How to Manage Parental Fatigue With a Special Needs Child

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Fatigue is a major issue for parents of special needs children. While incredibly rewarding, caring for a child with special needs can be a stressful, emotional, and mentally draining experience. If you’re feeling burnt out, you’re not alone. Many parents of special needs children experience a sense of exhaustion that cannot be relieved through rest or sleep.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to treat the core causes of your fatigue without overburdening your support networks or compromising the level of care you provide to your child. In this article, Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting offers tips to help you assess your fatigue levels and create a self-care treatment plan to regain your energy and build resilience.

Assess Your Current Fatigue Levels

First, it’s important to understand your current fatigue levels so you can come up with an adequate treatment plan. When assessing your fatigue levels, ask yourself a few questions about your mental health and parenting effectiveness:

  • How would you rate your level of parenting satisfaction?
  • How much of your day involves self-care or personal activities?
  • Can you find time for healthy activities like exercise?
  • Do you experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression?

You can also use the Fatigue Assessment Scale (FAS) to measure your level of fatigue more reliably. The FAS is often used in research to evaluate self-reported symptoms of chronic fatigue. The scale involves statements like I am bothered by fatigue and I have problems thinking clearly, and rating these statements based on how often you feel this way. Once you have a better understanding of your personal fatigue levels, you can start looking for ways to treat yourself.

Pursue Your Personal Goals

Parents of special needs children can struggle to find time to pursue their personal goals. When your life revolves around your kids, it’s easy to lose your sense of identity. Perhaps you’ve let go of many habits, activities, and things you used to enjoy before you had children. Or maybe you’ve stopped caring about things—other than your children—that used to bring fulfillment and meaning to your life.

Living like this for a long time almost always leads to burnout. At some point, you’ll feel like you have nothing else to give. Try to make time for your personal passions before you reach this point! Pursue a hobby you enjoy, take some online courses, or get a remote job. Down the road, you may even decide to explore starting your own business.

Get Help with Sleep Challenges

Sleeplessness is common among special needs parents. Because children with special needs often experience sleep challenges, parents can have a hard time getting the full night’s rest they need. While improving your sleep quality may not completely resolve chronic fatigue for parents of special needs children, it is sure to help.

Consider working with a sleep consultant who has experience working with special needs families, like the Special Needs Sleep Coaches at Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting. One of our team members will work with you to create an individualized sleep plan to help your whole family get a better night’s rest. As a result, you’ll be able to recapture your energy and finally have time to work through other challenges creating fatigue in your day-to-day life

Improve Your Stress Resilience

Prolonged stress is a common cause of parental fatigue. When you’re stressed, your body is operating in a heightened state. Your heart pumps faster, your muscles tighten, your breathing quickens, your blood pressure rises, and your senses sharpen. All of these physical changes are meant to prepare us to fight or flee from a threat, and experiencing this over the long term can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Stress-related fatigue often manifests as headaches, moodiness, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and lack of motivation.

Work to build your resilience to stress so you can cope with stress more effectively and keep yourself calm in the face of life challenges. Try to be flexible and adaptable, accepting change and challenge as a normal part of life. Try to look at stressful situations as challenges rather than insurmountable problems. Spend your time and energy on situations that you have control over instead of putting all your efforts into worrying about uncontrollable circumstances or events.

Take Steps to Free Up Your Mental Bandwidth

As a busy parent with a special needs child, your mental bandwidth is likely always maxed out. Every day, you have to make countless decisions, face ongoing concerns, navigate new challenges, and think your way through problems. All of these mentally-demanding tasks can leave you feeling mentally and physically drained.

Make use of tools and resources to free up some of your mental power! Sticking to a regular routine is a great way to reduce the number of small decisions you need to make every day. You can also leverage automation technology and mobile apps to declutter your brain and achieve greater control over your life. For example, Zapier suggests using their software to automatically let your coworkers know that you’re on family duty and might not be able to respond to messages right away.

Be Prepared to Face Challenges

As you pursue your new self-care plan, be prepared to face a few new challenges. For example, spending more time focusing on yourself might mean your partner has to overcompensate in terms of childcare, which can put a strain on your relationship. The last thing you want to do is overburden the people who support you.

Another potential outcome to avoid is passing off serious depression or anxiety as a simple side effect of your stressful lifestyle. While practicing self-care and focusing on your own needs can help relieve some mental health challenges, it’s always a good idea to talk to a mental health professional if you’re dealing with unmanageable emotions. A therapist can help you learn techniques to better manage stress, regulate your emotions, choose healthy coping mechanisms, and empower you to make the best choices for your child.

Parental fatigue is all too common, especially among those who care for special needs children. If you’re not careful, chronic fatigue can quickly lead to burnout. Before fatigue overcomes your life—and even if you feel that it already has—start taking self-care steps to refocus on your personal needs and pursue goals that give you a greater sense of purpose. Keeping your cup full will only make you a better parent!

Your special needs family deserves a good night’s sleep. If you’re frequently facing sleepless nights and stress-filled days, contact the Special Needs Sleep Coaches at Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting to learn how you can help your child sleep better.