What if we told you that one way to combat the stress in your already overpacked life is to add yet one more item to your schedule?
We’re talking about making time for self-care.
You may be thinking, “Who has time for that?” Believe us, we get it. Between work and caring for a family that includes a loved one with special needs, you’re balancing a full plate. And you have a home that needs taking care of and a list of unfinished chores a mile long. You may feel like every moment you spend resting should instead be spent on your to-do list.
What if we told you that needs this great and lists this long are exactly the reason that you must prioritize yourself? We know firsthand what it’s like to live in a constant state of chaos. But what if we don’t have to? What if becoming accustomed to this chaotic pace makes it an unchallenged norm?
We aren’t naïve. We know there are times when “chaos” is the best we can do. But when’s the last time we took a moment to check our schedules and priorities to look for times that don’t have to be chaotic? Not doing so will lead to burnout, and our families cannot afford that. What if we instead looked at a regular routine of self-care as a better way of spending our time? Because it will take less time than recovering from a full-blown burnout episode.
In our work as counselors to parents of children with special needs, and as parents ourselves of a daughter with a seizure disorder, we’ve learned that it’s crucial to create space to breathe, refocus, and do the things that energize you. We’re not saying it’s easy to find the time. We are saying it’s necessary.
“You can’t afford to ignore your own well-being while taking care of everyone else. Burnout is not an option.”
Technology was designed to simplify our lives and give us more downtime. Yet, it has created a very different reality for most of us. With the world available to us on our smart phones and other devices, it is tempting to never unplug. Many even brag about their ability to multitask for even more productivity and efficiency. In reality, attempting to multitask is actually “half-tasking” – so nothing gets our full attention.
Research shows that Americans get interrupted every 11 minutes on average. Since parents of children with special needs are pulled in so many directions, these interruptions may be even more frequent. We’re always “on” and rarely able to focus completely on the task at hand. Research also shows that it takes 23 minutes to refocus once we are interrupted. As a result, we’re often not really fully present, both for the people who matter the most and – just as importantly – for ourselves.
We’re here to tell you that taking the time to slow down and find ways to take care of yourself is not impossible or even selfish. And that doing so can go a long way toward maintaining our resilience for the marathon that is our lives.
If finding ways to take some time to de-stress seems stressful in and of itself, use these suggestions as a starting point. Why not start with at least 1 or 2 from the list below?
Brad & Karen’s ideas for how to find more balance:
For ways to locate respite care by state as well as a list of funding sources, go to the Access to Respite Care and Help (ARCH) website.
Parents of children with special needs, like us, know that we can’t afford to be anything less than 100% vigilant. In fact, we recently spoke to a room full of caregivers on this topic at a conference for families affected by Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Some parents there expressed concern, afraid to let down their guards for even a moment. One put it succinctly: “We are in critical mode 24/7. If we rest for even a moment, it will all fall down.” Together, we talked about some of the tips we’ve outlined above. And they came to see that there were places where they, too, could carve out a few moments of time.
We told them what we’re telling you. To be the best version of yourself – for your children, for your spouse, and for the rest of the world – sometimes you have to prioritize you and the things that keep you healthy.
One last thing to consider – if we can’t ever learn to quiet our minds and create an environment of some peace, how will our children ever feel it? Inevitably, the challenges are going to come. The difference is whether we face them from a position of exhaustion or from a position of health.
“The challenges are going to come. The difference is whether we face them from a position of exhaustion or from a position of health.”
Download and De-Stress
Just a few minutes of stillness may help to clear your head, make you feel more well-rested, and help you drift off to sleep. Here are a few popular apps (most are available for both iPhone and Android) designed to guide you through the topic of your choice: focused breathing, mindfulness techniques, yoga, and exercise.* You don’t have to leave your house or need special equipment. Plus, even if you have, literally, only 1 or 2 minutes – these apps can get you started.
*Please note: Greenwich Biosciences, the sponsor of this website, is not paid by any of these companies, and does not endorse any of these commercial products, processes, or services.