Self-Care is Critical for Caregivers with Unique Challenges

Consider that 20 percent of the population has a disability. That’s one-fifth of all people who need extra support! Caregivers for those high-needs individuals may experience compassion fatigue and stress at high levels. National Geographic’s film, Stress, Portrait of a Killer, provides an overview of the risks and includes a story of parents who care for a child with special needs (See Minute 38 for that section of the report). 

The way to manage chronic stress is consistent self-care. Here are ways to stay mentally and physically healthy. In other words, here’s how caregivers can pull on that oxygen mask first in order to be well enough to assist others!

1. Connect

Meet up with people who get what you are going through. Schedule coffee with another parent with similar challenges on a regular basis. Parents often find each other at school, but here are other ideas about where you might find one another: Special Olympics practice, Special Needs Parent-Teacher Association, extracurricular events. A local Parent-to-Parent network can help by matching parents with similar interests or by providing a regular parent-group meeting.  

2. Sleep

The body uses sleep to recover, heal, and process stress. Here are ideas if anxiety or intrusive thinking interrupts sleep: Turn off screens after 7 p.m.—or use a blue-light filter; find sleep-music beats or a hypnosis program online; drink a calming herbal tea, such as chamomile; journal to process thoughts before bed. For more ideas, visit Sleepfoundation.org.

3. Exercise

Go for a walk, practice yoga, swim, wrestle with your kids, chop wood, work in the yard, or have a living-room dance party. Moving releases feel-good body chemicals. Check out the Mayo Clinic for more information on exercise and stress.

4. Be Mindful

Mindfulness can be as simple as taking time to notice your breath and focus attention there. Other ways to focus the mind for a general calming benefit: meditate, color, work on a car, build something, do art, put together a puzzle. The key is to find a quiet place that feels nurturing and calming. For more resources, check out mindful.org.

5. Make Time

An overfull calendar or unscheduled chaos can take over the day. A carefully organized calendar, managed with realistic boundaries, can help: If someone requests time, the calendar clearly shows when a meeting is possible. Parents can set SMART goals for a day, week or month: Assess whether the goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and bound by a clear Timeframe. PAVE’s article on SMART Goals can help parents manage time while learning about how to assist with educational planning. Another resource with time-management tools: calendar.com: Why Stress Management and Time Management Go Hand in Hand.

6. Seek Help

Respite care provides temporary relief for a primary caregiver. In Washington State, a resource to find respite providers is Lifespan Respite. Parents of children with disabilities can apply through the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) to seek eligibility for in- home personal care services and to request a waiver for respite care. For further detail about how to access services, refer to wapave.org DDA Access video or Informingfamilies.org DDA services.