources. Talking to others who are going through similar experiences can help you feel less alone and provide valuable insights and advice.
Manage your expectations:
It's critical that you have realistic expectations for yourself and your kid. You are humans, not robots. Recognize that there may be challenges and setbacks along the way, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. It's going to work out. With the right energy and enough time, it will work out. Ask yourself what is objective about your situation and what is a likely outcome. Goals are great but remember they are supposed to be obtainable. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up. And you don't need MORE stress.
Use mindfulness techniques:
Practicing mindfulness is a basic rule for stress management. Study after study shows how staying present at the moment can reduce stress and anxiety. This can include techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga but if you are new to mindfulness don't scare yourself with it. Being mindful simply means paying attention to what is actually happening "right now". The simplest and easiest way to do this is to feel your body. Whatever you are doing, pay attention to what your body is experiencing. The beautiful thing about this is you can literally do this anywhere.
Driving? How does the steering wheel feel? Is there noise? Is the seat comfortable?
Are you waiting in line at the grocery store? What colors do you see around you? Are there any smells? How are your feet doing right now? Your back? Set a reminder on your phone and check in with your body at least 3 times a day. It helps.
Think happy thoughts:
Ok, maybe not as cheesy as it sounds but the thoughts you focus on have an enormous impact on how you feel and your stress level. If you are grocery listing all the things you HAVE to get done ALL the time and what you DON'T like about your life then you are increasing your stress levels and making it harder to get those things done. Write stuff down as it comes to you so you don't forget and then be on purpose with thinking about things that are positive and uplifting. Look at the progress your child has made, something you were successful at getting done. Hell - look at the things you took OFF the to-do list! Watch cute cat videos on TikTok...whatever, but deliberately focus your attention a little bit every day on things that are positive and helpful.
So there are some types of actions you can take to help with managing stress. Life is a lot with kids. It's extra with a special needs child. But that doesn't mean that it's all bad and all stressful. You have some control and influence over how you feel, remember that. And if you are really struggling seek professional help. Whether it's a coach, like me, or you want/need to work with a therapist reach out for support. We can help you develop specific coping strategies and provide support as you navigate the challenges of parenting your special needs child.
From a mom who is living it with you, I promise there is a way to manage it all and still enjoy your life. :)
If you are looking for more set up your free discovery session with me and we will get into the details of what will help you move forward.
You can also find more by following me on FB or IG @considerjennifer. My content is designed to be helpful and supportive as you navigate your journey.
Thank you for letting me be a small part of it.
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