Unfortunately, anxiety and stress often come part and parcel in parenting a child with special needs. There is an endless list of factors that can cause parents to worry and constant battles to be fought, most often on a daily basis. It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed, stressed out and anxious at times.
Whilst it’s difficult not to feel this way sometimes, there are some things that you can do which might help to alleviate the anxiety and stress that you feel.
In this blog, SpecialKids Company explores ways in which you can deal with anxiety and stress as a special needs parent to avoid special needs parent burnout.
How to Deal With Stress of a Special Needs Child?
Simply put, mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment, which can help to improve your mental wellbeing. It’s about connecting with yourself in the moment and being aware of the sensations that you experience – sight, sounds, smells and tastes. It could be as simple as going for a walk and concentrating on breathing in the air around you.
The NHS has some useful information regarding mindfulness on its website, with tips on how to make it part of your day-to-day life.
Exercise is well-known to help improve mental wellbeing. Exercising releases chemicals called endorphins that can improve your mood.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go out running or start lifting weights (although you could if you wanted to!). It can simply be taking some time to go for a walk, perhaps when your child is at school or when you have some time to yourself. If you have some headphones, there are some great podcasts that you can listen to.
Meditation, like mindfulness, can help to reduce anxiety and stress using mindful breathing and thinking. Meditation is a huge part of yoga. It is worthwhile exploring whether there are any classes local to you. However, there are lots of yoga videos online and there are also lots of great meditation apps that you can download and use in the comfort of your own home, such as Calm and Headspace.
Sleep deprivation is extremely common for parents who have children with special needs. Perhaps your child requires medical intervention overnight or struggles to go to or stay asleep. It is not surprising that sleep deprivation is not good for your mental health, so sleeping when you can is important.
If you have a partner, perhaps you can ‘take shifts’ in who stays awake with your child during the night. This might mean that it is easier to sleep in a different bedroom or use aids such as ear plugs.
If your child struggles to sleep, it is worthwhile speaking to your GP to see if they can help. For example, some children benefit from taking prescribed melatonin. There are also other things that you can try, for example specialist beds, bedding, sleep suits and white noise machines.
Sometimes a worry shared is a worry halved. It helps to talk about your feelings, particularly to others who ‘get it’. Whether this is with friends face-to-face or with others walking similar paths who you have ‘met’ online – please make sure you talk.
It can be isolating being a special needs parent, and knowing that you’re not alone can be a huge weight-off. Because you really aren’t.
Writing can be extremely therapeutic. Jotting down your worries in a journal or an online blog can help you to navigate how you are feeling and pinpoint specific things that are troubling you. It’s good to have a ‘brain dump’ and if you don’t feel like talking to someone, this is a good way to alleviate some worries.
Last but definitely not least, if you feel that your anxiety and stress isn’t improving and is taking over your day-to-day life, please speak to your GP. There is no shame in feeling the way that you do and your GP can recommend other professionals who might be able to help, such as a psychologist, alternative therapies and, if needed, medication.
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Swimming is a fantastic inclusive activity to do with children with special needs. It’s a great sensory experience that is good fun and has positive benefits for both physical and mental health. It is also an activity that can be done all year round and doesn’t have to be weather dependent (depending on where you choose to swim!).