REDUCING SPECIAL NEEDS
By Dan Coulter
A lot of parents who have kids with special needs get a free helping of
stress every day. With extra nuts -- and sprinkles.
If this is you, how do you start an anti-stress diet? Start small. Take a
Oh yeah, right. When are you going to find the time?
Most of us have heard we'd be more efficient if we'd take a break once in a
while. But it's hard to convince your brain that taking some time to ease
your stress will really help you get more done. Mr. Brain often stubbornly
sees things in the short term. If you've got 1000 orders to process and it
takes about a minute to process an order, taking a five-minute break every
hour means you process fewer orders in an eight hour day and fall farther
I read a study a while back that showed when data-processing workers got a
five-minute break every hour, they had less stress and got more work done in
an eight-hour day. The benefits of the break more than made up for the time
away from the computer.
Here's the really interesting part of the story: in spite of the findings,
the company associated with the study did NOT start giving their data
processing workers five-minute breaks each hour. Huh? The bosses couldn't
bring themselves to do it. In spite of the evidence, it just seemed
Maybe your brain is working from the same perspective, with a side of guilt
thrown in. Have you ever kept at a task way past the point of diminishing
returns because you were working on behalf of your family and it seemed like
you'd be short-changing them to take even a few minutes for yourself?
Part of the problem is that when you're overloaded and stress is building,
that stress can affect your judgment. Stress can put you in a hole and make
it hard to see a way to climb out. So you work and work and get more tired
and frustrated and make mistakes - and sometimes get sick.
As I write this, I'm looking at a National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH) study (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/stresswk.html)
that says health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who
report high levels of stress.
So there's a reason to relax you can relate to! You can't do as good a job
taking care of your kids if you're sick - so consider being your own doctor
and ordering yourself to relax a bit.
By the way, here are a few of the conditions that the NIOSH study says
contribute to stress: "heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work
hours conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility,
too many "hats to wear" lack of support or help. rapid changes for which
workers are unprepared."
Doesn't that sort of sound like a job description for a parent of a special
If you're feeling stretched too thin, here are some suggestions to improve
your life and get more done by taking some time for yourself: (NOTE: If you
feel like you can't manage your stress by yourself, I'd suggest you seek
professional help. Try these recommendations if you're confident you can
take some positive steps on your own.)
When you're starting a task, set an alarm or kitchen timer to go off in an
hour. When it goes off, take a five-minute break. Stand up, stretch, walk
outside. Do something that gets your mind off the task for a few minutes.
Each time you start to work again, reset that timer so you get a few minutes
every hour to recharge your batteries. (My wife gave me a desk clock that
chimes on the hour to remind me to take breaks.)
If you're working long days, it's also good to take a 15 minute break every
Don't neglect lunch. Taking a half-hour or an hour off for lunch can be a
real energizer in the middle of a busy day. If possible, do some
socializing during lunch, either in person or on the phone.
Find some favorite songs and listen to them during your breaks. A song you
like can really help get your mind off work for a few minutes. Another
option is to stand up and stretch, then sit in your chair, close your eyes
and take five slow, deep breaths.
If at all possible, take a daily walk. A 20 to 30 minute daily walk can
help reduce your stress and help you get or stay fit. I'm a lot calmer
since I started walking. Ask my wife. I look forward to it so much that I
make it a priority and find ways to work it into a busy day.
When you feel yourself getting stressed to the point where you keep spinning
your wheels, try shifting your brain into neutral for a while. Let things
wash over you. Some decisions won't wait, but if you're upset and you can
postpone a decision, it's usually a good idea to calm down first. This may
save you from saying something you regret or doing something you wish you
could undo. When you're spinning your wheels in frustration, a little
neutral time can help you find a way to get traction that you hadn't noticed
because your stress gave you a blind spot.
Get out a calendar and plan some time for yourself. Going out one night a
week for a few hours can help put some balance and perspective into your
life. Don't you feel and work better when you have something to look
forward to? If you and your spouse can do it together, great. If not, take
turns. If you're a single parent, maybe you can trade off with another
Go out with friends or see a movie by yourself - whatever you enjoy. If you
can't make it every week, make it every other week. One thing is sure: you
have to take the initiative and give yourself permission. Don't be
apologetic. You're not goofing off. You're making an investment in a
person who is crucial to your family: you.
In my experience, these pauses for relaxation can help make you more
efficient, more optimistic and give you ideas you just can't get when the
fatigue poisons are building up in your brain.
It may seem hard to find the time at first, but a little relaxation can make
you a better mom or dad.
So you really have no choice.
Your kids deserve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter produces videos for people with Asperger
Syndrome and similar special needs. You can find more articles on his
website at: www.coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By Permission