Updated: Nov 9
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While any parent can experience burnout, the risk is greater for those with little ones with special needs. Recognizing the signs of fatigue—a precursor to burnout—and implementing a self-care treatment plan can help you stay well. To help, Blue Minds invites you to check out this article that explains how parents of special needs children can recognize early signs of fatigue and develop their own treatment plan to address it.
Learn how to recognize signs of fatigue
Signs of fatigue can manifest physically and mentally. Consider your physical habits, such as how much exercise you're getting and whether you're eating well. Sleep quality is another indicator. Signs of poor sleep quality include needing more than 30 minutes to fall asleep after getting in bed, waking up more than once per night, and feeling tired during the day.
Also, keep an eye out for mental health issues.Symptoms of anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. Anxiety can cause racing thoughts, increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, and shakiness. Conversely, depression can cause feelings of tiredness, irritability, and excessive worrying.
Medications can help, but they’re not the only choice
When people struggle with depression or anxiety, they often turn to antidepressant medications as a way to cope. These medications can be helpful in some cases, but they also come with a risk of side effects. Additionally, antidepressants don't always address the underlying causes of mental health issues, particularly if your symptoms are a result of caregiver fatigue. Your best bet is to work with your doctor to discuss your options, and to determine if medication would be beneficial.
If you’re having trouble coping and unable to get an appointment with your personal doctor, telehealth platforms are a great option. Virtual appointments allow you to connect with a physician who can assess your situation and decide on a course of action with depression meds. Plus, most telehealth platforms take popular insurance providers, though out-of-pocket costs are usually manageable if they don’t take your insurance.
Develop your personalized fatigue treatment plan
Again, medication isn’t necessarily the answer. If you think you're suffering from fatigue, it's time to take action. Call on your caregiver support network of family and friends to see if they can lend an extra hand. It's time to take a break and focus on yourself. You can also use professional respite care services if needed. This gives you a chance to step back and take a breather, so you can come back refreshed.
While it's important to take a break, it's also essential to implement changes to minimize the risk of fatigue going forward. Make a plan for how you will improve your self-care, such as eating more healthy and exercising regularly. For example, if you don't have time to go to a gym, look for easy home workouts you can do instead.
Be prepared to deal with the potential fallout from your treatment plan
As you implement your treatment plan, be prepared for some ups and downs. Changing your habits is a process that takes time and won't happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and don't get frustrated if things don't go as planned. Joining a support group for parents of special needs kids can help you through this transition. Bayada offers a list of options.
Also, be prepared to proactively address some of the fallout that may come with your treatment plan. For example, if you decide to seek mental health treatment for depression and anxiety, it's important to commit to the full process. Only partially addressing these issues can do more harm than good.
Make time for yourself in the big picture
In order to prevent future fatigue, it's important to make more time for yourself. As the parent of a special needs child, it's easy to forget or dismiss your own dreams. Come back to them. What do you want to do in your life—separate from your child? For example, maybe you've always dreamed of going back to school or becoming a business owner. Make the time for it!
Being the parent of a special needs child can be extremely rewarding. However, it can also be challenging. Use the guide above to identify and address signs of fatigue early on. Don't try to go it alone. There are resources and people available to help.
Blue Minds provides ABA therapy services to help children with autism develop the skills necessary for an independent and rewarding life. Reach out today for a consultation.