As a parent carer, and in light of the coronavirus, like you, I’m facing an unprecedented amount of time caring for my daughter (and her siblings), with no respite, clubs, carers or school in sight….
Words like overwhelm, exhausted, scared, relentless, hard, impossible, daunting and many more are crossing our lips – and understandably so.
We’re genuinely worried about our often medically vulnerable children too.
We wouldn’t enter the Summer Holidays without a robust plan of support. It’s great for our children – introducing variety and fun, and valuable respite for us.
And yet here we are. Facing weeks if not months of solo caring in many cases. Some of us may have support for shopping and supplies. While others may not. Some of us may be key workers and carers. Some of our children will really struggle with the break in routine. And some of our children will be overwhelmed. While others will be blissfully unaware, as long as their immediate needs are met. Some of our children may continue at school, although it won’t be the school they’re used to. Many of our children will miss their friends. Some of our children will act up. We worry how we’ll cope if we or our children get ill. We feel like a house of cards, that could come tumbling down. And some of our children (especially adult children) may find themselves in isolation in their care homes, with us unable to visit. Everyone is touched by the changes.
Never has the responsibility for us as parent carers to ‘keep our sh*t together’ been more essential.
And never has the need to prioritise our own Mental Health been greater.
Anxiety weakens our immune system. Fact.
Anxiety is debilitating. And we can’t afford to be debilitated.
And so we must step up. We will ‘own it’. We will be accountable for our own mental health, because the alternative is not palatable. Let’s do it together.
To get us started, I’m sharing my 4 point plan that is keeping me (mostly ;-)) on track.
4 Point Plan to Boosting our Mental Health
One – Decide how you want to feel
This is our personal life equivalent of having a business goal. Something to aim for. Something to keep you on track and accountable.
If what you’re doing doesn’t actively support your goal, then stop it!
If your goal is to remain calm, but you find yourself scrolling social media and getting upset – then simply stop! Impose a limit to the time you spend on social media – have a day off!
To be happy and calm for my children
If I catch myself doing anything that sabotages my ability to be in this state, I stop. I look at what I’m doing. Does it have a purpose? Can it be done a different way? Does it need to be done at all? If I’m getting grumpy, perhaps my own ‘needs’ bucket needs topping up. (see below) In which case, acknowledge what I need and diarise it (the sooner the better!).
Two – Decide how you want your children to feel
These are strange times for our children. Those with additional needs and those without.
I want my children to have fun and make memories during this time
Depending on your child’s disability, they will have varying levels of need to understand what is happening and why. My daughter is blissfully unaware, but her siblings need the right amount of information to support them to accept the changes, be responsible and make the best of things.
What needs to be in place for you to support your child? There will be practical things like visual time-tables, and sensory programmes. But there will also be emotional supports needed too. Don’t be afraid to relax your normal rules or ‘standards’! I for one am certainly allowing a bit more FIFA and a few more Pyjama days!
Emotionally, your child will feed off of you though. So, putting our own oxygen masks on first has never been more important!
I said that I want my children to have fun and make memories. This means they’re not worrying. My mental state is critical here and there are some great activities you can do with your children to support them and yourself to create a positive reality.
- Journaling – if appropriate for your child, they can write a diary of how they’re feeling, and what they’re doing – or they could draw pictures. For my daughter, I’m taking lots of photos of the activities we do. It will give her something to share with her key worker when she does finally return to school. And she absolutely loves looking at pictures of herself!
- Positivity journaling – again, if your child is able, then a positivity or gratitude journal is a wonderful way to find the gold – even on the toughest of days. Do this before bed, and it will set your unconscious mind up to process all of the great bits in your day. It will support you to see even more of the great stuff the following day. Simply write 3 things you were grateful for during the day (or as much as you like!). This can be as simple as bullet points or elaborate with beautiful artwork, if that makes you feel good. Say what you’ve written out loud, to really embed those positive messages in your brain.
- Create and nurture something together. What does your child love to do? Can you throw yourself into their world and work with them on something important to them? It could be a World record line up of cars! Or perhaps like us, you finally have the time to nurture a vegetable garden together. Creating something positive together will add a powerful and positive anchor for you all at this time.
Three – Ditch those negative words
The language we use, feeds our unconscious mind. If we’re constantly using negative language to describe our situation, then that is what our unconscious mind believes! We literally are creating our own negative beliefs. And what is more, our unconscious mind will seek further evidence to support our beliefs. In short – you will get more of it!
The good news is that if we can create a negative belief state, then we already have the skills to create a positive belief state!
If we can and do feed our mind with negative words, then we CAN and WILL now feed our mind with positive words! we can slowly but steadily support a shift in a belief state. This is amazing, right?
I recently did a FB Live in our private carers group on this. I promised I would write this blog, spout all the negative words one last time here, and then I was going to lock them in a chest and bury them in the garden!
If I catch myself using one of the following (or similar) words, then I’ll congratulate myself for noticing and then throw it in the negative word amnesty with the others!
My negative words amnesty includes (but is not limited to….):
overwhelmed, exhausted, abyss, terrified, relentless, scared, hard, impossible, daunting…..
Every time I catch myself about to say one of these words, I will chose to reframe my language. Instead of saying “I’m exhausted”, I’ll say I need a rest and I’ll ask for help. If I start feeling “overwhelmed” at the days stretching before me, I’ll focus on some mindful breathing and bring myself back to the present moment. The ‘present’ afterall, is a gift!
Four – Top up your own ‘Needs’ bucket
Oh my goodness – this is the key to your survival. Don’t be a victim or a martyr here. Just make sure you get your own needs met. Granted this may require some creativity here, especially if you’re solo parenting/caring through this.
My non-negotiables are
- My morning run or dog walk (this totally sets me up for the day. My positive energy literally pulsates for a good few hours afterwards!). And yes, I’ll run in the rain!
- My Gratitude Journal (see above!)
- Being accountable in my Facebook Parent Carer Community. While I’m driven to share what I know and support other carers, the very act of sharing this information boosts my own mental health. Being accountable is great for me!
As my husband is working from home right now, I accept that I can find some time to do these things.
If you’re solo caring you will need to get creative, but you must absolutely do this.
If your child is able to self entertain, perhaps on the computer, then ditch any associated ‘screen time guilt’ – it doesn’t serve you. Instead use that time to meditate, pop in the garden (or open a window) and take some mindful breaths with the sun on your eyes and the breeze on your face, paint a picture, write a story, start your gratitude journal. If your child can’t self entertain, download a meditation app to listen to, when they’re (finally) tucked up at night, and remember your gratitude journal.
You can do this.
And in those moments of doubt, I return to this thought: What’s the alternative? I have nothing to prove by telling everyone how hard things are. If I need help, I will ask. In the meantime, I will use the above guide to support me to the best of my ability.
I will pace myself. I will be kind to myself. You will be kind to yourself. We will be kind to ourselves and each other.
Follow our Community of Positivity for Family Carers on Facebook and Instagram, and if you’re a family carer yourself, please join our growing, supportive, positive friendly community.
.Want help embedding these habits (and more)? Please JOIN my free Positivity challenge, starting 13th April. I’ll talk you through all of this and more, with interactive activities, video training and FB Lives. All run through a private, supportive FB group. Book your place now.