Transitional life stressors like birth, death and moving are pretty normal. In addition, parents are subject to the inherent chronic stressors of parenting. Parental psychological stressors are related to the worries that parents have about the physical safety and the growth and development of their children.
When a child has special needs, all of the attention is focused on helping the child. But parents also need assistance in coping with stress, their own feelings and frustrations.
Dealing with outside stresses
Your family, friends and co-workers may not fully understand what’s going on—so they may not match your understanding of the situation. Dealing with that mismatch can be stressful. Dealing with school administrators and teachers can also be stressful, along with financial, social, logistical pressures of caring for a special-needs child. Try these coping strategies:
Think it through rationally, one step at a time. Describe the problem, including best- and worst-case scenarios. Separate the outside stressors you can control from those you can’t. Write down solutions and the steps needed to implement them. This process will help you feel empowered and focused.
Manage your time. List your priorities in order of importance and compare them with how much time you’ve been allocating. You’ll see what issues are receiving too much or too little attention, so you can consciously make adjustments.
Implement changes kindly and firmly. Assert and advocate for yourself and your child in a loving, respectful way. Learn to place limits or say no if too much is being asked of you. Be open to compromise if you feel it’s warranted, but avoid getting stuck in an indecision loop that feeds your stress.
Managing inside stresses
We sometimes get ourselves too worked up with worry. And with a little self-care we can avoid stress before it starts. Examine the expectations you place on yourself and the assumptions they’re based on. Are you the only person on the planet qualified to deal with a problem? Can you delegate the tasks that others can handle? Deflect the unreasonable requests that come your way? Dial down the negative self-criticism? Consider these ways to reduce inside stress and lift some weight from your shoulders:
Learn about your child’s diagnosis. Base your reaction on information, not fear. Get an evaluation, then seek educational options and support groups, along with assistive and adaptive technologies that can help.
Be positive with yourself. Repeat affirmations as often as needed. Remind yourself of your own good qualities and your value in all your roles—as a person, family member, caregiver, coach.
Be realistic. No one can possibly take responsibility for all the tasks you probably assign exclusively to yourself. Learn to live with imperfection and uncertainty. Cut yourself some slack without criticizing yourself for not meeting unachievable standards.
Expect constant change from yourself and those around you. Because stuff just happens sometimes.
Changing physical stresses
It’s no secret that your mind and body work together. So the self-care needed for managing stress is more than a mind game. There’s a physical component to it, too. To keep yourself and your family functioning properly, pay some attention to this dimension that sometimes gets overlooked. Coping with physical stress factors might include these tactics:
Chill. Downtime is essential. Are you getting enough rest? Most adults need six to eight hours of sleep. Take power naps when needed if possible. Try a few yoga postures or even some meditation if those work for you.
Get some exercise. Go for walks together or separately. Hit the gym. Or swim some laps. The endorphins will help keep you feeling calm and empowered, and you’ll burn calories as intended. Limit screen time for yourself and your kids.
Play. It’s distracting, and it helps you not focus on all the negativity that can lead to stress. Join a league. Kick a soccer ball. Hang out with the pets. Take the dog to a dog park.
Eat right. Do more cooking and less eating out. Especially if your choices have included too much unhealthy fast food. Eat dinner together as a family as often as possible. Meal prep is often a bonding experience.
Though stress is a normal and natural response to perceived threats, it doesn’t have to rule your life. Especially in challenging times. By taking the initiative to recognize triggers and deploy coping strategies, you can improve the quality of life for yourself and your child.