The importance of self care for special needs parents - physical, mental and spiritual

Parents, have you ever experienced burnout? Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress”. Parenting in and of itself can be hard, and when you consider most parents are trying to juggle parenting with jobs, chores around the house, and social and extracurricular activities, it’s no surprise that moms and dads may experience feelings of burnout from time to time. Then when you add on the extra load special needs parents often have to shoulder – things like complex medical needs, frequent doctor appointments, sleep difficulties, and behavioral challenges, just to name a few – it’s easy to see how burnout can creep up. One of the ways to avoid or deal with burnout is to practice good self care.
Self care is quite the buzz word these days. Lots of people want to tell you to practice self care, but not many will tell you just how to do that or what “self care” really entails. At its most basic, self care is just what it sounds like – physically taking care of yourself. It may sound silly at first, but many special needs parents are so busy and so involved in the care of their children that they may overlook their own needs. It’s important to make yourself a priority, however, as ensuring your own needs are met will make you more capable of caring for your children’s needs. It’s important to note that self care can look vastly different for each parent and can take on many forms, but basic self care involves things like ensuring you’re getting adequate sleep, seeing to your own nutritional and exercise needs, and making sure you stay on top of your own healthcare by keeping up with your annual checkups or other doctor’s appointments.
Those are just the bare necessities, though. True, good self care is finding time to do things that mentally and emotionally refresh you - activities that you enjoy, just for you. For one person this may be as simple as ensuring you get some much-needed alone time, while for someone else this may look more like scheduling a fun exercise class each week, and for another it may be planning a special date night for you and your spouse. Self care can mean finding help and support in the form of therapy, a support group for parents of special needs kids, or other community groups. It may look more like rest and relaxation, and doing things purely for your own enjoyment, like reading a good book or going for a long walk outdoors. Self care could also involve making time to catch up with family and friends, as special needs parents can sometimes find themselves feeling isolated.
There are other important ways you can care for yourself, too. Consider looking into respite care, for example. Respite care is a service that provides temporary relief for a special needs child’s primary caregivers. Some parents may feel guilty for even considering respite care, but many find that it can be an extremely helpful service, giving both the child and the parent a much-needed break. On the other hand, some parents have found that hiring someone to handle household chores and maintenance to be a huge stress-reliever. Having someone else taking care of the cleaning, laundry, or lawn care allows busy parents to take a few things off their plate. Remember, you don’t have to do it all.
Don’t forget about spiritual self care, too. Replenishing the spirit is important and for some this may involve attending worship services, connecting with friends and people in your congregation, reading your Bible or doing a Bible study, or spending time in prayer or worship. For others it may not be as structured as all that but may look more like taking a walk through the woods where you can spend time in prayer or in peaceful reflection, or may involve time spent in quiet meditation. Whatever spiritual self care looks like for you, help make sure you set aside time to devote to that as well. Our spirits need looking after just as much as our minds or bodies.
Like any new habit, practicing self care can take time to get into a routine. Set aside a specific time each week and mark it on your calendar if needed to help you remember. Caregiver burnout is a very real thing, and self care is a good way for parents of special needs children to avoid getting burned out and help ensure they are being intentional about caring for themselves. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about taking that time, either, or for getting away for a while. Remember, taking good care of yourself means you are then better able to be at your best when caring for your child and your family. 

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