How do we think about the future when we are living in so much chaos? Do you ever feel like you are living from one moment to the next, just taking one more breath and trying to put one foot in front of the other? Sarah and I have been in that place of just being in survival mode. Many parents that we talk to also find themselves there, in that place of just trying to make it through the next second, and where making it through dinner qualifies as a long range goal.
There was an eight-day study done on mothers of adolescents and adults with autism. At the end of the study, it was found that their stress levels were comparable to combat soldiers! Some of you just breathed a sigh of relief when you read that. I know this study personally resonated with me. It was a relief to know that I am not weak and I so identified with the picture of a combat vet in a war zone.
Common symptoms of combat stress that soldiers experience are:
• Hyper-startle (an exaggerated response when something surprises you)
• Hypervigilance (being always on guard or super-alert)
• Trouble with focus and/or memory
• Flashbacks (re-experiencing stressful events)
• Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t real)
• Nightmares and trouble sleeping
• Depression and apathy
• Guilt and shame
• Withdrawing or avoiding others
• Irritability and angry outbursts
• Headaches and exhaustion
• Extreme anxiety (excessive fear and worry).
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, how many? Maybe some of these things have become so ingrained in you that you have just taken it for granted that that is who you are.
Hypervigilance became a way of life for us, beyond just being a helicopter parent. Back to that image of being a combat vet, Sarah often described our marriage after our journey in disability began as the two of us being in a “fox hole” together as we were constantly on alert and fighting for our family.
In an article in Navy Medicine Live, it was shared that if not addressed, these symptoms can morph into something else, like PTSD or substance abuse.
So what do we do when we struggle with one or more of the above symptoms?
First, implement a self-care plan. Yes, I know you already know this but have you done it? Stress negatively effects every one of our body systems and leads to ongoing health issues. In this video, I share five things anyone can do as they implement their own self-care plan. You can also send me your email address and I would be happy to send you a free e-booklet I wrote with the same information.
Second, as much as possible, implement a routine. On average, adults are making 35,000 decisions a day. By eliminating some of those decisions through having a routine, you will be better equipped to handle the big decisions and the “surprises” that frequently arise. What are some decisions you can streamline? President Obama was a fan of this. He once shared, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Third, find a community or select group of friends who “get it.” Commander Carrie Kennedy, a neuropsychologist and aerospace experimental psychologist shared that the real key to effective management of combat stress and long term adjustment was that veterans have to be in regular contact with other veterans. Veterans need to be able to talk over difficult experiences with members of the same unit.
If you are unable to find that group who “gets it”, Hope Anew wants to help. We are in the process of building an online community that will launch later this year. This community will be a “laugh together, cry together, pray together” community. It will provide you with those connections who you can be real with and who will get it. If this something that interest you, again message me and we will be sure to let you know when it is launched.
Finally, as believers we have an eternal hope. We have a Savior who loves us and we know there will eventually be a day where there is no more crying, no more pain and no more sorrow. As we long for that day, it helps to look for things daily that will instill hope and bring glimpses of joy.
You won’t be able to dream and plan for the future until you can manage the stressors of today. If you feel like you are just in survival mode, what is one thing from above that you can do today that will help with your stress levels?
If the above symptoms persist, become worse or you begin to have self-destructive behavior or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a professional immediately for help.
Jonathan McGuire is the father of two sons and the co-founder of Hope Anew, a nonprofit that comes alongside the parents of children impacted by disability on a spiritual and emotional level. You can follow Hope Anew on Facebook here.