Common Hurdles for Self-Care

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A track hurdle - Common Hurdles for Self-Care for Caregivers


As parent caregivers, we know that self-care is important. We truly do want to take care of ourselves, but following through is hard.  Even under the most ideal circumstances, it is difficult for parents to find time and energy to spend on themselves, in the middle of long and busy days. For parents who also shoulder the demands of raising a child with complex care needs, it can feel down right impossible.

We all have those things that make self-care seem so out of reach. We might even recognize patterns in our habits and excuses, but we don’t often go so far as to examine those road blocks or to see them for what they are, hurdles that can be overcome.  As a result, we continue to get hung up in our attempts at self-care.  We get stuck in all the same places and don’t understand why.  We assume we just don’t have the time, energy, and discipline to do what it takes and we give up.


Below, are some of the most common hurdles that keep parent caregivers from  making progress and experiencing the benefits of an effective self-care practice.




This is a big one isn’t it? As parents, we know that we are supposed to prioritize self-care.   We have all been given the well-meaning advice to take care of ourselves with reminders to exercise, eat right, rest, pray, pursue our spouse, stay in touch with friends, and spend quality time with our children.  The list goes on and on.  I don’t know about you, but when I start thinking about the things I should be doing, the things I am failing to do, I go right to a state of panic. It feels like a waterfall of responsibilities, expectations, and shortcoming all washing over me, pounding down on me, until I feel like I am drowning.  To save myself, I fight the stream of thoughts pulling me down until I can breathe again. I decide that self-care practices are just not possible in my circumstances.  There is just too much to do, no time to do it, and I don’t know where to start, anyway. I resign myself to a cycle of never ending self-sacrifice and burn out and decide to just avoid thinking about it.



Biting Off More Than You Can Chew:

There are so many areas of self-care that need our attention, our physical health, our mental health and our relationships just to name a few.  It can be difficult to prioritize which area needs our attention the most.  They all feel so urgent that we end up trying to make change in several areas, all at once. This divides our attention and our efforts.  We spread ourselves too thin and, in the end, we don’t make significant progress in any of them. As a result, we don’t experience the positive benefits we want and our motivation to stay consistent over the long-term diminishes. Eventually, we give up.


READ MORE:  How to Embrace the Discomfort of Self-Care



Too Much Too Soon:

This hurdle often gets in our way when we’re all pumped up and ready to throw ourselves into something new with gusto, often without proper preparation or caution. I personally, experience this most when it comes to physical exercise. I fall into the trap of believing that, in order to see results, I have to take big action. I can’t just exercise for 20 minutes, that won’t be effective, it needs to be an hour. Or, I can’t just do 10 reps, I won’t see results, better do 30. The problem is that my body isn’t ready for that much activity, so soon. Eventually, I push my body too far, resulting in injury and forcing me to take a break while my body heals. Combine this break in consistency with the negative results of injury and it will most certainly be months before I feel motivated to try again. I know that if I had just started with small changes, building my strength and endurance along the way, I would eventually see the results I’m after.  But, I get impatient, unwilling to put in the time and effort necessary to get me to where I want to be, and so I get nowhere.



The Learning Curve:

There are several aspects of self-care that require some knowledge before we can jump right in. We may need to devote time to research, education and/or the development of new skills in order to be successful.  Diet is a great example of this.  Before we can follow a diet plan, we first have to learn which foods, in what amounts, will help us reach our dietary goals. Then, we need to research new recipes that work with the plan, learn how to cook them, find sources for ingredients, make a meal plan and a shopping list, etc. It could be quite a commitment of time and effort before we even have our first meal.  In the mean-time, our motivation and drive to follow through falters. We feel that if it is this hard just to get started, how will we implement what we learn, much less make real improvement. We get intimidated and give up before we even start.



Waiting for the Perfect Time: 

This hurdle is full of excuses.  I, for one, am always telling myself things like; “I need to start eating better but a party this weekend that will undue any progress I make this week. I’ll just wait until it’s over to get started.”  The problem is that there is always another party, event or holiday, coming up, that provides me with a cop out and I keep putting it off.  We can always find new reasons and new excuses as to why right now is not the “right” time to commit to self-care. This dependence on “perfect” timing leads us into an all or nothing mentality.  We believe that if we can’t follow through 100% we shouldn’t even begin.



Your Schedule:

Many of us who are raising kids with complex care needs find ourselves managing full and often hectic schedules.  We balance doctor and therapy appointments with commitments to family, work and school.  It is a full-time job to stay on top of all the details related to our child’s specific care needs, as well as, the day to day running of our household, etc. Our child’s condition may require that our daily routines be especially structured or otherwise flexible, dictating how we spend our time.  Our days are often unpredictable, changing at a moment’s notice, demanding that our best intentions fall to the wayside as our child’s needs take priority.  Finding time in the middle of all of this, to devote to self-care, can be challenging. Doing it consistently, day after day, can feel literally impossible.  Lack of structure and consistency in our daily routine, makes it very hard to practice self-care in a way that promotes building new and positive habits and so we don’t.  Hectic routines often leave us relying on whatever is convenient just to get through the day even if it isn’t what is best for our over-all well-being.



Feeling Guilty/Selfish:

As parents we are often reminded that childhood is fleeting.  “The days are long, but the years are short,” they say. “Savor every moment.”  The demanding schedule we discussed above, takes up large amounts of our time. If there are any free moments, we feel that we should be spending them with our children.  We should be engaging with them, nurturing them, playing with them, and making sure they have the best childhood they can have, in spite of everything. 

When our kids are very young, are ill or challenged in some way, they genuinely need our help and care almost all of the time. Similarly, the demands of our household don’t stop. The laundry NEVER ENDS, people need to eat ALL THE TIME! How can we take time for ourselves when it means we will get further behind on all the things we should be doing to take care of our family? Is it even worth trying? There is always more we could be doing and so it feels selfish to prioritize our needs over theirs.



Worry Over What Others Will Think:

A very common experience among parents who are raising a child with complex care needs, is the unwanted advice from those around them, usually from people who have no idea what it means to actually live in the circumstances they so freely comment on. It may be well meaning or inadvertent but it leaves the parent feeling over-exposed, judged, and condemned.  It feels almost as though people assume that because your child isn’t “typical” you must have made a mistake along the way and therefore need extra guidance as a parent.  As a result, parents are often hyper-aware that their decisions are under a microscope.  This becomes a deterrent to self-care, holding them back from making choices that serve their own well-being because they fear backlash from so called supporters.



The Mental Load:

The mental load is especially heavy for parents of children with complex care needs. We are required to organize, plan and prepare for pretty much every single thing we do. This weight is always there and it is hard to put down, even for a little while. We are not just thinking about the moment we are in, but our mind is already on what needs to be done during the next few hours or in the days ahead. We are also thinking about the bills that need paying, the groceries that need buying, and the gifts that need purchasing for the next birthday or holiday. We micromanage and anticipate the needs of our family members making sure they have everything they need to keep things running smoothly.  It is the immense amount of work behind the scenes that often gets overlooked and taken for granted, overshadowed by the more obvious end result. The weight of it all leaves us drained and mentally exhausted. Yet, we are afraid to put the load down because we fear, that if we do, everything will begin falling apart.



I have personally struggled with all of these hurdles of self-care, some more so than others. The key to getting past them, is recognizing the false narrative each of them wants to make us believe. None of them are true and yet we let them hold us back.  Overcoming these hurdles starts with shifting our mindset from letting these lies dictate our actions to intentionally taking action to push past them. 

Remember that, as a parent caregiver, your circumstances are always changing and your self-care needs change with them. For this reason, it is important to frequently evaluate your self-care needs in light of the circumstance you are dealing with right now. Part of this evaluation is to anticipate the roadblocks you might come up against in your self-care practice. It is much easier to do this when you understand some of the most common hurdles for self-care and which of those tend to be a challenge for you. Having this information will allow you to create a self-care practice that takes these hurdles into account and incorporates effective strategies to get around them.

You do not have to be intimidated by these hurdles anymore. All of them can be broken down using the concepts and strategies that are built into The Parachute Project as a guide to effective self-care. 



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

Which of the hurdles of self-care are holding you back? What lies have they lead you to believe about yourself? Choose just one, or two, of the hurdles that resonate with you most. Write down at least one argument for each of the hurdles you have chosen, that proves why these lies are untrue. Practice using those arguments, to shift your mindset, the next time these hurdles try to get in your way.



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