Many caregivers live with chronic stress—the kind that gnaws at mental and physical health. It can lead to burnout, fatigue and strained relationships. Parenting a child with special needs can be all-consuming, but caregivers who practice effective stress-management can improve the whole family’s wellness. “I’ve worked in a hospital environment for 30 years,” says Lisa Thompson, RN. “It’s very clear that when a parent is agitated, the child is affected. When the parent is able to do self-care, this reflects to the child.”

Those who haven’t practiced self-care in a while (or ever) may not know how to begin a new routine. It’ll look different than it did before kids. There could be feelings of worry or guilt to acknowledge, address and ultimately set aside. Remember: self-care is vital for caregivers and their children. Here are ideas to get started:

Mindfulness
Awareness is an excellent place to start. When we practice mindfulness, we notice our thoughts, and examine the feelings we have in response to those thoughts. “You can become aware of the positive and negative responses you have to certain thoughts and experiences,” says Erica Rood of Inspire Balance Life Coaching. “Mindfulness also supports you in being grounded in the present moment, rather than spiraling into thoughts about the future or past, which tend to trigger unhelpful and unnecessary worry, fear or anxiety.” 

Meditation
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Even a short session can help reset your mind, body and perspective. Rood recommends the Calm app, or guided meditations on YouTube.

Exercise
Try to be active for 30 minutes every day and reduce daily sedentary time. Take a relaxing walk near your home or try a brief yoga workout. YouTube has floor and chair exercise routines for newbies. Find something enjoyable and commit to a daily practice, even if you can only spare five minutes at a time.

Ask for Support
Caregivers need occasional alone time. Maybe your babysitter said she couldn’t come back. Maybe your child’s grandparent declined to help. Put those painful experiences behind you. There is someone who can care for your child while you slip away. Ask fellow parents and your child’s care providers to help search for respite care that meets your child’s specific needs.

Treat Yourself
Once you find a reliable caregiver, don’t hesitate to slip away for a massage or pedicure. Go to happy hour. Walk through an art gallery. If it makes you feel centered and relaxed, it’s worth the effort!

4 Easy Self-Care Steps to Take Right Now
1. Express Gratitude: Write down what you’re grateful for or say it out loud. Anxiety often melts away when you’re genuinely feeling thankful.

2. Breathe: Thompson says to begin simple breath work by asking, “Do I hold my breath? Is there tension in the chest and abdomen?” Gently breathe into those tight or stuck areas and release by exhaling.

3. Rest: Step away for a quick break when you feel overwhelmed.

4. Motivate: Post an inspirational quote where you’ll see it often.

Anne Malinoski is an award-winning contributing writer and mother of two boys. Her older brother has special needs.