Enhancing your wellbeingLife can be stressful at the best of times. We are increasingly busy, with sometimes unrealistic and unrelenting demands on us and our time. Being a parent of a disabled child adds an additional factor into the mix, which may not only include additional worries, or medical needs, but also fighting for services that are unfortunately often under-resourced.
It is important to recognise this.
Being under stress over a long period of time can have a detrimental affect on our health including raised blood pressure, increased inflammation and being more prone to illness or injury. Although it may seem that sometimes the stress is relentless, there are every day things we can do to look after ourselves:
Getting enough sleep
It seems obvious but without enough sleep everyday functioning is harder on every level. Good sleep habits include:
- no mobile phones or electronic equipment in the bedroom
- regular bedtime with a wind-down routine - having a bath, reading a book
- trying to offload worries onto a 'to do' list
- no caffeine within a few hours of bedtime
- being grateful for the positives that happened during the day
Having down time or Short breaks
We all need time to ourselves and once you have children this is often in short supply. Trying to protect some 'me' time is so important in order to recharge your batteries, make sure our own needs our met in terms of interests and relaxation, enabling us to carry on with our caring duties feeling re-invigorated. Otherwise the demands of other family members can become onerous and resentment can creep in.
It may be worth discussing the availability of respite with your GP, child's paediatrician or social worker, whether it is via Short Breaks through social services or local charities.
Spending time with other people who are positive influences in our life and make us feel good about ourselves can really help lift one's mood. Feeling part of a community or group is a positive in our lives. It can help to talk about things that may be bothering us with friends, and similary it may also help to talk about something totally unrelated, to help us get out of oursevles and our problems.
There can be a tendency when you are feeling down to withdraw from others, but this is part of a vicious circle which may make us feel more isolated and then our mood plummets even more. Try to make the effort to see other people, even for an hour a day to help reconnect with the world out there.
Eating regular meals is paramount for parents to have enough fuel to get through the day, to make sensible decision and to juggle different demands. It can be very easy to rush our meals or grab the easy option. We all know the advice: eat a well-balanced diet, eat more fruit and vegetables, cut down on sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Think about what you're eating, be mindful and enjoy the time spent nurturing your body to face the demands of the day ahead.
ExercisingExercise is beneficial for our physical and mental health. The fitter you are the more able you are to run for a bus, lift your child, or fight infection. The endorphins released during exercise can improve mood. Try to build exercise into your life, i.e. walk to do the school pick up, get off the bus one stop early to walk home, play some kind of physical activity in the garden with your child. There are many apps and websites that can help you introduce exercise into your life.
MindfulnessMindfulness encourages us to focus on the present and recognise that negative feelings and thoughts can be fleeting. To be more in the moment can help reduce pain and anxiety. It is also an important message to yourself that you are worth taking time for yourself and you do deserve some time away from the hustle and bustle of life. It can help you get into the habit that allowing yourself time to relax or be on your own should be a part of your everyday existence.
You can test your stress and get advice about mindfulness here.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses the skills of mindfulness, being in the here and now, metaphor and identifying our values in life to help challenge negative and obsessive thoughts. For more information click here.
Ensuring there is joy in your life
It is important to have something in your life, a hobby or regular activity, that you enjoy and that helps you to reconnect and ground yourself. Whether it's gardening, watching a favourite programme in peace, listening to music or seeing friends for a coffee.
Often parent-carers forget about the importance of these things as they are too busy putting the needs of the rest of the family first. Sometimes if you are dealing with a mental health difficulty, such as depression, it can be even harder to make the time to do these things. Remember that without you functioning at full health, physically and mentally, it is harder for the whole family unit to function. It is important you role model to your children the importance of self care.
Positive psychology recommends expressing gratitude for things in our lives and this can have an uplifting affect on our life outlook. For ideas on gratitude exercises click here.
Writing about Emotional Experiences
Research suggests that the act of writing about emotional experiences can bring physical and mental health improvements (Pennebaker, J. W.) for some people. It can help get things 'off our chest' and move on, particularly those people who are perhaps more reticent in seeking help from others. If it appeals to you, try spending 15-20 minutes a day undertaking therapeutic writing.
Mind has excellent information on being a carer and improving mental heatlh.
Carers UK outlines the importance of looking after your health.
Carers Trust describes what services they provide to take care of yourself.