Your stress is killing you. Here’s how to fight back.

We’re a stressed-out group of parents.

I sat with jaw dropped and tears flowing down cheeks as I watched the documentary. A UCSF expert in cellular aging was explaining that special needs moms were one of the best groups to study the negative effects of chronic stress on the human body. Her colleague, a Stanford University researcher, confirmed this, adding that for every one year of chronological age, special needs moms experience on average six years of cellular aging.

As I stared at the documentary on the screen, the full gambit of grief pulsed through my body – denial, anger, depression, bargaining… Everything but acceptance, that elusive stage of grief that I wish I could grab hold of more often in this parenting journey.

My husband simply reached over and held my hand when he realized our little movie night had been ambushed by reality. Of course, choosing National Geographic’s documentary, Stress: Portrait of a Killer, was, in hindsight, a stupid choice for some quality hubby snuggle time. But I gravitate to topics like that because deep down I’ve always known this job of special needs parent is intense, and that the intensity has to be effecting me over time. How can constant, high-level, hypervigilant care of another human being NOT do that to us?

Friends, this is one of the hardest things we face as special needs parents: stress.

But there are some things we can do to fight the stress. Things that protect us from this radical aging in our cells due to the intensity of our caregiving lives.


Forgiveness is letting go. Not forgetting, but loosening our grip on what we feel has wronged us. We forgive so WE can be free of the negative emotions that come with hurt in life. The careless comments of other parents at the supermarket. The casual way a doctor or specialist disregards our input about our child. The school’s neglecting provisions in an IEP. The ways we feel left out in our extended families or communities. Whatever the hurt – whether intentional or accidental – when we let go and allow life to deal with that person or situation so we can move on, we combat stress’s negative effects on us.

Time to Recharge

Nobody can give care constantly, daily, yearly, for a lifetime… without a break. Even health care professionals work in shifts. However we are able, we’ve got to plan regular COMPLETE breaks. Times when we relax, be in charge of ourselves alone – with no wheelchairs, feeding tubes, medications to administer, environmental hazards to watch for. What would you do if you had a half hour to yourself? What would it take to give that gift to yourself?


We can’t function without enough of it. So why do we try? Probably because we’re trying to get things done, to feel some sense of control in the world by controlling what our kitchen or house looks like. If you think you can manage on less that you know is healthy, then consider how often you misplace your keys, forget a commitment, or snap at your spouse. Hartley Steiner of the SPD Blogger Network masterfully shared on this recently. Check out her article for a nice, swift kick in the butt in this area of your life.

Strong Support Network

At the end of the Stress documentary, both researchers shared hope for our stressed-out lot: There is a way that we can erase the damage. We do what you’re doing right now. We engage in community¬† – whether online, in person, at church, in your neighborhood. By sharing what we’re going through, laughing, freaking out, crying, worrying, problem-solving and living this together, we can actually get back years the stress has taken from us.

“Connecting with and helping others can help us to mend ourselves, and maybe live longer, healthier lives.” – Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, UCSF

What will you do, today, to fight back against the stress in your life?


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