Get in the Dirt: Reducing Stress This Season 

Being a parent of a child with unique needs has its share of stressors. You know this.  

It’s why we’ve tackled the topic of stress on more than one occasion. But we’ve long since been in a season which has generated additional stressors—disrupted routines, job loss, furloughs, schooling-at-home, isolation, canceled plans, increased fear of sickness, masks, frustration over regulations, and more. We feel it. Our children and teens feel it.  

How can we reduce anxiety and stress? How can we weather the storm while protecting our and our children’s mental health?

We can and should be a profound source of comfort to our children (and significant other!)

Empathy, embraces, encouraging words, and quality time create calm in the midst of a storm. Maybe you wrap your arms around your child and sit and talk, walk the neighborhood, read aloud, watch a show, or simply sit for a quiet minute. Remember when you comforted your newborn by holding them close? The same idea—get close!  

Feel the sun on your arms and the soil under your fingernails.

Weed, garden, explore the dirt, cut fresh flowers, or create a sensory bin with dirt and garden items—whichever suits you and your child who is blind or low vision. But why? Medical News Today claims soil bacteria benefit our mental health. [P.S. Then there are the added benefits of Vitamin D, sensory fun, growing food or herbs, and quality time.] 

Ensure sensory needs are met.

Our children are out of the house less frequently; maybe they’re sitting still for longer amounts of time. You may notice frustration, increased or decreased energy, or an increase in rocking or eye pressing. Consider your child’s sensory needs and be proactive. Depending on your child’s age and needs, you may consider walking barefoot in your backyard, swinging together in a hammock, kneading bread dough, making slime, using a weighted blanket, playing in the sprinkler or baby pool, making sensory bins, enjoying music after dinner, exploring the outdoors more frequently, etc. Alternatively, your child may need intentional quiet and calm. When your child’s sensory needs are met, they’re less irritable and more regulated. And hey, the same is true for us adults! 

If you haven’t already, discuss COVID in an age-appropriate manner.

And don’t stop at conversing about the issue itself; talk about steps you can take to protect your family from any contagious illness. Our viruses and handwashing blog may be useful in doing so. 

Our body physically responds to stress; talk with your older child or teen about the recognizable increase in heart rate and rapid breathing.

Together, learn a breathing exercise to calm the body when it’s panicking, and get plenty of practice just like this Navy Seal. You’ll have a lifelong tool.  

Increase endorphins with exercise.

Gather the family and work up a sweat while walking, biking, playing beep baseball, jumping on the trampoline, dancing, lifting weights, or using an exercise video series. To make this wildly optimistic goal a reality, start small. Dance to one song or lift weights for four minutes a day if that’s your achievable goal—keep up the habit and increase your stamina after the habit is solidified.  

Brainstorm with your child who is blind or low vision about how they can connect with family and friends.

Yes, some are still physically isolated, but that doesn’t mean no social contact with the outside world is permitted. Phone calls, Zoom LEGO dates, Facetime, short-term online courses, or another creative alternative may be just what the doctor ordered.

Get lost in a good story.

Reading together improves vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing ability and gives your family a healthy means to forget today’s troubles. For five minutes or fifty-five minutes, you can join in on the adventures of the Swiss Family Robinson, Winnie the Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, James and the Giant Peach, or the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (a current favorite at my house). Perhaps stories that have us laughing or adventuring together are the medicine we need. 

Improve diet and sleep.

I know, I know…we know this already. I’ll leave it right here.  

Seek professional help if needed.

If you recognize your or your child’s stress levels are unhealthy and these tips/ reminders aren’t cutting it, please seek professional help. If the cost is prohibitive, discuss options with your child’s doctor and school.  

Let’s be proactive about supporting the mental health of our family members.