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Self-Care for the Caregiver

If you are a parent of a child with autism or other neurological deficit you have probably heard the old adage that you need to take care of yourself first if you need to take care of others. Now we call it self-care.

you need to take care of yourself first

Maybe these phrases sound familiar:  

“Put on your oxygen mask first” 

“You can’t take care of someone else, if you aren’t taking care of yourself first” 

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel” 

“If mama ain’t happy, aint’ nobody happy” (my great grandma used to say that one!) 

And maybe these references make your eyes roll or make you wonder “how in the (bleep) am I supposed to do that when I have to take care of my children??” Maybe you have multiple children and maybe their needs are all very different.   But the reality is still the same no matter what – your kids need you.  The best you – you can be!  Parents are the very best suited to truly make a difference in their children’s lives because neuroscience researchers know that brains develop as a result of relationships and meaningful real-world authentic experiences.  

Therefore, it’s not selfish to self-care – it’s necessity!  If you need more motivation to put yourself at the top of your to-do list, these two studies can give you the wake up call you need. Nobel Laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn, found that the blood cells of chronically-stressed mothers who had reared special needs children were, genetically, about a decade older than those from peers who had more “normal” caretaking experience. This suggests that massive stress results in massive aging. Marsha Mailick Seltzer, Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress in the same league as combat soldiers.  

So how is that possible when you don’t have the funds to get to the spa for a much-needed massage, you can’t leave your child with a babysitter and you don’t have the time or energy to get to the gym.  

Here are 10 ideas for things you can do through out the day or in the moment to nurture yourself:  

Stretch. Let’s be clear I did not say exercise (though that would be a good idea too). Just get up and move around. Stretch out your legs and your arms. Do some downward and upward dogs. Motion is a beautiful form of self-care, no matter how mild.

Take a bath. Go take a nice bath. If you can’t leave your child unattended, put on a swimsuit and have a bath with your child – they will love it and you will find it is nice together stress-free mommy / child time!

Deep Breathing. Take some time to focus on nothing else but breathing. Until you take time to slow down and observe your breathing, you may not notice how shallow of breaths you were actually taking. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet on the floor. Breathe in and then breathe out (try to breathe out for 5 seconds).

Hydrate yourself.  Drink plenty of water. Slice cucumber or slices of lemon, lime or grapefruit, add a sprig of mint to your water for an infused treat. Hydration is a major building block for optimal self-care.

Eat healthy.  When I eat junk food, my blood sugar spikes and then I crash.  My energy levels and emotional mood plummet right along with it. Prep ahead some healthy snacks such as cut up fruits and vegetables.  When we feel better, we do better.  

Nature hike.  Fall is my absolute favorite time of year to walk in the forest.  Kids love walking in the forest.  The stillness, the fresh smell of pine and fallen leaves, the spongy ground beneath your feet. It’s a soothing sanctuary.   

Make a mask and take care of your skin.  Pull up a homemade mask on Pinterest or google, have fun making it with your child, mix it with your hands and put it not only on your face but your child’s face too!  Fun and laughter is some of the best medicine! 

Mindful minute meditations.  You don’t need money or resources to meditate. You just need a little time and focus.  Meditation will be you back you and allow you to be your best self for your kids.  Check out this easy way to begin or check out other guided meditations on line. There are many that you can do with your kids too! And best of all they are all free

Listen to Your Favourite Songs. It is crazy how a song can take you to a whole other world! Turn on one of your favourite songs- sign at the top of your lungs, dance around and have some fun!  For years every morning, I started my day with my happy music!  My kids loved it too!  Jack Johnson “Banana Pancakes and Better Together”, Jason Mraz “I’m yours” and Colby Caillat “Bubbly” were some of my favorites.  Make your own happy music playlist.  Sing along! Or try iPod therapy:  When I needed a break from my kids but couldn’t get one, I improvised by putting on my head phones.  Somehow it created just enough distance while I could still keep my eyes on them! 

Self-Compassion.  Perhaps my favorite self-care of all.  Be KIND to yourself.  The way you would be kind to a friend. If you hear yourself using negative self talk. Be mindful in the moment and stop it. Acknowledge that your human, your doing the best you can and say something comforting to yourself. I don’t know how many times I said to myself “this too shall pass”.  I was mindful in the moment of the way I felt (which was stressed out) and knew that we all have to face challenging situations and that we can get through them and I gave myself permission to acknowledge that it was okay to feel badly but I would feel better in the future.  For more information on the science of Self-Compassion check out the work of Kristen Neff.  

Since 2004, Lisa has enjoyed a life of meaning and purpose as she consults with families affected by autism locally and internationally.  Providing parents with the support and tools they need to make long lasting change towards a better quality of life. Last year she launched a new on-line initiative offering an introductory on-line group training series where parents and professionals learn the basics of developmental-relationship based intervention (RDI).  Her ongoing mission is to raise awareness while empowering and educating participants about Autism, childhood development and neuroscience.  A new series will be starting soon so sign up here to stay tuned.

“I’ve come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival” – Andre Lorde 

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