Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Parents Need Oxygen, Too!

By: Mike Southers, LGPC

When we’re on an airplane, attendants tell us that if the plane were to make a quick descent and there is an emergency, oxygen masks will fall from above, and we’re shown how to put the masks on.  Just as importantly though, the attendants remind us to put on our own masks first before others’.  And it makes sense—after all, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you risk suffocating and then are unable to help your loved ones, which is a perfect metaphor in self-care when we encounter crisis.  First, let’s define crisis though: crisis happens when people’s ability to cope is outbalanced from stress.  That means that crises can trigger differently for each person and it can happen at different times too.  

So when entering a crisis without the practice of putting on your oxygen mask to check in with yourself it is difficult to re-establish balance.  Also, despite the benefits to putting on your own mask first and checking in with yourself, it is often viewed negatively.  People often feel shame for taking actions that benefit themselves first; however it can be more dangerous otherwise.  If you are not mindful and able to take care of yourself, you may not be able to meet the needs of your children as effectively, and even if you have the skills before checking in with yourself, you may not have as much patience as you would otherwise. 

This dilemma to care for oneself or to rush to the aid their children is instinctual for parents.   If a child is having difficulties at school, in the home, or in other domains, parents want to ensure sure their child gets the best care for their child.  Parents may encourage their child to access the help they need, but the parents have not yet put on their own oxygen masks to manage their own stress regarding their child’s difficulties.  Also, if parents aren’t getting the oxygen they need themselves as human beings, this can lead parents to feeling burnt-out or have shorter tempers with their loved ones.  

So how can one make sure you’re getting the oxygen you need?  There are many ways and everyone is different, so each person may get more out of some interventions than others. Some options are deep breathing exercises, getting a massage, or finding another way to release emotions.  Perhaps watching a movie or TV show (whether it be a comedy or something sad) can provide an emotional release.  Sports or other physical activity are also a good alternative, and can give you the literal and metaphorical oxygen you need, to relieve stress.   

Other options are talking to friends about how you really feel about what is going on in your life.  If that makes you uncomfortable due to being a more private person, you can also search for local support groups and meet other people in similar situations, or see a therapist where you can have a comfortable environment to express yourself.  

In my own experience, parents often do not realize how much care they’ve been giving to others and additionally not caring for themselves.  This is normal for many people, but a therapist can help you identify and hone individualized ways to take care of yourself which can then lessen the stress you experience, and by extension, your family.  Additionally, by just meeting a therapist in their office by yourself, you are also giving yourself the space and time to take the breaths you need to release your thoughts and emotions. Regardless of the way you get your oxygen in a crisis or to be better prepared for the next one, it’s crucial to get the care you need so you can keep being a great caregiver.

Mike can be contacted at 301-712-9015 ext. 1014 or southerscounseling@gmail.com