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Self-Care. You REALLY do Need it.

If you had 10 “free” minutes a day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? When you think about those “free” minutes how does it make you feel? I am thinking you are feeling relaxed, happy, content (insert emotion here). Hold on to that feeling.

In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, compared the stress levels that mothers of children with ASD feel to those of soldiers in combat. Think about that for a moment – you may be feeling stress as if you were in war. The study stated that these moms had chronic fatigue and were three times as likely to report a stressful event every dayand twice as likely to feel tired (compared to a control group of mothers’ who do not have children with ASD – even compared to parents of children who have other types of special needs).

But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s get back to the 10 minutes and how that would feel. Have you ever been on an airplane and heard the universal mandate that you should put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else with theirs, including your children? If you really think about it, what a wonderful analogy to get you thinking about self-care. A parent that is not getting oxygen cannot effectively take care of her children.

Honestly, if you are suffocating and gasping for air (and maybe this is how you feel on a daily basis regardless of whether you are on a plane or not), do you really think you can reach over and properly put on someone else’s mask or are you both going to suffer? If you are not (relatively) calm, if you are not focused, no one is benefitting. You may think that putting your own needs on the back burner while attending to everyone else’s is something you have to do, there are appointments that need to be scheduled and attended, there are meltdowns, there is someone else’s anxiety to work through, there are tags that have to be taken out of t-shirts, and lights that are too bright and need to be adjusted – the list is endless. Who has time to read a book, exercise, stare out the window, and isn’t it selfish to do so?

But that’s just it, if you were able to take 10 minutes (because 10 minutes sounds feasible and you can build from there) and find something that helped reduce your stress level, how much easier would it be to manage all the other things in your life? That’s not selfish, that’s compassionate for everyone involved. I know that when I just stop, pause for a moment, and take a few deep breaths, things can look clearer. Maybe not easier, but clearer and more manageable. When I take 10 minutes to sit quietly and meditate, I really can feel a difference.

If meditation (sounds cliché doesn’t it?) sounds a little ethereal to you, here is a quick breathing technique that can provide a quick moment or two of relaxation.

Step 1: Breathe out

Step 2: Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds

Step 3: Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds

Step 4: Breath out forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds (you’ve got to really make a spectacle of yourself with this – make a sound, make it a good exhale, no one will laugh – I promise)

Step 5: Repeat 4 times

The first few times you do this might make you feel a little dizzy, so sit down, it won’t be a good if you fall over. Unless someone is in imminent danger, whatever is happening can wait for you to breathe.

What else can you do for 10 minutes (hopefully build up to 30 minutes or more)? Can you find some time in the morning to read a book before everyone else is awake or after they go to bed? Can you get up 10 minutes early and enjoy your coffee outside? Do you like puzzles, there are these nifty puzzle pads that roll up so you can keep it intact and out of the reach of little hands. Can you do a quick stretching/yoga routine? Do you have a friend/family member that you can chat with? What pops into your head?

You will be amazed by the transformative impact a little bit of self-care can have on your day.  Not only will you feel SO much better, but your children will greatly benefit when you are more conscious, capable, and caring.  

*The stories in these posts are a compilation of discussions that I have had with parents throughout the years.

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