In today’s hectic world, self care is becoming more important than ever. With work stress and demands on our time, parents are more overstretched than before. Parents are also working longer hours than ever, in a bid to provide for their family.
What if you are a parent or guardian of a child with mental health issues or SEN (special educational needs)? How do you cope and look after yourself whilst being a good, loving parent to your child? What do you do in times of trauma?
Self care is defined as ‘the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.’ (online dictionary)
Erin Leyba writes for Psychology Today that, ‘It’s essential that parents care for themselves – first, for their own well being, but also because any effort they put into self-care also has huge payoffs for their children. When parents “fill their own cups,” they have more patience, energy, and passion to spread to their families.’
If your child or a teen you know is going through a trauma, there are ways to help. For example, if they are in hospital due to illness or are unwell at home, you may feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope. You may also feel helpless seeing your child in pain and become anxious or overprotective as a result.
If you are seeing your child go through acute anxiety or depression or have a reaction to any trauma they face, whether it is illness, bullying or struggling at school, then as a parent we react by putting them first. It’s natural, but the longer the trauma continues for our child, the longer it continues for us too, and while no self-care is sustainable for a short time, after a while something is going to give. So how do you care for yourself alongside this? Here are 8 possible ways to give you an idea.
Psychotherapist Stefan Deutsch did some research into this area, specifically looking at the epidemic of ‘burn out’ amongst adults and parents. He comments, ‘’The self love needed for self care was missing. Academicians use terms like self esteem, self worth, self support, self care but rarely self love. That is left to the spiritual community. People don’t realise that taking care of their own needs; eating, drinking, brushing their teeth, showering, wearing clean clothes, going to work are all acts of self love. My own clients conceded that they were on the bottom of their Totem Pole of priorities. Everything in their life came before their own health and wellbeing; the job, the house, the kids, the family, the car, finances, and so forth. The problem is that people have a hard time reaching for balance in their lives.’’
Finding balance and taking care of yourself are vital in difficult times (and a good pattern to get into for every day too). Here are some strategies that may help you manage stress:
1) Write it out– write out how you are feeling as a stream of consciousness on paper, getting all thoughts and worries out of your brain. The simple act of sharing it and writing it down, means you can move forward knowing its out of your head and you can come back to it at any time. The act of journaling freely for 20 minutes can really help reduce stress.
2) Talk it out– confide in a trusted friend, family member or therapist about how you are feeling. Going to counselling in times of trauma or shortly after can help you to seek support and process all that is going on. Having a cup of tea with a friend and a good chat can also be helpful.
3) Schedule an hour to see a friend or do something for you– parents are often short on me time. Make sure you schedule in time for yourself away from everything that’s going on. This could be a phone chat or going out for dinner or the cinema with a friend. Or something as simple as carving out time for you (and you alone) to watch a comforting film or TV show.
4) Do something special with your child – a trip if they’re well enough. Or something at home – a takeaway and a film, baking a cake together, watch them play their video games…sit and watch their favourite YouTube channel with them.
5) Walk in nature. Nature is soothing and walking in fresh air and getting some exercise can help clear your head and put things in perspective.
6) Make a gratitude list and write 3 things you are grateful for on it every day. This can help with boosting positive mindset.
7) Eating well and sleeping: Make sure that alongside caring for your child, you eat well and try to get enough sleep. If you are struggling with this, reach out for support from your GP. Sleep is vital for replenishing our bodies and encouraging resilience.
8) Medical help. If you are struggling to cope with your life situation or think you may be depressed or highly anxious , it may help to see your doctor or psychiatrist to see if you need anti depressant or anxiety medication. You can also self refer to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme) in the UK for therapy sessions if needed, which have shorter waiting times than the general psychology list.
You can also reach out to various charities such as Mind or Young Minds for support and helplines including the Samaritans are open 24/7 for judgement-free listening.
You cannot pour from an empty cup, so in times of stress, you can learn to unwind and take care of yourself. Make self care and self-love your priority as well as looking after your child.
At Teen Calm, we provide subscription boxes for teens with anxiety. You can learn more at www.teencalm.com