Let’s talk therapy. And I’m not talking about our children this time. We all know we do everything we can so they get what they need and then some. I’m talking about you – the primary caregiver.
So many parents I talk to are stressed out. Taking care of children is hard work. And caring for a child with special needs can take an extra toll on our health – both mental and physical. When we take care of ourselves though, it’s easier to care for our children. It’s also important to love and do right for yourself just because you deserve it.
Here are ten tools to help you help yourself.
I grew up in a household that looked down on therapy. My parents would say people become psychologists because they have their own issues to work out. That’s bunk. I took the plunge last year and found a therapist I liked and respected and it was amazing. The sessions helped me re-focus and learn to love and accept myself. I saw a therapist for about 7 months until we both realized there wasn’t much left to work through. Her door is open if I need a tune up.
Talking to an outsider can be very beneficial to help bring perspective to your situation. Sometimes family members and friends are too close or just don’t understand. Trained professionals can give you tools to work through the stresses and frustrations in your life.
There are some things to keep in mind when looking for a good therapist.
- You need to find a doctor that feels right. Do your research and if it doesn’t click, don’t be afraid to find another therapist.
- Look for a doctor within your health care network. Therapy can be expensive. Try to find someone in plan.
- If cost is an issue look for alternatives. If you really do need to speak to a professional but can’t afford it, contact the mental health department within your city or county government. They often have help.
- Reach out to advocacy groups. Often times they have counselors on call who do pro-bono work for families in need.
I have met several parents who were experiencing levels of anxiety so severe they talked to their doctors about medication. I have talked to others who needed help getting out of that deep depression that can set in when a child is first diagnosed with a disability.
If your emotions are on what feels like an uncontrollable roller coaster, please talk to your doctor. And if you and your doctor think medication might work – know that you are not alone. There is such a stigma following mental health issues and there shouldn’t be. You need to do whatever you need to do to get better.
At the same time, there is lots of research out there finding that exercise can serve as a powerful treatment for depression and anxiety. A 2014 study published in The Atlantic found, “exercise (we think) combats depression by enhancing endorphins: natural chemicals that act like morphine and other painkillers. There’s also a theory that aerobic activity boosts norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. And like antidepressants, exercise helps the brain grow new neurons.”
Making time to exercise daily can be a great way to clear your head and feel better about yourself. And of course, being fit makes it easier to take care of your child(ren).
Easier said than done, right? We know sleep is important. But it can be hard to get enough. Sleep is crucial to our well being though. Try to remember some of the best ways to unwind.
- Find time to relax ahead of your bedtime.
- Keep all glowing screens out of your bedroom if possible.
- Limit eating, drinking caffeine, and activity in the hours before you turn in.
- If your child requires care at night and you don’t have a night nurse; consider asking a friend or family member to pitch in. People often want to help but don’t know how to offer it.
WATCH THAT WINE
Sometimes there’s nothing better than unwinding with a glass of wine or two or three. And that’s more than okay. But be mindful of how much and how often you drink.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can sneak up on you. New research is revealing that mothers are increasingly at risk of developing a drinking problem. Even for those who know their limits, there are consequences that can exacerbate the issues your trying to calm with that evening tipple.
- Alcohol can interrupt sleep patterns. Even though you may fall asleep more easily, the quality of your sleep suffers if you’ve been drinking.
- Alcohol can cause anxiety and depression. Alcohol is a depressant. Even though it makes you feel better in the moment, it interrupts your brain chemistry. It can also cause anxiety that can lead to more drinking because you’re looking to relax again.
- Alcohol can make it difficult to care for yourself and your child. Let’s face it, hangovers suck. If you have to take care of kids with a hangover – it’s no fun for anyone involved.
Have you heard any of the buzz surrounding mindful meditation? It’s not the traditional meditation we think of when you picture a yoga guru chanting OM (though that works too).
Mindful meditation can be done anytime, anywhere. Just sneak a minute to clear your mind and be. It’s that easy. In fact, there are apps for it! Try “Headspace” or “Mindfulness” on your phone. Or just do a Google search for guided mediation; then close your eyes and follow the instructions. It’s a great way to calm down and re-focus your energy.
Just take a few deep breaths when anxiety kicks in can help too.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
You are what you eat. The phrase has been around for ages because it’s true. When you’re running around and taking care of everyone but yourself, it’s easy to grab something convenient or comforting. But your body and mind will thank you if you take a little more time or spend a bit more money to fill up with healthful foods.
Avocadoes, seafood, walnuts and berries are proven to be calming. Ironically those same foods are energizing. Fueling up with them can help you feel better.
At the same time, sometimes there’s nothing better than a bit of chocolate to calm your nerves. Try to listen to your body and give it what it needs.
Bonus: eating healthy with a few treats here and there is good for the whole family.
Fresh air and sunshine are nature’s therapy. Try to find a way to get outside every day if you can. Take your child with you. Schedule a play date. Drink your coffee on your front steps. Whatever works, even if it’s just a moment in the sun.
MAKE TIME FOR ME
This one is easier said than done. But it is necessary. If your child is in school, try to use at least a half hour to do something for you. If your child is napping – use part of that time to read or relax instead of tackling a to do list. If you’re at work, make sure to take a lunch break; or eat at your desk so you can go for a walk outside instead.
If you’re lucky enough to have family nearby that is willing to help, utilize their generosity. If you can afford a babysitter to get some time away once in a while – find one you can trust and use her or him often. If neither of those are an option for you, consider doing a kid swap with a friend. Once a week you help each other out so each of you can slip away for a couple of hours to do whatever enriches your soul.
And when all else fails – there is absolutely nothing wrong utilizing a little screen time to occupy your little ones. You are better when you are present. And sometimes to be present you need time to get your bearings straight. TV as a babysitter is often our only option.
RECOGNIZE WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
So often we read lists like these and they have great suggestions that actually make you feel worse because so much of it is hard to fit into your life. You have to find what works for you and your situation.
The best example I can think of is this: I have been told time and time again that I should embrace my children and not worry about the mess or the laundry because this time when your children are young is so short and precious.
Well I tried it. I let the house go and the laundry pile up the week before school started so I could hang out with my children in the last days of summer. And guess what? I was angry and miserable. I do not function well in a mess. I like my house spotless and my laundry clean. Have I lowered my standards a bit since before kids? Of course. Do I have piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded? Sure. But I am not happy unless the floors are vacuumed and the counters are relatively clear. That’s who I am. I own it. Some days we spend less time at the playground so I can clean. I’m happier and that happiness trickles down to my children.
So find your own sweet spot and don’t worry about what other people say or do.
If you want to sit inside drinking wine talking about how absurd therapy is and that makes you feel better; well then, you are doing just fine!