My Self-Care Plan for the Holidays - Strategies from an Autism Mom
Posted on 11/18/20 in Parent and Caregiver by Estee Ezinski
The holidays are notoriously stressful. The holidays during a global pandemic are even more exasperating. Each year, parents (myself included) fixate on creating the most enjoyable experiences for their children. As parents/caregivers we provide that magic – but what happens when we get so wrapped up in what we feel like we are required to do that we forget to care for ourselves?
During this last year as caregivers, we have been pushed to endure things that no single person should have to manage. We are still here managing. For me, the thought of adding even the joy of the holidays to my plate nearly sends me to hide or to go take the world’s longest shower to cry. This year will surely look different but how do I make sure that I’m in a place to ENJOY the holidays WITH my family?
I have heard the term “caregiver burnout” repeated more than I recall – the severity, the reality, and the signs. This fall, I not only experienced caregiver burnout but also a serious and debilitating bout of depression and anxiety. The most upsetting part for me was not my mental state but that I felt the buildup of overwhelming and unmanageable emotions and instead of asking for help or admitting that this was too much for me I kept pushing it all down.
The problem with suppressing all of those emotions is that one day the buildup bubbles over and explodes. For me it was backing out of events to lay in bed, to not being able to complete simple tasks, to then finding myself in the emergency room parking lot because I felt myself spiraling out of control. To be honest, there were times I wished that I would get COVID so I could just get a few days to simply sleep. Instead of walking into the hospital, I found an intensive outpatient program that lasted the equivalent to working full-time for several weeks. I drove myself home and was open about how much I NEEDED this program.
The purpose of the backstory is to show that I did not practice self-care for months during a pandemic and it very much did lead to caregiver burnout. What comes next is the most important piece; how I’m going to get through the holidays this year while making conscious choices to practice self-care.
I’m going to say no – a lot – I struggle with obligation and the fear of making someone upset by saying no. Whether it’s because I don’t feel comfortable due to the pandemic or because it will cause me stress, I am going to say no to: extra gift exchanges, cookie baking, trying to see five different sets of relatives over two days, and if someone asks for too much of me, I will not feel guilty even if I am only able to help in a different capacity.
I am not going to overwhelm myself with social media – I am the parent who looks at the family with their matching PJ’s in front of their beautifully decorated tree with cups full of hot chocolate with the perfect swirl of whipped cream on top and become the Grinch green with envy. I know that this causes me to feel stress and although untrue, less than. I’ll take the pictures of my kids putting all of the ornaments in the same small area of the tree, put my phone down, and be in the moment with them. That will bring me happiness…. knowing that I want them to have those memories with me more than I want them to have a picture where I am behind the camera. My goal is to create memories instead of capturing every single moment with my phone.
I am going to go to the gym –The great thing about the gym is it’s my break. I find exercising relaxing; it makes me feel good. Sometimes I don’t even work out! I’ll sit in the massage chairs and then walk around Target with a toasted white chocolate mocha from Starbucks without the slightest bit of guilt. My back-up plan in case things close again is to drive up to the lake and sit in my car and just listen to music. Taking a break doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, it just needs to be something that will give me a moment to pause, breathe and refocus towards positive energy.
I’m not going to demand perfection- Every gift doesn’t need a bow with perfectly creased corners, the kids will be okay with donuts or cinnamon rolls instead of holiday-themed pancakes and a full breakfast spread. Anxiety and calm cannot be in your body at the same time – if I eliminate unrealistic expectations for myself, I also eliminate the unjustified disappointment when I don’t succeed. My family doesn’t need “perfect” holidays, they need happy ones!
I am going to reach out for support – Admitting that I don’t have a support system because I don’t want to burden anyone was a difficult pill for me to swallow. There are different people in my life that I open up to about different things. I have family that I will tell my deepest feelings and there are friends that I will call to vent about how much I dislike virtual learning. I need to reach out for help when I need it, not after. I’m also going to reach out for support on a therapeutic level regularly because… well, life is hard right now and we could all use extra support.
My self-care plan isn’t perfect, it isn’t even much of a plan. These are however solid reminders that will help me get through the extra stress of the holidays… that and ordering all of our gifts off of Amazon and not making any returns until May to avoid the chaos.
ABOUT THE WRITER
As the Milestones Helpdesk Coordinator, Estee Ezinksi supports individuals and families in finding resources in their communities. Estee has a professional background in pediatric patient care and is a mother to a child with autism. As a mom, she is dedicated to serving families while being able to utilizes her own child’s and family’s experiences to help guide other families. Estee is an active PTA member currently serving as PTA President in her district while sharing her passion for advocating for the autism community.