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Managing Your Stress, Part One: Crisis vs. New Normal

This post is part of a three day series about how to handle stress when you’re bouncing back and forth between crisis and calm. I hope you find it helpful. I would love to hear about things YOU are doing to manage your stress.

There are two situations mothers of special needs children find themselves in more often than we would like to admit. The first is crisis situations. Many, although not all, of these land us in the hospital with our already struggling child. Once there, we fight fiercely to protect them from catching something even worse than what brought them in in the first place and engage in a constant power struggle with the hospital staff to let our children sleep. The second is what I call the, “new normal.” This frequently, though not always, comes after a crisis. Something has changed in our child’s condition and it’s changed the way that they and we have to live our lives. Identifying which of these two situations you’re in is key to properly handling your stress level.

When you’re in crisis everything becomes about your child. Rightfully so, because your child can’t advocate for themselves. They can’t get themselves to the hospital or get their pediatrician on the phone to call ahead to the emergency room. Your needs take a back seat so quickly that sometimes you don’t even notice. Things that are normally so easy to remember like eating, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom, are suddenly difficult to schedule into your life.

You need a support person at this stage. Managing your own stress level is so far away from your mind that the concept doesn’t even exist to you, but as you skip food, sleep, and sometimes even hold your bathroom breaks for hours at a time, your stress level builds. Slowly but surely the issue compounds until it’s overwhelming and you find you can’t function any longer. The role of the support person is to remind you to do the things that you need to do to keep yourself going and support your child. The ideal situation is for the person to come and take over so you can have a break. That’s not an option for everyone. Even a friend that calls once a day and reminds you to eat can be a huge help.

The crisis is difficult, but in my experience getting established into a new normal is much harder. Taking it day by day, you learn to live with whatever the new circumstances have to be. Your needs have to be re-aligned and prioritized alongside the needs of your child. Medicines may need to be adjusted, added, or given at a different time. Maybe there’s an extra therapy you need to do that takes an hour, and that hour was previously used for something else that was also medically necessary. The long term nature of the situation requires more than just food and sleep. Human beings need breaks, at absolute minimum 30 minutes a week, with at least 30 minutes once a day being ideal. What you do depends upon what works best for you, and I’ll give some suggestions in the future parts of this series.

Whichever situation you’re in, it’s important to take care of yourself the best you can. Remember, you need to be healthy to keep your child healthy.

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