Hey Special Needs Mama, Self-Care isn’t Selfish

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Self care isn’t selfish. Say it out loud. Again. And again.

woman watching sunset doing hand heart sign. Watching the sunset can be part of routine self-care.
Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Pexels.com

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been exploring different aspects of self-care – and those that don’t take too much time. For this full-time-working mama, and parent of a child with special needs, self-care needs to come in small, targeted doses — in minutes vs. hours or days. I find that self-care measures need to be intentional, or I’ll use those moments to take care of someone or something else.

Self-care is a discipline. It’s not easy — hence why we say to practice self care. The more we do it, the better we’ll be at it — and create self-care as habit.

Working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in answering emails around the clock. Once way I practice self-care is to set boundaries when I will, and won’t answer them.

During the day, I take two 5 minute breaks where I go outside, smell the fresh air and touch my bare feet on the warm summer pavement while looking at my flowers. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes me feel calm and centered. After just those few moments, I’m recharged.

You deserve it

The message we hear from media, is that self-care is some kind of once-in-a-while indulgent pampering. “You deserve it!” It, of course, being some exclusive seaweed wrap made with chai tea and magical unicorn tears that will take years off of my tired face.

I’m here to tell you that you need to practice some form of self-care. It’s not a want, selfish, or something that’s deserved, but a matter of self preservation. Caregivers in a special needs family are at a higher risk for burnout.

Use of the word deserve before self-care implies that we must do something in order to be worthy of a very basic need. Click To Tweet

Best advice I ever got

Many moons ago (in my 20-somethings) I worked on grant-funded projects. Although I did worthwhile and fulfilling work, it’s not exactly the most stable source of income — grants dry up and jobs end. I was working with a prominent local business owner as grant funds were ending. He asked me what I was going to do next, and I expressed that I wasn’t sure, explaining that finding placement for others [in the organization] was a priority.

He looked at me with the most serious expression and said, “Jeannine, what do they tell you when you get onto the airplane?”

And, of course me, in typical smart-ass fashion, replied, “I don’t know….that my seat doubles as a flotation device?”

“No,” he said “Secure YOUR oxygen mask first.”

It felt so harsh. Very wrong. The words almost hurt as they bounced off of me. We’re taught from an early age to be kind and giving to others. Not doing so is selfish. When we struggle with self-care, it’s because we’re fighting against years of messaging, and feelings of guilt.

Why we need to let it go

As parents and caregivers in a special need family, we’re more likely to experience chronic stress. Chronic stress can negatively impact overall health; it can weaken the immune system and cause inflammation, making us more susceptible to aliments like colds, weight gain, sleep issues, stomach ulcers, depression, diabetes and heart disease.

Self care journal template
Self-Care Journal Printable

One way I practice the discipline of self-care is journaling. This is intentional time to reflect. I spend just minutes-a-day writing down my morning inspiration (and aspirations), and daily moments of success in the evening. It’s important for my mental health and well-being. New to journaling? Give it a try — grab this (free) printable template to guide you.

Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential. If we are to keep taking good care of those we love, we must secure our collective oxygen masks first. We have to learn to make peace with setting our own health and well-being as priorities.

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  1. Absolutely wonderful article and so accurate! Self-care is a discipline that takes much effort to develop. It’s just too easy to miss the truth behind putting the mask on first… (: I bought orchids and grew them, when the blooms come on, it’s like a secret relationship with the flower and myself. I count them, drink coffee with them, and mourn when they wilt. I’ve learned how to keep orcids blooming for 6 months! And in this silly little ritual, I find me time that sometimes is only a few seconds long, but it recharges my batteries little by little. Take care to care for you! Efrona

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