Caregivers of kids with special needs: Make time for you

Caregivers often fall into the trap of neglecting to give themselves a little TLC while looking after others. So it’s vital that parents make sure they get what they need, says Todd Whitthorne, executive director of the Cooper Wellness program.

“They think that by doing something for themselves, they are limiting their positive impact on the patient, but they’ve got to take a step back and realize if they’re not taking care of themselves, then they are actually doing more harm than good,” Whitthorne says.

Here are some simple things you can do to give yourself a break:

  1. Eat right and exercise. It sounds elementary, but many caregivers don’t take the time to eat balanced and nutritious meals and instead just eat whatever is available. While healthy eating and exercise are important for the general population, they’re critical for those who have the added stresses of looking after someone else.
  2. Get out and get moving. Speaking of exercise, Whitthorne says, “We know without question, the best natural and physiological outlet for stress is physical activity.” Finding time to take a brisk 15- to 30-minute walk can get your blood circulating, not to mention providing a change of scenery. If you can’t find the extra half hour, just stepping out briefly for stretching and a breath of fresh air can help tremendously. The experts at Cooper Wellness even suggest going on virtual walks online to keep caregivers from feeling cooped up.
  3. Give yourself little rewards. Plan small things you look forward to. Set aside time at the end of the day when you can do something you enjoy-like reading a book-for at least half an hour. Allow yourself breaks for naps or baths or longer breaks for an outing or dinner.
  4. Just ask. Sometimes caregivers don’t like to burden others by requesting help. “All you have to do is ask. Don’t be shy,” Whitthorne says. Contact neighbors, family members, someone from church or people both you and your child are comfortable with, and you might be surprised by how many people are willing to help. Set up a regular schedule. A half-hour here and there can alleviate your stress. If that isn’t possible, simply having someone who will listen as you share or vent can help immensely.

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