Parents and carers of children with special needs also have their own needs, and it’s incredibly important for them to take care of themselves too.
There is a well-known analogy that goes “fit your own oxygen mask first”. Parenting can be thrilling, tedious, exhausting and emotionally draining in equal measure, and the oxygen mask metaphor speaks to the need for parents to take care of their own needs first in order to be able to take care of those who are relying on them. This is particularly true for parents and carers of special needs children.
Self-care is so important, and here are some strategies that can help:
1. Make sure you are getting the right nutritional support
Being a carer is incredibly hard work – not only can it be emotionally and mentally draining, it can also take a physical toll. Being tired all the time can have you reaching for a quick hit of energy from carbohydrate rich or sweet foods, so it is important to balance that with nutritious food like green leafy vegetables, whole grains, eggs, salmon, natural yoghurt, avocados and fresh fruit. Balancing meals between protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and dark leafy green vegetables promotes feeings of fullness and helps reduce sugar cravings.
2. Carve out “me time” in order to re-energise yourself
Carers can be so committed to the needs of others that they neglect their own spiritual, emotional and mental needs. Carving out “me time” on a regular basis is not a selfish act, and it can help reinvigorate and re-energise you when you are feeling tired or flat. Everyone has their own unique interests and hobbies, and giving yourself permission to enjoy these activities will help ensure that you can recharge and refill your emotional tank. This will have a positive impact on your overall mood and sense of wellbeing.
3. Focus on the positives and celebrate the small wins
When you are stuck in the grind of just trying to get through every day it can be easy to start feeling frustrated or demoralised. A shift in mindset to focusing on the positives can help rewrite some of the negative self-talk that can get us down, and celebrating the small wins is one way to reframe situations in a more affirmative manner. Celebrating those little wins can improve self-confidence, helping us feel empowered and motivated to keep moving forward. Positive energy also has an uplifting effect on the people we are caring for.
4. Enlist help with caring responsibilities where possible
Respite care is so important, and friends, families, respite carers and babysitters are all part of the extended village that can step in to help out when you need a break. Raising children is a tough ask at the best of times, and parents who have kids with special needs often need help more than other families, and it is no shame to admit that. Reaching out to organisations or people who can help share caring responsibilities is an important act of self-care that can help parents rest, recharge and unwind.
5. Try and get out in the fresh air for some exercise
The therapeutic benefits of the great outdoors cannot be understated, and a brisk stroll in the sunshine and fresh air can work wonders for the soul. Even the most gentle exercise has numerous physical and emotional benefits, and the release of those all-important endorphins are critical for mood balance and overall stability. Whether you like running, walking, hitting the gym, playing tennis or doing a gentle session of yoga, exercise can have a huge positive impact.
At the end of the day it is important to remember that you are valuable, and that you are worth spending time on. When you make time to take care of yourself all of the people who depend on you will benefit too, making self-care one of the most unselfish things you can do.