The time for spring cleaning is finally here, and while you’re spending time de-cluttering and clearing away the cobwebs in your house, you may find that it’s time to give your life a little spring cleaning, too.
With all the pressures of work, a home, and a special needs child, you might feel that your life has become more of a jumble of responsibilities and tasks than anything else. You’re bogged down, stressed-out, and overworked, but with a few simple tweaks you can improve and reenergize your life and get it back on track. All you have to do is follow these seven easy steps:
Step One: Make Yourself A Priority
Taking care of all the facets of your child’s daily living — medical, personal, and everything in between — means that your own life is on the back burner more often than not, but all that is about to change. It’s essential that you add yourself into the mix.
This may be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do because you feel like your child should be the priority. But you have to do it, not for yourself, but for your child. Look at this as an “investment” in your child’s future. Putting time toward your well-being now will pay big dividends as your child gets older.
You need to take care of yourself, both emotionally and physically. That means trying to get at least six hours of sleep a night, eating properly and getting some exercise in. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
Step Two: Manage Your Health
You don’t have to join an expensive diet plan or pay for a gym membership. In fact, all you need is a pair of sneakers, the Internet, or a library card.
There is plenty of free information on healthy eating on the Internet. Exercise DVDs are great to use at home and may be available at no cost by borrowing them from your local public library. Dancing at home to your favorite music can give you a great workout, while working off stress at the same time. The point is to just get moving.
If that’s too much strain, consider taking up walking. A walk to the park, around the neighborhood or even a few floors of a shopping mall is just fine. A 30-minute walk, three times a week, is not only excellent for your heart; regular fresh air and exercise also benefits your mental health and the Spring is a great time to begin your exercise program. It’s also a great way to clear your mind and put things in perspective. Maybe even consider bringing along a buddy for some extra motivation and accountability.
Step Three: Schedule Some “Me” Time
This is different than stepping out of the room to take a quick shower or those 10 minutes you use to read before bed. “Me” time is set-aside specifically for you and it’s something you can look forward to all week long.
Ask someone you trust to look after your child so you can have a few hours to yourself. Whether you use your well-deserved break to meet with friends or simply spend some time alone is completely up to you. The important part is that you can relax.
Personal time doesn’t just have to be reserved for when you’re out of your house. You can also take a mini “escape” break at home. Put it down on your calendar just like your child’s therapist or medical appointment, because it’s just as important. It can be as little as 30 minutes; just make sure everyone in your home knows it’s there and you aren’t to be disturbed.
Let your spouse or possibly an older sibling watch your special needs child. Go to your bedroom or another room and simply close the door and tune everyone out for a while. Read a favorite magazine, watch TV or speak with a good friend. Having an engaging conversation is one of the easiest ways to unwind – whether you’re venting, laughing, or just catching up.
Step Four: Acknowledge Your Feelings
It’s not easy raising a special needs child. There may be times when you feel sad, depressed or even resentful or jealous of others. The first thing to remember is that these feelings are perfectly normal. You didn’t plan on having a child with special needs. Nobody does. So, it’s okay to have these thoughts and feelings on occasion. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent – it just means you’re human.
Writing down your thoughts in a journal or notebook is also a good way to take away your stress. Keeping track of your feelings can help relieve some of the pressure.
Step Five: Take A Time-out
We all have bad days, and whether it involved work, parenting, or the everyday pressures of life, the world can become an overwhelming place at the drop of a hat.
In times like these, it’s okay to step back and take a moment. A nice, hot bath or shower with your favorite soap can do wonders. Or, if you’d rather, pour a cold beer and sit back for the big game. Sleep late on a weekend and don’t set your alarm clock.
These little changes in your everyday life can, over time, make an incredible difference both in your overall mood and your sense of well-being.
Step Six: Get Out and Have Fun
Spring is a perfect time to go outside after being stuck indoors for the winter. Go to the park or a baseball game. Have a picnic. Start a new hobby. Plant a garden and watch the flowers bloom. Just enjoy nature.
Whatever you do, make sure that you’re not doing it all by yourself. Get together with friends and family. Spending time with those you love is good for any person, and not only will it help you to relieve stress, it will also help the bonds with family and friends grow stronger, deeper, and longer.
Step Seven: Reward Yourself
Recognize and reward yourself for being the great parent that you are. Day in and day out, you’re taking care of your special needs child. Thanks to you, they are healthy and properly educated. Because of you, your child’s needs are being met with consideration and love.
Because of all you do, make sure to do something nice for yourself each week, no matter how small. Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. Take yourself out to eat.
Whatever you do, it comes down to having a healthy respect for yourself and the circumstances you are handling. Give yourself the credit, and the reward that you deserve.
Now you have the broom at hand, but the only one who can clean the cobwebs in your life is you. Begin small, one step at a time. Before long, you won’t know why you didn’t change your habits sooner.
And not only will you be on the road to living your best life possible, but your child will be too. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to start sweeping!
Deanna Picon is founder of Your Autism Coach, LLC, which provides personalized guidance, support and seminars for parents of special needs children. She is a parent of a non-verbal, young man with autism. Deanna is the author of “The Autism Parents’ Guide to Reclaiming Your Life,” which is available at www.amazon.com. She can be reached through her website at www.yourautismcoach.com.
This article was featured in Issue 34 – Autism Sleep, Bedtime and Hygiene Routines