No huge surprise that mothers of children with autism experience stress similar to combat soldiers. Combat stress is defines as mental, emotional or physical distress, resulting from exposure to combat-related conditions including a heighten awareness of potential threats.
Researchers followed a group of mothers of children diagnosed with autism and found the moms displayed higher levels of chronic stress. And no wonder, a 2011 study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network found that nearly half of the children with autism attempted to bolt from a safe, supervised place with more than half wandering into dangerous situations. Also, more than a third of the children with autism who wandered/elope are rarely able to communicate their personal information and two out of three parents reported a close call with a possible drowning.
Signs similar to combat soldiers include, re-experiencing events or flashbacks, memory loss, unusual or excessive fear or worry, unexplained sadness, feeling overwhelmed, feeling isolated and withdrawal and avoiding others.
Signs and symptoms may include physical signs including trembling, jumpiness, cold sweats, heart palpitations, unable to sleep, fatigue and a “thousand yard” stare. Emotional signs may include, re-experiencing events of flashbacks, memory loss, unusual excessive fear, unexplained sadness, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling isolated. Chronic stress is often caused by hypervigilance, a feeling of always being on guard and anticipating any types of threat. This type of stress can lead to chronic stress. Ongoing chronic stress could lead to possible health problems including, heart disease, weakening of the immune system, ulcers, respiratory issues and depression.
This all occurs when our bodies perceive a threat and moves into action. When a stressful event occurs, the body prepares to meet the stress by increasing the heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. Once the perceived threat is over, our bodies return to a relaxed state. But what happens when you are always in a state of preparing for a stressful event? The body reacts by staying in this preparedness state thus weakening the heart and the immune system.
While it is almost impossible to allow yourself to relax completely, here are five ways that will help relieve symptoms of chronic stress:
Deep Breathing. Breathing techniques will put you in a relax state which helps to reduce the stress levels. This will help to change the physical and emotional responses to stress including helping to decrease any muscle tension and the heart rate. Deep breathing also increases the oxygen supply to your brain and will help to reduce anxiety and stress.
Meditation. This also helps to reduce worry anxiety and impulsivity. Meditation also helps to improve your mood and lower your heart rate. It helps to start small. Even if you are able to sit still for five minutes, you will begin to see a difference.
Support System. Countless of studies show that having a support group make a huge difference. It helps to talk to someone with a shared experience. Family members mean well, but may not understand. The truth is that we need layers of support.There are countless of support groups online you can join through social media, community forums, organizations and blogs. Know that you are not alone. Building a support group may also include spiritual mentors, parents from school and mentors.
Self-Compassion. I love this one. the word compassion itself means “sympathy and concern for the suffering of others”. But how much compassion do you give to yourself? Self-compassion helps to lower symptoms of depression and paying close attention to what you say to yourself. Replace the negative self-talk with positive words of encouragement. Other steps you may take include writing a letter to yourself and making a daily gratitude list. Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can at this moment. Below is free printable self-compassion checklist.
What ways have you found useful in combating stress?