Special Needs Parent Stress
by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, November 2004
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A lot of parents who have kids with special needs get a free
helping of stress every day. With extra nuts -- and sprinkles.
If this is you, how do you start an anti-stress diet? Start
small. Take a break.
Oh yeah, right. When are you going to find the time?
Most of us have heard we'd be more efficient if we'd take a
break once in a while. But it's hard to convince your brain that
taking some time to ease your stress will really help you get
more done. Mr. Brain often stubbornly sees things in the short
term. If you've got 1000 orders to process and it takes about a
minute to process an order, taking a five-minute break every
hour means you process fewer orders in an eight hour day and
fall farther behind, right?
I read a study a while back that showed when data-processing
workers got a five-minute break every hour, they had less stress
and got more work done in an eight-hour day. The benefits of the
break more than made up for the time away from the computer.
Here's the really interesting part of the story: in spite of the
findings, the company associated with the study did NOT start
giving their data
processing workers five-minute breaks each hour. Huh? The bosses
bring themselves to do it. In spite of the evidence, it just
Maybe your brain is working from the same perspective, with a
side of guilt thrown in. Have you ever kept at a task way past
the point of diminishing returns because you were working on
behalf of your family and it seemed like you'd be short-changing
them to take even a few minutes for yourself?
Part of the problem is that when you're overloaded and stress is
building, that stress can affect your judgment. Stress can put
you in a hole and make it hard to see a way to climb out. So you
work and work and get more tired and frustrated and make
mistakes - and sometimes get sick.
As I write this, I'm looking at a National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/stresswk.html)
that says health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for
workers who report high levels of stress.
So there's a reason to relax you can relate to! You can't do as
good a job taking care of your kids if you're sick - so consider
being your own doctor and ordering yourself to relax a bit.
By the way, here are a few of the conditions that the NIOSH
study says contribute to stress: ".heavy workload, infrequent
rest breaks, long work hours.conflicting or uncertain job
expectations, too much responsibility, too many "hats to
wear".lack of support or help. rapid changes for which workers
Doesn't that sort of sound like a job description for a parent
of a special needs child?
If you're feeling stretched too thin, here are some suggestions
to improve your life and get more done by taking some time for
yourself: (NOTE: If you feel like you can't manage your stress
by yourself, I'd suggest you seek professional help. Try these
recommendations if you're confident you can take some positive
steps on your own.)
When you're starting a task, set an alarm or kitchen timer to go
off in an hour. When it goes off, take a five-minute break.
Stand up, stretch, walk outside. Do something that gets your
mind off the task for a few minutes. Each time you start to work
again, reset that timer so you get a few minutes every hour to
recharge your batteries. (My wife gave me a desk clock that
chimes on the hour to remind me to take breaks.)
If you're working long days, it's also good to take a 15 minute
break every few hours.
Don't neglect lunch. Taking a half-hour or an hour off for lunch
can be a real energizer in the middle of a busy day. If
possible, do some socializing during lunch, either in person or
on the phone.
Find some favorite songs and listen to them during your breaks.
A song you like can really help get your mind off work for a few
minutes. Another option is to stand up and stretch, then sit in
your chair, close your eyes and take five slow, deep breaths.
If at all possible, take a daily walk. A 20 to 30 minute daily
walk can help reduce your stress and help you get or stay fit.
I'm a lot calmer since I started walking. Ask my wife. I look
forward to it so much that I make it a priority and find ways to
work it into a busy day.
When you feel yourself getting stressed to the point where you
keep spinning your wheels, try shifting your brain into neutral
for a while. Let things wash over you. Some decisions won't
wait, but if you're upset and you can postpone a decision, it's
usually a good idea to calm down first. This may save you from
saying something you regret or doing something you wish you
could undo. When you're spinning your wheels in frustration, a
little neutral time can help you find a way to get traction that
you hadn't noticed because your stress gave you a blind spot.
Get out a calendar and plan some time for yourself. Going out
one night a week for a few hours can help put some balance and
perspective into your life. Don't you feel and work better when
you have something to look forward to? If you and your spouse
can do it together, great. If not, take turns. If you're a
single parent, maybe you can trade off with another single
Go out with friends or see a movie by yourself - whatever you
enjoy. If you can't make it every week, make it every other
week. One thing is sure: you have to take the initiative and
give yourself permission. Don't be apologetic. You're not
goofing off. You're making an investment in a person who is
crucial to your family: you.
In my experience, these pauses for relaxation can help make you
more efficient, more optimistic and give you ideas you just
can't get when the fatigue poisons are building up in your
It may seem hard to find the time at first, but a little
relaxation can make you a better mom or dad.
So you really have no choice.
Your kids deserve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter produces videos for people with
Asperger Syndrome and similar special needs. You can find more
articles on his website at: www.coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By
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