By Shanti Kurada, MS, MBA
Taking care of a child with autism or other special needs is difficult emotionally, physically, and financially. While the stress impacts both men and women equally, many mothers become the primary caregivers to their special needs children. A 2009 study done on mothers of children with autism indicated that they might have higher levels of anxiety and depression than those of typically developing children.
The result of this study and many others is not surprising. There is the constant worry about the child missing milestones, his difficulties with learning, and worry over how he will function in the real world. Add to this the need to deal with daily behaviors. Anything can set your child off – a change in routine, the appearance of a new person, lack of closure, sensory overload, night waking, or general anxiety that seems to have no particular cause. Mothers may sometimes live from one moment to the next, dreading the next outburst.
As a mother, the first step is to understand that you need to take care of yourself. You can do this in specific ways.
Ask for Help – Talk to your spouse about sharing responsibilities. Enlist the help of other family members and friends. With their help, free up some time to focus on yourself. When you dedicate even a small part of the day to yourself , it can have long-term health benefits.
Exercise – Even if you can only fit in 20 minutes of walking into your day, that will have a positive effect on your health.
Eat Well – Sit down and eat nutritional meals 4 times a day. You need protein, good carbs, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to replenish your energy, revitalize yourself, and fight stress.
Meditate – Spend 15 minutes a day practicing deep breathing/meditation/relaxation techniques. You can do this at the start of your day, or at bedtime. Meditation restores much needed oxygen and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. It improves sleep and helps with emotional regulation.
Make Friends – Friendship takes time, effort, and commitment. When you don’t call back or check in on your friends, they are less likely to do the same. Take the time to meet your friends. A Swedish study of 75 year olds found that friendships decrease the risk of developing dementia. The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging studied almost 1,500 seniors for a full decade. They found that having good friends increases longevity even more than having close relationships with adult children and other family. And those with the largest amount of close friends outlived those with the smallest amount by 22 percent.
Dress Up – Many mothers of special needs children tend to forget they are women. Whenever you get a chance, put on a pretty dress, do up your hair and nails, go out for coffee with a friend, and flaunt your lovely self. Looking your best makes you feel good and brings on your positive, confident, and fun side.