Struggling to hang on? Parents share tips for coping with anxiety

Struggling to hang on? Parents share tips for coping with anxiety

By Louise Kinross

Parents of children with disabilities have higher rates of anxiety than those without. “Dealing with anxiety” was a topic parents who attend Holland Bloorview’s family workshops and parent support networks identified as one they want more information on. So we went to the experts and here are your suggestions. Many of these answers came from parents on the PAL Parent Advocacy Link, which is a Facebook group where you can find excellent practical information and emotional support:

*Jigsaw puzzles. It doesn’t reduce anxiety it just gives me a mental break in a way that watching TV or going for a walk doesn’t. 1,000-piece puzzles and not super hard. Need to feel like I’m making progress and not struggling for too long.

*Love going for a drive all by myself and blasting the music! Naps are good!

*Solo drives feel like a bit of an escape.

*My coping mechanism is running. Even if it’s just a quick three-miler, I feel better afterwards.

*Skiing. Lots of skiing. Downhill feels like flying and X-country is a fabulous workout. The cold air clears my head.

*Boxing and yoga. When I really sweat it helps to release anxiety.

*I’m a crafter. Crochet was a big one and now quilting. I’ve done stain glass, rug hooking, painting, sculpting.  Being creative is calming to my mind and it usually requires my full attention or I can zone out. I also took up horseback riding during COVID. It was something I always wanted to learn and was open almost the entire lockdown. It is also a head clearer since you have to be fully present with the horse. For sudden anxiety and panic I use mindful breathing, counting out loud and singing. I think I forget to breathe at times.

*Helping other people. I think helping people helps me because I put in an effort and generally get satisfaction feedback right away.

*Find a group of people to support you.

*Wine. No seriously, wine.

*I think exercise is helpful. I started jogging on a treadmill. A good support network of moms has helped. But I think anxiety meds might be in order too, for me, at some point.

*Podcasts! Some geared towards being a special-needs mom, some about mindfulness and some about true crime. Walking in the woods with my dogs. Nature and movement have been my most successful antidepressant thus far!

*Nature, walking and swimming all calm my mind. Solo car drive dance parties help me perk back up when I’m running on little, or no, sleep. Colouring and terrible reality shows are my go-to during hospital stays or when things are especially rough.

*Knowing that it is okay to go to the doctor and ask for medication to ‘get over the hump.’ Sometimes it is too hard to even try mindfulness activities as the brain and heart are moving too fast and have us in fight/flight mode the entire time. My anxiety was so chronic I wasn’t sleeping and I was crying all the time. No matter what exterior things I did, I really needed help to ‘get over the hump.’ It’s hard admitting that medication may be needed. However, I have never been happier. I feel like I love me more, I’m a better mom, and my overall quality of life has improved with medication..

*I take an antidepressant.

*Playing calming or nature music. Having relationships with parents of children with the same/similar diagnosis and ability. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Walks. Working out. Long drives. Deep breathing like Take 5 breathing or Lazy 8 breathing. Guided meditation. Medication. Stop consuming caffeinated drinks or foods. Supplements like vitamin B, magnesium bisglycinate, vitamin D, and omega 3. Alone time, if possible, to debrief for a bit. Good night’s sleep. Don’t go to bed too late (often not possible with our kids). Let the small things go. I used to want my house perfect. Now I have learned to let things go and it’s more important to do something for me when I have a moment, not just to clean and do chores. My house is never perfect anymore and that’s okay.

*Exercise and nutritional support and good sleep, including a nap everyday 1-2 p.m.

*Being mindful of who I surround myself with. Meeting good friends and my family for a walk outside and a cup of coffee works for me.

*My greatest advice is eating clean. It affects your mind, body and soul. I also take one day at a time and try not to focus on things that are completely out of my control. This is how I’ve coped for the last 18 years.

*Volunteering really helped me. I could use my knowledge and experience to help others and I could pick and choose what and when I wanted to do it. Also, having my friends come over to my house to just be with me and my daughter, even if I was just feeding her. My friends got to see my life firsthand and appreciated what I was having to do on a regular basis. They got to really get to know my daughter and I got to have some friend time.

*Self-care is the key to support mental health. What helps me is going for walks in nature, doing yoga at my own pace, deep-breathing and listening to calming music. More importantly, I find restricting negative talks and also setting boundaries to be helpful.

*I ride my horse (great exercise and mental space); am learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; swim in Lake Ontario (it’s free); try to limit social media; and do a kind energy meditation.

We also spoke to Melissa Ngo and Stephanie Moygnagh, who are family support specialists at Holland Bloorview. They share resources with parents and caregivers (and you don’t have to be a Holland Bloorview client to connect with them in person or virtually). You can reach Melissa at 416-425-6220, ext. 6348 and Stephanie at ext. 6146 to learn more. Some of their suggestions:

If your child is seen at Holland Bloorview and you are struggling with anxiety, you could ask to speak with the social worker on your child’s team. You may be interested in an eight-week mindfulness series led by a Holland Bloorview family leader, and Holland Bloorview is running its first six-session Acceptance and Commitment Therapy group for parents and caregivers. 

Holland Bloorview is launching a new private Family Support Network on Facebook, which includes an opportunity to be paired with a family mentor. Some other resources include the Ontario Caregiver Organization’s 24/7 helpline or peer support programs, SMILE Canada’s mentorship program or connect with a support group listed at ConnectABILITY.

Some counselling resources include What’s Up Walk In Clinic and Family Service Toronto. If you’re looking for culturally- or language-specific counselling, consider Hong Fook, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, South Asian Autism Awareness Centre or CAFCAN.

Please leave your ideas for coping with anxiety in the comments below!

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