Being on alert is exhausting – people who care for others know this to be true. I used to think I was quite calm and didn’t get too stressed with the antics of Pigeon and Parrot. That is, until I had to visit the physio to sort out back and neck pain. I knew that this was partly due to an injury that I had sustained at work supporting a student with violent behaviours, and also due to lifting Parrot and his wheelchairs in and out of the car after the injury.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that I couldn’t relax my muscles when the physio told me to. What I thought of as calm, was actually me tensed up, on alert. On alert: watchful and ready for the next screaming meltdown in public; the next ‘run across the road in front of a car’ act because one of them saw a dog approaching us; or dodging the objects that Parrot likes to throw at me down the stairs when I don’t do as he demands.
Being on alert is a way of life for many people, particularly families where there are additional needs. What is interesting is that much of the population are joining us in this as the pandemic shows no signs of going away any time soon. When I sent a message asking a friend how she was, I got a reply to say that she feels on alert; she can’t relax and is having trouble with sleep. I was tempted to message back, “Welcome to my world!” Although I think our friendship would survive this cheeky comment, I resisted writing it. It got me thinking though…that perhaps some people are having to learn how we special needs parents and others with conditions like PTSD, can get through each day.
Tips for surviving being on alert
- The first one I like to tell parents that I support through my paid work, is never mind taking one day at a time; focus on an hour or a minute at a time, or if things are really bad just get through the next ten seconds. Then repeat.
- Do something for yourself every day in whatever time is available to you. On a crazy day, it could be just having a shower and washing your hair; on a day with more time, do something that you love, which for me is reading or going for a run. One of my colleagues likes to have a hot bubble bath.
- Exercise every day, even if it is just going up and down the stairs multiple times or a walk to the end of the road and back. Exercise helps with the sleeping problems.
- Eat properly. Sugary and overly fatty foods might feel good at the time but they don’t help with sleep or general health. That doesn’t mean the occasional treat is bad though.
- Talk to someone who actually listens to you. If you don’t have someone like that, do your best to find one.
- Put phrases, verses, poems etc that help you in a little bolt-hole somewhere. For example, the back of our toilet door has a poster with a quote on it from the bible about persevering. When things are too much, I ‘hide’ in there for a few minutes and read the quote over and over until I can face the chaos outside the door again.
- If you find praying helpful, pray. The best prayer I know in difficult times is “HELP!”
- Try to make routines and stick to them wherever possible. This frees up brain power, useful when you are tired and trying to think clearly is challenging. Regular sleep/wake up times also help you to sleep better.
There are many more and we are all different, these are just suggestions that have helped me. What positive coping strategies have you got?