Pediatric Asthma: Preventing Caregiver Burnoutby Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
Caring for anyone with a chronic illness can be difficult. When you are the parent to a child with a chronic illness, that burden falls even more squarely on your shoulders.
Most children can’t yet express everything they are feeling or care for themselves with regard to their asthma. It can be overwhelming keeping up with multiple doctor’s appointments, medications and any subtle symptom that could indicate your child is having issues breathing.
Trust me. I feel your pain.
We’ve had a series of poor breathing instances with both of our asthma girls beginning this past November. After multiple missed days of school and doctor’s appointments, their specialists are finally starting to get their breathing issues under control -- and I’m exhausted. I don’t know many asthma parents who rest well when their child is having issues breathing. Multiply that by months and you get the idea.
Here are a few tips I use to help manage the stress and prevent caregiver burnout:
Practice good self-care
Practicing good self-care can be different for each person. This can be as simple as a bubble bath, massage, praying, meditating or spending time in nature. Whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed, do it.
Get enough sleep
The amount of sleep that each person needs varies but generally 7-9 hours per night is normal. If you are consistently getting less sleep than needed you are at risk for impaired memory, decreased alertness, relationship stress and lower quality of life, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If the sleep deprivation goes on for long periods of time your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke all increase.
Eat a healthy diet and don’t skip meals
It can be challenging, when you are caring for someone else, to remember that you also need to be cared for. Taking the time to eat healthy meals that include healthy fats, lean proteins, high fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains can keep you fueled and ready to properly care for your child.
The best stress reliever out there is exercise. You don’t have to run a marathon. Starting with a 30-minute walk, five days a week can really help. Plus exercising outside seems to have an added mood boosting benefit.
Ask for helpI’ll admit, this one is sometimes hard for me to do. We all want to be “super mom,” but it should not be at the expense of our own health and sanity. Most of us have people in our lives more than willing to help -- we just have to ask.
You may not feel comfortable with someone else watching your children when they are breathing poorly. It can help to pass off other tasks you could use help with such as running errands, picking up other kids from school or bringing by a meal. Allow people to help with those things while you focus on your child. If you don’t have family in the area try getting plugged in with a church or support group.
Find support from other asthma parents
Whether it be here on Health Central or other groups, there is no shortage of parents also dealing with asthma. Talking with someone else who knows what you are going through can be very helpful. Often the tips and tricks from other parents can even help your own child’s quality of life. Check out the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s site to find a support group in your area.
Additional factors and warning signs
If you find yourself feeling depressed, withdrawing from friends and activities or having thoughts of suicide, talk with your doctor immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be a great resource and their 24/7 hotline number is 1-800-273-(TALK) 8255.
Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).