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How Parents Of Children With Special Needs Can Make Time For Their Mental Health

Donna Chambers

"You can't pour from an empty cup" goes the oft-touted expression for self care. But for many parents – especially parents of children with special needs – carving out time to replenish energy and wellness levels can be inherently complicated, given there are so many variables to account for.

But by simplifying some ways to check in with yourself, you can integrate it into the happy chaos of your everyday life. Here are five ways to make time for your mental health – and make sure your cup is constantly replenished!

a mom and her children sitting on the bench.

1) Check in on your stress levels

Stress is extremely common in the United States, with up to 80% of Americans experiencing at least once a month [1]. And when it comes to parents of children with special needs, those rates may be even higher.

One study found that parents of children with either autism or ADHD had significantly higher levels of the "stress hormone," cortisol [2]. If you do need help managing your stress levels, taking the time to recognize and identify that can be an empowering first step as you move forward.  

2) Connect with an outside support system

If you haven't joined a support group, search for groups applicable to your child's needs near you, or ask your therapist for recommendations. Support groups can help parents connect and cope together with mutual challenges, replacing potential feelings of isolation with community.

In a support group, you have the opportunity to:

  • Feel fully heard and understood – and listen to others who have similar home-life experiences
  • Get real-life advice from parents about topics ranging from after-school tutors to insurance benefits

3) Make time for sleep

One study revealed that mothers of children with autism typically experience higher insomnia levels than do other mothers [3]. And for any individual, chronically getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night is linked to risk of heart disease, depression, stroke, and other conditions [4].

If restless nights are all too familiar, try one of the following exercises the next time you're having trouble drifting off:  

  • Body scan meditation for reducing tension:
    • Lie on your back and close your eyes.
    • Move awareness throughout your body while focusing on one area at a time.
    • When you discover tightness, center your breathing on that area to relax it.
  • 4-7-8 exercise:
    • Exhale all breath completely through your mouth.
    • Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose for four counts.
    • Hold your breath for seven counts.
    • Exhale all breath through your mouth for eight counts, making a “whoosh” sound.

    Having a few sleep tricks up your sleeve can relax you and ready your body for sleep!  

    4) Practice self-compassion

    One 2018 study found a relation between higher levels of self-compassion and lower levels of stress in depression for parents of adult children with developmental disabilities. [1]

    Actively practice – or even memorize! – the basics of a 5-minute self-compassion exercise to utilize in moments of extreme stress.

    5) Consider seeing a therapist  

    Finding a therapist can help you feel supported, and provides a private space for you to voice feelings that you might not feel able to say to anyone else. This, in and of itself, can be invaluable!

    To start your search, identify two to three therapists who have experience working with parents of children with special needs. Schedule initial calls, and/or make intake appointments with each, to assess which therapist feels like the right fit.

    Above all else, you must feel relaxed with your therapist, a factor known as the therapeutic alliance – and one of the biggest factors in the overall effectiveness of one’s therapy.

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    Starting even with the smallest acts of self-care can work wonders in alleviating the impact of everyday stressors. Taking time to refill your "cup," so to speak, can help keep you grounded – and ready to take on each day as it comes.

     

    zencare logo.

    This is a guest post from Zencare, a website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist. Visit Zencare.co to browse their vetted network of top therapists – using criteria like insurance, sliding scale, location, and specialties. You can also directly book a free assessment call from the Zencare site!

     

    1: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2016/coping-with-change.PDF

    2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21889267

    3: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3940011/

    4: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html