Simple Ways to Practice Self-Care While Caring For Your Child with Special Needs
Are you a mom caring for a child with special needs? Do you find yourself constantly exhausted? Do you experience bodily aches and pains? Are you feeling burnout or overwhelmed? If so, you are not alone. When you are a caregiver to your special needs child, it’s easy to overlook your self-care and put all of your time and energy into their needs—day after day.
My healing journey began a few years ago when I realized that I couldn’t be my son’s supportive mom and caregiver if something didn’t change. When he was diagnosed with Autism, I knew raising a child, mothering, and life itself was not going to follow the script I had written in my head.
No one is prepared for motherhood. You can read all the books, ask questions, observe the best moms you know, put hours of planning in before your bundle of joy arrives but once they put that tiny baby in your arms, you start to feel a sense of worry, doubt, and fear, a new type of nervousness sets in—and that’s when things proceed “normally.” Add a diagnosis of complex medical needs, learning or behavioral challenges, and pretty soon you’re drowning.
Caring for your special needs child— is an incredibly rewarding experience filled with happiness, love, and joy. The moments you share with your child are undeniably extraordinary. But it can be especially challenging and demanding. I know from personal experience that you can become mentally and physically exhausted. This is why it is vital to take time out for yourself to refresh and rejuvenate.
It didn’t take long after immersing myself in the world of my son’s needs for me to realize that I was nowhere to be found. Yes, I was there with my son, educating myself, advocating for his needs, doing everything I possibly could to help him succeed in the world, but I had completely forgotten about myself. I neglected my health due to my all-consuming pursuit of the best care for him.
Every woman, every mother knows this is dangerous territory. When we aren’t happy, when we aren’t taking care of our needs first, we create negative energy that permeates not only our lives but the lives of everyone else. And, I wasn’t happy.
Not only was I not happy, but I was also exhausted emotionally and physically, out of shape, in pain—close to being the worst version of myself, instead of the best.
I realized I was headed in a downward spiral; if I continued to stay on that path, it would be detrimental to my health, and worse, it could affect my ability to be a caregiver for my son.
One day—I decided to fix it. That simple! I made a daily commitment to put myself on top of the priority list. Each and everything I did from that point on started with a decision—the decision to get healthy, fit, and happy. We all deserve to feel happy and healthy. That’s where we find the best versions of ourselves. Don’t we ALL deserve that? Yes! We do! Let’s get started!
Here are some self-care tips that I practice in my life and include some in my book, HUMBLE SEXY POWER so that you can start to make room for yourself, and get ready to feel ah-mazing.
TIP #1: BREATHE.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, and your day is headed in a downward spiral the best thing you can do for yourself is step away and take a deep breath in and out. Try this exercise. Get in a comfortable seated position. Relax your neck and shoulders. Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly, close your eyes (or keep them open), slowly breathe in through your nose (for 3-4 counts), slowly breathe out of your mouth (3-4 counts). Do this exercise for 2-5 minutes. This exercise can help you to slow down, wash away tension, and clear your mind. Try it! It is free!
TIP #2: SET AN INTENTION.
Commit to writing down self-care intentions for each day. Here are some examples: listen to music for 20-minutes, increase your water intake, take 30 minutes of “me time” to do whatever you want, take a 1-hour break from your computer, go outside to breathe in the fresh air, go to bed 15-minutes early, take a bubble bath with essential oils to lift your spirits. Dedicating time for yourself each day can help you feel refreshed, manage stress, increase happiness and overall, feel good. When you take care of yourself, you take care of your family.
TIP #3: GET MOVING!
There are many benefits to moving and exercising your body. It helps with your mental health, keeps your body strong and flexible, increases your energy, boosts your mood, and much more. What activities do you like to do? Think about what you enjoy doing to move your body every day. Here are some examples: take a brisk walk, power walk with friends, join a group exercise class outdoors or through zoom (move indoors when you feel comfortable to during covid-19), hire a personal trainer, garden, take a yoga class online or in-person. Start by doing 5-10 minutes of exercise each day—when you feel confident, increase the duration and intensity level. Don’t forget to take 5-minutes to stretch each day. In my opinion, moving your body and exercising is one of the best self-care to improve your life!
TIP #4: NOURISH YOUR BODY.
When you eat nutritious meals, it will make you look and feel healthy. And, the best part? It will put you in a good mood. What we put inside our bodies is related to our emotional health. This is why it is important to eat food from mother nature that will energize and rejuvenate you. Here are some examples of good and healthy food: green leafy vegetables, fruits from a tree, berries, cultured and fermented foods, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, quinoa, fish, and yogurt. Start with one healthy meal a day so you begin to feel radiant inside and out.
TIP #5: ACCEPT SUPPORT.
I know it can be difficult to ask people for help, but it is a crucial part of your self-care. Is there an agency in your area that provides respite care? Do you have someone that you trust that is familiar with your child’s needs? Think about who would like to pitch in: Friends, family, neighborhood teens, college students? How about a student who has an interest in working with individuals with specials needs? A mommy’s helper? When my son was younger, I hired a mommy’s helper which has been a lifesaver. This young lady would keep him busy while I cooked dinner or read a good book. Recognize that you are important and you deserve a break. Give it a try!
TIP #6: CONNECT WITH FRIENDS.
Spending time with friends is a great way to take care of yourself and boost your mental well-being. I realize it may not be as easy to connect in-person since covid-19, but we can connect with friends and community groups through video conferencing. Surround yourself with people who focus on the good instead of the bad, and cheer you up. When you are a caregiver, you need people who make you laugh, support you, and are a positive influence in your life. I connect with my friends a couple of times a week through zoom, or if it is nice out, we will go for a walk or grab a coffee.
These are just some tips I do daily to care for my well-being. I recognize you may feel a sense of mommy guilt and out of your comfort zone to put yourself first, but it is necessary. After all, you deserve it, you need it, and your life will be better when you make those changes!
Twice-published author Sheila Royce Garcia is a practical and inspiring voice for busy moms raising a child with special needs, juggling work, family, relationships, and personal life—all while trying to be healthy for themselves and their families.
Garcia’s work draws on her expertise as an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, a Registered Yoga Teacher with 200 hours of training, a Penn State University graduate, and an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, as well as her personal experience as the proud mom of a special needs child who overcame her own wellness struggles to inspire and guide countless women to do the same.
In her first book, Healthy Cooking in a Pinch, Garcia shares the recipes, meal planning tips, meal prep techniques, and other resources she developed to help busy women begin transforming their—and their family’s—eating habits. Her newest release, Humble Sexy Power: A Woman’s Guide to Transform Your Eating, Fitness, Self-Care, and Relationships, shows women how to prioritize self-care, self-love, weight loss, nutritious eating habits, and healthy relationships so they can be the best possible version of themselves for their own and their family’s well-being.