When we talk about self care, I think so many of us just can’t imagine having substantial time for ourselves to take a trip, get a massage or even spend a day at home just relaxing without the constant need to fill the void with work, and details of our unique life experience. Maintaining personal identity becomes an unattainable vision rather than a necessary part of the journey of being a special needs parent. Even if just a few minutes a day, we must keep something for ourselves. Sometimes we feel guilty or even selfish, but recognizing that taking care of you IS how we care for others is one of the most important things you can do for your child. We spend so much of our energy on others. Often it is physical energy and we are exhausted, but the mental and emotional strain can wear you down in the same way.
According to a 2018 Harvard study on Self Care for the Caregiver “burnout is an example of how repeated exposure to stress harms mental and physical health. Chronic stress triggers a release of stress hormones in the body, which can lead to exhaustion, irritability, a weakened immune system, digestive distress, headaches, pains, and weight gain, especially in the midsection of the body.”
In essence, don’t completely expend your energy. Many of us can easily fall into the martyrdom trap and just do everything for everyone, and I have been guilty of that as well. Unfortunately, when you crumble to pieces, people will either wonder what took you so long, or pile on the guilt that you should have asked for help. Consider this challenge your wake up call and explicit invitation to examine what your personal needs are and take action.
Another point I would like to make is that acknowledging difficulty is important. I believe that many of us don’t want to sound like we are complaining because, on many levels it feels disloyal to our children. The Harvard study goes on to explain that “Self-compassion is essential to self-care.” By being able to admit that things are hard—that caregiving is hard is “means giving yourself credit for the tough, complex work of caregiving, stepping away from the self-critical, harsh inner voice, and allowing yourself time — even if it’s just a few minutes a day — to take care of yourself.”
Many of the things we do each day are not glamorous. While that is true for all parents, most are not managing the bowel and bladder needs of their adult children. By acknowledging —and I’m not equating that with constant complaining—you give yourself permission to need and therefore make some time or activities in the day that are for you.
Seeking help in various forms: a break, companionship, an activity, a nap, is another part of the Harvard study that bears mentioning. Breathing techniques, mind body practices such as yoga or tai chi, as well as eating well and getting adequate sleep are all part of part of maintaining your own sense of balance and purpose.
Finally, remain connected. It is important to maintain your friendships. I have been remarkably blessed with lifelong friendships that have built me up over time. My friends see my struggles because they chose to look. I definitely vent to them if need be, but I also strive to maintain our relationships on equal footing. Acknowledging that each of us struggles while being able to give and receive grace in your friendships will soldify, rather than antagonize those close to you.
This often means not engaging in every situation at all times. We have been taught that speaking our mind and standing up for ourselves is more a right than a privlege. Maintaining composure in volitile situations or even petty annoying ones, is so much easier when you have taken the time to do the work of self care.
The InPsych Journal June 2019, stated, “A sense of belonging has been described as a fundamental human motivation underpinned by a pervasive and compelling need to belong that we continually seek to find and maintain (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Maslow, 1957). Even as we strive to belong, we are also deeply conditioned to provide a sense of belonging to others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). It is our sense of belonging and its importance to us as a species that shapes the way our relationships with others, groups, and even whole communities function.”
Connection is the principle that has driven my work for the past 20 years. It is the cornerstone of the &friends community, and everything we do will celebrate the sense of belonging those we love and to each other.