Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do You Make Time for Yourself?

How often do you hear this statement, “it’s important to take care of yourself.” Sure, give me an extra 24 hours in the day and I’ll get right to it. Truth is, you can keep going, running on adrenalin and stress hormones then one day, your body says no more and you have nothing left to give. Or like in my case, what you do give isn’t so pretty.

Since time is one of our most precious resources, and unfortunately not one of those renewable ones how do you make time for yourself?

I’d like to offer one simple, yet powerful way that takes very little time.


Here’s a story to show how and why it works.

First, let me give you a little background on my greatest teacher, my beautiful eight-year-old son, Ian. He has autism with many co-occurring conditions including seizures, allergies and reflux. He’s also non-verbal so when he gets sick or experiences any type of distress I become a detective. If you’re a parent with a non-verbal child you know what I mean. We learn to be the expert sleuthers.

Tuesday afternoon Ian started to cry big tears that told me he was in pain. He looked at me with his pleading green eyes that said, “Mommy, please make it stop.” I recognized this behavior. If I didn’t step in and help him calm down his behavior would escalate to a state of panic.

His nose started running like a faucet and his reflux went off the charts. Was he about to throw up? My thoughts raced to figure out what could be happening in his sweet little body. My brain quickly reviewed the events of the past several days in search for clues. Did the seizures throughout the previous two nights have anything to do with this? Could it be an allergic reaction? Was he coming down with his brother’s chest cold? I felt my own fear and anxiety increasing.

Then I stopped.

I realized it didn’t help either one of us to get all wound up full of stress and anxiety (as he’s especially sensitive to what I feel) and that just gets us both tangled up in fear and panic.

Instead, I called on one of my favorite methods of self-care to calm down my nervous system so I could think more clearly and create a peaceful space of safety for my son.

I began to breathe deep-belly breaths. I did this for about a minute while I held him and felt my entire body relax and release the emotional tension. The breathing interrupted my stress cycle, which allowed me to calm down and think more clearly.

I decided to give him Benedryl and wait it out. It took over an hour for the Benedryl to kick in and while we waited together I continued my deep belly breaths and I felt his body relax against mine. Almost immediately he stopped crying. He still had the reflux and his nose kept running but he calmed down. Eventually, the faucet of his nose stopped and his reflux improved. Turned out he did get his brother’s chest cold and his body is now working to heal. It knows what to do.

What I’ve learned over and over again is how my own emotional state affects my son. When I’m stressed he feels it and we loop together in a spiral of fear and anxiety. When I find the way to keep my own nervous system in a state of peace and calm, his nervous system starts to synchronize with mine and he relaxes and calms right down; and that state of calm is where the healing occurs.

You’ll find the breathing process outlined below. I invite you to give it a try. If you do, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Breathe. Not just normal breathing; I’m talking about deep, abdominal breathing. Try it for three full breaths. This takes less than 30 seconds.

  • Get into a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes, after you’ve read the rest of the steps. J
  • Breathe in through your nose and out your mouth for three breathes.
  • As you inhale, feel the breath fill up your belly and feel it expand. This is not the time to worry about holding your belly in, just let it relax.
  • Slowly exhale out through your nose or mouth, whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Try to make your exhale twice as long as the inhale. For example, inhale for 2 counts then exhale for 4 counts.
  • Focus your awareness on the breath moving in through your nose and out through your mouth or nose.
  • Open your eyes and ask yourself if you notice any changes in your body and emotional state.
  • Try this when you’re feeling any sense of overwhelm or stress. You can repeat this three-breath technique up to ten times when you’re in a heightened state of anxiety but even one time can help break the stress cycle.
Diane Hunter helps overwhelmed parents find a sense of peace and a deeper connection with themselves and their child. She’s passionate about teaching the power of non-verbal communication and writes on her blog at On most days you’ll find her hanging with her two greatest teachers, her children, and her husband in their home in Los Gatos, CA.