Recharging Your Self-Care Battery: Support for Caregivers

The school year is a challenging time for caregivers. Perhaps you are hoping to get a break for the summer, and optimistic that your child’s mental health will improve naturally now that school is over. While that is ideal, it is typically not the case. Symptoms in remission that are not treated will still be present and reappear or may worsen if not addressed.

Each person has their limits as a caregiver. The work can be emotionally and physically exhausting, especially as you expend energy. If you do not have opportunities to “recharge”, you will become depleted.

After spending the year caring for others, now is the time to pause for a wellness check.

Think about a battery. When there is no longer a charge, batteries do not make the impact they were designed for. Being fully charged makes a significant difference and ensures that things run much more smoothly. Keep in mind that some things require multiple batteries working together. Parenting is a lot of work. Many individuals in caregiver roles, will be involved at some time in your child’s life. The quality of their “charge” makes a big difference too.

Let’s look at examples of factors that deplete caregivers. Then we will balance this with factors that recharge.

Factors that Deplete:

  • Caring for children with disabilities and mental health challenges
  • Experiencing own disabilities and mental health challenges
  • Being a caretaker for someone who requires constant supervision
  • Having inadequate access to resources and support (e.g., financial, emotional)
  • Taking on dual roles as a caretaker such as caring for a child and a partner or adult parent
  • Feeling alone in your role and being impacted by multiple stressors

Caregivers will experience different challenges at various ages and stages of their child’s development. When there is “too much too soon”, caregivers are at risk of their batteries quickly depleting with little notice. There are so many variable factors as a parent, and it is nearly impossible to predict everything you and your child will encounter throughout their lifespan.

Physical exhaustion is common for new parents who lack sleep and struggle with a high-need baby who is difficult to soothe. You may find yourself struggling with postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, and irritability within relationships.

Frustrations may be high for the school-aged child who is struggling with learning, focus, and following rules at home and school. You may experience anger and struggle with finding effective parenting strategies.

Anxiety is high when children and teens are exposed to unsafe situations within their environments. You may feel helpless and fearful for your child, especially when aware of traumatic experiences and want to protect your child from harm.

When already stressed and depressed, you may find yourself checked out and not as physically and emotionally present for your child. Your child may respond by emotionally withdrawing and internalizing behaviors or acting out. You may turn to unhelpful ways to cope as you are trying to manage the best you can.

Finally, transitions are hard especially when there is inadequate support to navigate the next steps.

Factors that Recharge:

  • Accept help for supporting children with disabilities and mental health challenges.
    • You do not need to go through things alone. There are resources available, including but not limited to therapeutic support. You or your child’s therapist can assist with providing information for additional support such as podcasts, books, websites, support groups, county resources, and community resources.
  • Address your mental health.
    • Parents and caregivers, this is an important foundational step. If you are not taking care of yourself, then you are not going to be physically or emotionally available to fully take care of others.
  • Seek respite support.
    • For those who never get a break, it is important to have moments of respite. You may need to get creative, but respite is an option.
  • Focus on meeting basic needs.
    • It is difficult to focus when basic needs are not met. Focus on physical and emotional safety and stability as priorities, as well as basic needs of food, water, clothing, and shelter. In therapy, basic mental health needs may focus on routine with eating, sleep, and physical activity.
  • Connect with positive role models.
    • Your parent or caregiver served as your first role model. If you did not have a positive parental influence in your early upbringing, connecting to a positive role model in adulthood can help model skills. Having positive role models is a powerful influence as you provide the example you want your child(ren) to follow.
  • Build Community
    • There is beauty in the community coming together to help support and lift one another. It takes courage to reach out to new groups, but the rewards are worthwhile. Being connected to the community helps reduce the impact of stressors and helps reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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