5 Quick Tips for Social Self-Care
Recently, I came across a great new podcast for special need parents called Take Heart Special Moms. Last week’s episode was all about the struggle to find connection and community, as a parent caregiver. You can listen to the podcast episode here.
I loved this episode because so much of what the podcasters shared about finding connection, while raising their children with special needs and/or complex medical conditions, was exactly what I have experienced too. So, many of the observations and lessons they shared is what I have observed and learned, as well.
I really struggled with building community during the many years Our Girl was in treatment. I felt like an outsider at social functions where other moms already knew each other from sports, activities and playdates our family simply could not participate in. I felt like most of what I had to say and share was too depressing for anyone to be interested in and I feared I wouldn't be well received. I never knew how much other people around me were aware of our family circumstances, and so I felt exposed and invisible at the same time, Maybe you can relate.
My life was so consumed with our day to day demands that I felt as though they were my identity. It was impossible for me to connect with new people on a deeper level without sharing our life with chronic cancer. Yet, I dreaded to see the concern and pity in their eyes, the change in their manner, and the well-intentioned words of sympathy that always followed.
I also knew that I was not an easy friend to have during that time. I didn't have much left for outside relationships after caring for my family. I could not give back to my friends as much as they were giving to me.
So, making new friends was hard. Reaching out was hard. Most of the time, I didn't even try.
But sitting on the outside was lonely. More than that, allowing my circumstances to distance me from communities I enjoyed, and wanted to part of, kept me from experiencing aspects of my life that I valued.
What if my circumstances weren't going to change? How long was I going to continue watching form the outside? These were questions I asked myself many times.
Eventually, I realized that I couldn't expect my community to build itself. I was going to have to take action, as small as that might be, and make choices that would put me where the people are.
READ MORE: The 10 Paracords of Self-Care
Under The Parachute Project™, there are 5 strands in the Social Paracord. They are:
Family ~ Friends ~ General Community ~ Diagnosis Community ~ Care Team
Below, are listed 5 quick tips for physical self-care, which will nurture your overall well-being:
Quick Social Self-Care Tip #1 - Start a Caringbridge Site
One of the first things I did, after Our Girl was diagnosed, was to create a Caringbridge website. It turned out to be one of our biggest blessings throughout our journey!
This site allowed us to update family and friends, anytime, from where ever we were. We didn’t have to call several people with each new development or repeat the details, over and over. This was a huge benefit in protecting our mental and emotional well-being. The website also allowed family and friends to know what we were dealing with so that they could leave supportive comments, send cards, and rally around us with support that met our current needs.
Other options have developed and any platform you choose, to update family and friends, will help nurture your connection to those you depend on. However, I recommend Caringbridge, as opposed to social media, because keeping families connected is their sole purpose. They are there to serve families, not advertisers, so you don’t have to worry about an algorithm change, etc. keeping others from seeing your posts. I also like the control you have over your privacy with Caringbridge, which is important when discussing personal medical information online.
Quick Social Self-Care Tip #2 - Be Mindful of Invitations
I always say that God provides and, for us, He did that through our community. This was definitely true in the people he brought into my life just when I needed them most. Often, He did that through what seemed like an insignificant invitation but, in retrospect, provided me with the support I needed to survive.
It was an invitation to a playgroup that led to new friendships that became my greatest source of support in the early years of Our Girl’s diagnosis. It was the invitation to a dinner out with other moms, that made me feel less alone in my grief and gave me hope that I could feel happy again someday. It was an invitation to a women’s retreat that would open my eyes to the power of sharing one’s personal story and here we are.
Often, when we are consumed with the daily demands of our responsibilities, there isn’t a lot of energy left over for socializing. It can be tempting to offer an excuse and stay home in our jammies. Yet, if we resist this urge and accept the invitation, we often find that we are happy that we did. Invitations provide an opportunity to take a break from our routines, find distraction and re-connect with those who want to see us. Sometimes, just being mindful of invitations when they are offered, and making an effort to say yes more often than we say no, can lead to some of our greatest blessings.
Quick Social Self-Care Tip #3 - Volunteer
In order to connect with people, you have to be where they are. However, when you are overwhelmed with your circumstances, it can feel almost impossible to find the strength and energy to put yourself out there. It helps to have a purpose that motivates you to get involved.
As a general rule, you get back what you put in. This is true for the community groups we participate in as well. You may not feel like you are getting very much out of your church, mom’s group, or school community, right now. Maybe you feel kind of invisible. I used to feel this way.
So, what changed? I made the decision to get involved. I volunteered to help with service preparations at my church. I filled a leadership role on my Mother’s of Preschoolers planning committee. I joined the board of directors for our childhood cancer support group. These volunteer roles made me feel more involved, more visible and more comfortable participating in larger group events. As a result, I built my community and made connections that eventually gave back to me more than I gave.
Now, keep in mind, I didn’t do all of these things at once. I did them as they became more realistic, starting out with smaller commitments first and building up to larger ones. I let go of roles I no longer served well to make room before taking on new ones. Even small and intermittent volunteer roles can nurture your sense of community.
Quick Social Self-Care Tip #4 - Join an Online Parents' Group
In person support groups are a valuable resource within your diagnosis community. However, if your child has a rare condition there may not be many others, in your local area, who understand your specific challenges or who can offer helpful resources or information. These groups are also limited in their frequency and accessibility.
One of the most priceless sources of community support I experienced, over the last decade, was an online Facebook group for parents raising children with my daughter’s diagnosis. It was this group who helped offer therapy ideas when Our Girl was struggling just to stand independently. It was this group that recommended the surgeon that left her physically intact just months after she learned to walk. It was this group where I first heard about the clinical trials that would shrink her tumor.
Parent groups are by no means a replacement for medical guidance but they are a great source of information, coming straight from the parents who are applying that care in real life every day, and can give firsthand insight. These groups are available 24/7 to ask questions, share resources and develop relationships with others who get it. You can just observe or post as little, or as much, as you’re comfortable. There is a group out there for every situation under the sun it seems. Make sure to choose groups that have a healthy number of members, a couple hundred or more, and post frequently. Several times a day is ideal. This will help guarantee someone will be “listening” when you post.
Quick Social Self-Care Tip #5 - Organize Your Care Team Contacts
For many of us, our care team members become like our extended family. They are a big part of our everyday routines and so we spend a lot of time with them. Often, they know and understand our circumstances better than our actual family and friends.
It is natural to expect that we will have better working relationships with some providers than we do with others but they all serve an important role in our child’s care and education, etc. We can help to make these relationships work smoothly by doing our part to stay in touch.
A simple way to facilitate communication with your child’s care team is to keep your contact information organized. Different providers have different preferences for how parents should contact them. Perhaps, it is directly to their personal e-mail or maybe it should be directed through their assistant, for example. Keep a log of your care provider’s contact information. Make sure to include notes about how to most effectively reach your team member both in emergent and non-emergent situations.
By keeping this information organized, and on hand, you will save time and eliminate stress when you need to contact a provider in a hurry. It will also make sure that you are doing your part to maintain a positive working relationship with your child’s care provider.
Finding time and energy for social interaction, can be very overwhelming for parent caregivers who are managing challenges presented by their child’s complex care needs. However, just a little bit of attention, paid to social self-care, helps us to strengthen the relationships that keep us connected to our community and help us to better carry the weight of our circumstances.
For more resources to help you build your community, follow my “Social Self-Care” board on Pinterest!
As always, do not try to apply all of these quick tips for social self-care at one time. It is always better to focus your attention on just one action until it becomes a natural part of your self-care practice before adding another. Approaching self-care this way, increases the likelihood that you will stay consistent, be successful and enjoy the benefits of your efforts long-term.
Self-Care Action Discussed in this Post:
Consider the 5 quick tips for social self-care discussed above. Write down those that resonate with you. Which self-care actions have you taken, in the past, that have worked for you? Use your answers to these questions to help you be more mindful of the benefits of social self-care and recognize opportunities, when they arise.
- The 10 Paracords of Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Emotional Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Physical Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Mental Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Spiritual Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Marital Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Financial Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Professional Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Reputational Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Parental Self-Care
- 5 Quick Tips for Holiday Self-Care
- Building Community with Intention
- Easy Ways to Pay it Forward
- Socially Distant Holiday Fun