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Type the words stress and special needs parenting in your Google search bar, and you’ll find no shortage of lists and strategies about how to alleviate stress.
Researcher Marsha Mailick Seltzer studied parents of children with ASD and found their cortisol levels akin to soldiers in combat.
The harsh reality is that the root of our stress is our child, or more specifically, managing the special needs our children compounded by constant worry: their safety, their future, whether we’re doing the right thing. There is no magical ‘top 10’ list that will change that. No, Calgon can’t take us away. Our stress is as constant as our love for our kids – it’s not going anywhere.
We are parents, nurses, aides, behavior specialists, and case managers all rolled into one. Add that to managing a household, family, working full or part-time, constant worry about the future and it’s mentally and physically exhausting.
Living with more stress than parents of kids without special needs is a fact of life. Elevated stress levels put us at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart problems, depression, anxiety, headaches and other health problems, according to WebMD.
I’ve read many articles that say the answer is “self-care” and how taking bubble baths will melt stress away. I do love a good bubble bath, but like many special needs parents, I’m lucky to get 10 uninterrupted minutes to take a shower. If I make it through without my kids flushing the toilet, it’s a miracle. And, yes, it’s important to ask for help, but it’s not always available.
We can learn to change our mindset so we can carry a larger stress burden.
Learn to be more resilient – improve our ability to bounce back when things don’t go as planned. We may not be able to remove stressors, but we can build up our ability to cope. A few ways to do this: Follow facts, not emotion. Be prepared, have a “Plan B”. Celebrate success, no matter how seemingly small.
Pursue excellence, not perfection. Excellence is about doing what’s right for our kids – it’s focused on the why, and what it takes to have a successful outcome. Excellence is achievable. Perfectionism drains us while we chase unrealistic goals. It creates defeating self-talk and feelings of worthlessness.
Let it go. The dirty dishes. A less-than-perfect house. A pile of dirty laundry. It’s OK, it will still be there tomorrow. If it’s a choice between doing a load of laundry and one additional hour of sleep, choose the latter.
Organize what you can – for me, that means one spot with important information like diagnoses, therapist and doctor contact information, copies of insurance cards, etc. It makes it easier to fill out the nearly identical paperwork requested by e-v-e-r-y agency.
Parents who have kids with special needs carry a larger stress burden than those who don’t – and that’s not good for our health and well-being. Although we can’t remove the stressor, there are ways to help us cope so we can live our best lives.