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11 'Small' but Effective Ways Parents of Kids With Disabilities Manage Their Anxiety

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It’s not surprising that being a parent means dealing with anxiety to some degree. After all, we love our little humans so much it is hard not to worry about all aspects of their lives.

However, when you parent kids with disabilities, dealing with anxiety can become a real struggle in our mental health. Mayo Clinic states risk factors that contribute to anxiety include trauma, stress due to illness and stress buildup, among others. The thing is, we are often so focused on caring for our kids, we forget to take care of ourselves. This does not mean our kids cause our anxiety, but rather the lack of supports, the battles with insurance, battles with school, worrying if our children have real friends, worrying about our children’s health and well being.

There was a study done in September 2014 that looked at the mental health of parents of children with a “special health care need.” These parents are those who identified themselves as having a child with a “chronic disease or disability” or “emotional problems.” The results of the study were as follows:

Cross-sectional analyses indicated that parents of a child with special care needs reported poorer self-rated mental health, greater depressive symptoms, and more restrictions in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). Parents of a child with special health care needs had greater increases in depressive symptoms over time and greater declines in instrumental activities of daily living than parents of typically developing children. Perceived control was a robust predictor of all health outcomes over time.

We reached out to our parent community and asked: “Do you find you struggle with anxiety? What are small changes you have made to help you cope better with your anxiety?”

Several mothers responded they were taking medication for their anxiety. I want to talk about this briefly because there comes a time we might need professional help, and there is no shame in that. If you have ever felt the stigma of mental health, I want you to know you matter more, and your mental health matters. Needing medication is something some of us need to become better parents and to take care of our mental health. Several other parents also mentioned getting counseling or going to therapy — I raise my hand to say counseling has been extremely helpful for me. We need to be able to talk about the hard stuff.

That said, there are several other things we can do to help us cope better with our anxiety:

1. Carry a water bottle with you.

“I struggle with anxiety and this involves struggles with breathlessness and swallowing. I have found that carrying a bottle of water helps. It’s a comfort blanket of sorts and in my head if I can take on water, I can swallow and breathe. Definitely eases my anxiety.” — Rachael G.

“I make sure I stay hydrated and always have a bottle of water with me wherever I go.” — Rebecca G.

2. Exercise.

“Regular yoga helps regulate breathing and brings relaxation to muscles.” — Andy S.

“Exercise. Even better with friends as it can also be a social outlet.” — Cassidy M.

“I do Zumba because because it’s a happy atmosphere.” — Jenny D.

“Walking. During winter I do laps up and down the hallway inside. At times I feel like I have to keep moving. It helps. It calms me and energizes me to take the next step in life.” — Kim K.

“I go running or find some other way to exercise. It helps.” — Mike P.

3. Find a hobby or outlet.

“I blog about what we go through.” — Carlene W.

“I have found that painting is a great stress and anxiety reliever! Ha! So I’ve been repainting all our furniture. Latest ahem, victim, my desk. Now it’s chalked white and I love it. I look at the physical reminder of the accomplishment and it gives me a little relief when anxiety threatens to take over.” — Heather T.

“I do a lot of crafting, praying and walking.” — Jill O.

“I color in adult coloring books, creative cooking, and do needle point.” — Star W.

“I paint and create art as an art therapy for me. The more art I do the calmer I seem to be — others have noticed, too.” — Tamra S.

4. Take time for you.

“Trying to get away for a night or two every couple of months is key. Good books that I can get lost in when I’m at home for days on end.” — Cassidy M.

“I find that a little bit of quiet time is awesome! I go to bed early when the kids do so I can relax and often because I am up with one of them during the night.” — Bonnie P.

“A few minutes, even 5-10, of quiet for me every day helps. Sitting in the sun for a bit, listening to some soft music, reading a book, or having a cup of tea. It really doesn’t matter, it just gives me a chance to regroup and catch my breath. ” — Laura H.

“I have to have a lot of down time/alone time/breaks away from everyone, not just my child, so that I can recharge and not be on edge.” — Janna E.

“I get up super early in the morning to have coffee and some quiet time to myself. It makes a huge difference in the rest of my day.” — Shari D.

“I try to do something for me. Even if it’s small. watching my favorite show, reading something not related to my son’s special needs, gardening. Even just taking a shower, if that’s all I can do for the day, that’s for me, and just me.” — Melissa O.

“I like to stay up after mine go to sleep and eat some Ben & Jerry’s and watch a show on Netflix or sit and drink a cup of coffee in the morning before they get up.” — Randi W.

“Remembering that if you do something for yourself that it is not at your child’s expense. Take the nature walk, read the book, enjoy a hot bath. These small breaks give your brain a chance to decompress.” — Cari J.

5. Become informed.

“For me, knowledge is power. The more I learn about my son’s conditions, the more I feel equipped to care for him and help him reach his full potential. So when I feel anxious and unsure; I ask, I research, I seek out good resources and delve in.” — Stacy W.

“I read, learn all I can about all his neurological and developmental disabilities, and remember he’s still that sweet child I love whether he has one diagnosis or five.” — Carlene W.

“I have become more informed about what is cause for alarm, and what isn’t. Research helps ease my anxiety (most of the time).” — Amanda Y.

6. Find something that makes you laugh.

“I have recently tried to watch or listen to more things that make me laugh, as laughing reduces my stress and anxiety almost immediately.” — Rebecca G.

“I watch comedies on Netflix at end of the day. It feels good to laugh, it’s good for me.” — Ellen S.

7. Have a good cry when you are alone.

“Sometimes just having a good old fashioned cry for a few minutes.” — Carlene W.

“I have been known to just go sit in my car and cry, listen to music or just breathe… depending on the situation at hand.” — Amy H.

8. Limit caffeine

“I realized caffeine makes my anxiety worse. Once I stopped caffeine, my anxiety became more manageable.” — Ellen S.

“I’ve cut the majority of caffeine from my life. I stick to herbal tea, and occasionally will have a green tea or decaf coffee. Since this change, I’ve had significantly fewer panic attacks.” — Ashley S.

“I quit caffeine! Not having that extra jolt when I get anxious has really helped keep my panic levels lower. Yes, it was hard — but worth it!” — Polly B.

9. Find comfort if you are a person of faith.

“I ultimately have to remember that my son was known before he was born, he was knitted together by our wise Creator, he was delivered and will be sustained according to our Heavenly Father’s good will. Ps 71:6-9” — Michelle S.

“I do better when I focus on scripture that draws me toward God.” — Anna W.

” I find daily prayer and a relationship with God are very helpful.” — Bethany M.

10. Journaling

“Writing down what I am feeling helps me.” — Ellen S.

“I keep a journal now to track what was happening when I began to feel myself getting overwhelmed. Inside the cover is a list of grounding techniques. This helps me track my triggers and find ways to cope/avoid those situations.” — Megan K.

11. Talking with friends.

“I have trusted friends and family that help me sort through the mess and muck, the lies for anxiety.” — Anna W.

“one of the best things is I have a very close friend who has a kiddo with issues also.. we comfort in comparing stories.. laughing and crying. Even though they dont have the same disablity many of the struggles are the same. Its nice having someone I can talk to about it that really understands.” — Jill O.

“I have a handful of “God Sisters” that I reach out to regularly and they reach out to me as well. Community is the key and everyone’s community looks different to meet each individuals needs.” — Jeannie G.

“Recognizing women in my life who give me that same freedom to express my feelings and encourage me to look forward and not back.” — Karen K.

Other mentions:

“Deep breathing exercises.” — Andy S.

“I have an ’emergency kit’ with Tylenol, chocolate, chewing gum, and my rosary. If I am out and need some immediate or temporary relief I can choose what will help.” — Bonnie P.

“Accepting the worse case scenario could happen, but probably won’t.” — Andy S.

“I use the shopping apps. That helped the stress of having to grocery shop with my kiddo. Left many a shopping carts because of a meltdown. It’s a saver.” – Danielle C.

“Move from either/or to both/and. ‘My kid is really struggling, yes, but he is also doing well in these areas, but he is also learning to be kind.” — Andy S.

“I also diffuse scents that smell good to me and are calming when life gets [overwhelming] and breaks aren’t an option.” — Laura H.

What about you? What “small” things help you cope with your anxiety? Let us know in the comments.

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Originally published: May 4, 2018
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