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To the Stressed Dad Worried About His Child's Health

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I’ve been where you are — the glazed look in your eyes, the nearly zombie-like foot shuffle, the Lord-knows-how-old crust on your t-shirt. You’re the dad on day four in the hospital after your child’s most recent heart surgery. I see you standing in the cafeteria, meal ticket in hand thinking, If I eat another chicken salad sub, I’m gonna lose my freakin’ mind.

Dude, I’ve been you. This post is for you, whether you’re shuffling through the hospital or doing it at home. I know this life is a challenging one, but we have to remember to take care of ourselves. Obviously our little heart warriors get a lot of attention; they need that attention. There’s meds to be given, tube feeds to administer, appointments to attend and futures to fret over. The reality, though, is that we might be killing ourselves with stress.

There’s been a shift in healthcare toward more non-traditional, holistic styles of healing – or integrative therapies, as they’re sometimes called. Honestly, they weren’t anything I thought about until the last year or so. My job has exposed me to several of these therapies, and I think they’re a great thing for the healthcare system and for us as heart parents. So here’s a few I suggest for you dads:

Try healing touch.

According to the Healing Touch Program website, “Healing Touch is an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands in a heart-centered and intentional way to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.”

I’ve tried healing touch twice and whether or not the results were all in my head, it worked splendidly. We recently had some healing touch practitioners at work and I sat down for a 10-minute “centering exercise.” I sat in a chair and the practitioner put her hands gently on my head, neck and shoulders, encouraging me to breathe and listen to some soothing sounds on a radio. After 10 minutes, I felt completely relaxed, focused and rested.

Some hospital employees take classes to become healing touch practitioners, so ask around to see if someone can offer you a 10-minute session.

Try aromatherapy.

It’s amazing how you can just put a cotton ball in a little cup, add a few drops of essential oils to it, put it next to you on your desk and try to get your heal on. For example: Is stress making you feel nauseated? Try a few drops of ginger essential oil, which might help settle the digestive system and stimulates appetite. One day I was feeling extremely sick to my stomach at work and needed to stick through it to work a particular event. I sat at my desk with some ginger essential oil and felt better in no time. There are so many great uses for aromatherapy, and I encourage you to research them more on your own. Look into soothing fragrances like bergamot, lavender and vanilla.

Practice deep breathing exercises.

I’ll never forget one psychology professor’s advice about breathing exercises to reduce stress.  She said, “If you’re waiting on that big job interview one day and you’re freaking out, just close your eyes, take a deep breath through your nose and release slowly through your mouth.” I’ll never forget it because it works. Taking a few moments to focus on your breathing can really help relax you and relieve some stress.

An exercise that I found works great is to breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to four.  Then hold it for two or three seconds and release slowly through your mouth for another count of four. If you close your eyes and do this a couple times, you’ll be amazed by how relaxed you can feel. Plus, you can do breathing exercises wherever you are: in your office, at home, at the hospital, in the car (don’t close your eyes for this one).

Rock it out.

There’s music that makes you happy, and there’s music that calms. I encourage you to let music set you free. If you’re going for a hospital stay, take some music with you. If you can’t do that, step away for a few minutes, lock yourself in your car and listen to some music. It’ll be a nice re-set for your mind.

Find a fun hobby.

Work, work, appointments, work, appointments, clean up barf, work, laundry, dishes, cooking, work, appointments, clean poop, work. We can run ourselves into the ground doing important things like this without making time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to have a hobby. It can be anything: play basketball, learn an instrument, collect stamps, learn to breakdance, master the unicycle, etc. A hobby is a better relaxing activity than watching Netflix (though that can be fun, too) because it stimulates you creatively.

For the last few months, I’ve been roasting my own coffee beans at home using a popcorn popper. I order the beans raw from a supplier, and when I want some coffee, I take my popcorn popper outside, roast the beans, and the next morning I grind up some super-fresh coffee. The process makes me happy, and when I drink a fresh cup and it tastes good, I feel accomplished.

But wait, there’s more.

Find out what might help you relieve stress and relax. Look into things like mindfulness and guided imagery.  Maybe acupuncture is for you. I know the life of a heart parent, heck any parent, is a stressful one. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be concerned about things. But for right now, you are your child’s best advocate and companion along this journey. The reality is, if you don’t stop and take care of yourself, you’re going to break down, you’re going to get sick, or worse. Don’t let your heart warrior go at it alone. Give yourself the best shot at success by taking time out for you.

chris perez heart family

A version of this post originally appeared on Half Heart. Whole Life.

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Originally published: June 16, 2015
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