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Learning that a child has special needs brings so many changes to a parent’s life that it can be impossible to feel positive and energized. Getting overwhelmed under these circumstances certainly isn’t unusual – a child requires significant time, and he or she rightfully becomes the focus of a parent’s life.
If a parent is feeling overwhelmed, there’s only one solution: He or she needs to harness that intangible feeling called mojo. This can be achieved in several ways, including making time for romance with a partner or setting up time for hobbies and recreation – and doing so without guilt.
Serotonin: The Feel-Good Fuel
Does your energy level need a boost? Are there times in your day where you sense imbalance? Are you too tired, too often? Physical and emotional resources are hot commodities for parents managing their child’s special needs.
When a parent or caregiver is pushed to the limits – be it by work, parenting, a never-ending “to do” list, or other forces in life that when combined cause undue stress – he or she is bound to seek a solution to ease the sense of imbalance.
That resource – the one that will help mitigate emotional ills, encourage restful sleep, raise energy levels and increase the power of memory – is found within the body itself, and it’s called serotonin.
The Mayo Clinic describes serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized by the brain and released by neurons. Natural serotonin influences processes within the brain; mood, sleep, depression, aggression, appetite, memory and anxiety which can be lessened – or heightened – by fluctuating serotonin levels. Biochemically speaking, serotonin is derived from tryptophan; it is often surprisingly found in the gastrointestinal tract and blood platelets.
Low serotonin levels
Researchers and physicians have not proven a definitive link between depression and serotonin levels because there is no way to measure serotonin levels. But from a practical standpoint, serotonin levels that are too low appear to wreak havoc with one’s happiness and ability to cope with stressors. A hair-trigger temper, bouts of sadness, moments of anger, and anxiety episodes are all situations that most people want to avoid, but in the case of parents, all of these feelings can be lead to pangs of guilt and further complications.
For parents of children with disabilities, there are already enough challenges to face – bringing one’s body into balance should not be one of them.
The good news is that there many ways to boost serotonin levels and several natural ways to affect serotonin output. In some cases, under proper doctor supervision, medications may be prescribed to help parents maintain accurate perceptions as well as a sense of control and equilibrium.
The role serotonin plays in the human body goes beyond influencing mood; the substance also regulates homeostasis (temperature control) within the body, and plays a significant role in blood clotting, which promotes timely wound restoration. Proper serotonin levels also encourage gut and digestive health and bone mass.
Root causes of serotonin deficiencies often occur for unknown reasons; likely culprits include genetic predisposition, the presence of diabetes, high cortisol levels, digestive issues, insulin resistance, or issues that prevent the body from converting tryptophan (an amino acid needed for normal growth) to serotonin. But there are several factors that can contribute to decreasing serotonin levels. These include the over consumption of fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, or artificial sweeteners. Also, serotonin levels can be influenced by smoking, taking medications, taking illegal drugs, or the lack of exercise.
The good news is that all of these things can be brought into balance – one can change their diet, halt bad habits like smoking, and seek medical treatment for issues such as diabetes or destabilized hormone levels. But if low serotonin levels persist – or the cause is one that is organic and specific to an individual’s physical make-up, then a person may want to consult with their doctor’s. Under some circumstances a doctor may prescribe medication for an imbalance.
Although medication, under a doctor’s guidance, is a valid path for people seeking to feel better, antidepressants don’t alter the root cause of off-kilter serotonin levels; they alter the person’s perception of those circumstances.
As it’s possible to have too little serotonin levels, the converse is also true. Too much serotonin, or Serotonin Syndrome, can occur if one of more drugs produces too much serotonin. This can have several negative effects, including but not limited to an increased heart beat and increased blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Those considering remedying serotonin issues should always seek the advice of a qualified physician before taking action. Talking with a physician about symptoms, issues that are occurring in one’s life and factors that might be causing unwanted stress is recommended.
Three Essential Energy Boosters
Aside from taking medications, there are some positive changes that a parent can make to improve not only serotonin levels, but also his or her overall health, and that of their family.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that two-thirds of Americans are overweight even though 79% mistakenly believe they are in control of their eating habits. They report that obesity is costing Americans; accounting for 9.1% (nearly $78.5 billion) of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998. In fact, HealthFinder.gov estimates one-third of American adults will have diabetes by 2050, including hereditary diabetes and type 2 diabetes that can result from poor eating habits and obesity.
Small changes like staying away from unhealthy foods and adding more high-quality meats like chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables and water can have immense benefits. It is recommended that adults have two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables a day. Skipping breakfast or meals during the day is counter-productive. Eating slower, not clearing our plates of food at all cost, and not eating on the run are steps towards healthy eating habits.
Similarly, switching up ones exercise routine is also a viable course of action. It is recommended that the average individuals should strive for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that physical inactivity (defined as any bodily movement produced by muscles that require energy expenditure) is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality contributing to 6% of deaths globally. We must clarify, physical activity is not to be mistaken with “exercise” as exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful act towards physical fitness. Physical activity is a broader term that includes playing, working, active transportation, household chores and recreational pursuits.
The World Health Organization suggests a regular, moderate-intensity physical activity like walking, cycling or participating in sports provides significant health benefits (reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, colon and breast cancer and depression). Specifically, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause of approximately 21-25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden,” WHO reports.
A healthy lifestyle should include adequate sleep and time set aside for relaxation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep deprivation can affect a person’s ability to concentrate on things, remember, drive, and perform. It is also linked to hazardous outcomes, including motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical or occupational errors.
The National Sleep Foundation advises that sleep needs change as we age. For example, they recommend that a child (5 to 10 years of age) needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day; teens (10 to 17 years of age) need 8.5 to 9 hours daily; while an adult only requires 7 to 9 hours.
Healthy sleep habits involve making it a habit to go to bed (and rise) at the same time; exercise, but not rigorously before bed; avoid large meal consumption, caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime; and avoid nicotine, altogether.
Change. It’ll Feel Good
Parents of children face enormous amounts of stress. Besides the everyday activities of helping children with their physical, occupational or speech therapies, shuttling their children to various appointments, helping him or her with tasks like eating or brushing his or her teeth, a parent may or may not have time to think about serotonin levels, or for that matter, his or her own health.
But in the complex scenario of raising a child with special needs, it is paramount that the parent be healthy, happy, and able to make decisions for their family that are not determined through a prism of depression, fatigue, or physical illness. If a serotonin issue is occurring, there is likely a solution, and it’s in the best interest of a parent – and a child – to pursue a remedy.
Children are like sponges in that they can soak up all that is happening around them. If you’re under stress, it’s like a contagion in that your children will sense something is amiss. And, they may begin to experience thoughts of guilt because they may come to believe their parent’s stress is their fault.
Sometimes parents of children with disabilities want to put their child first at any cost, and themselves second. But parents need to realize they are an integral part of a family – one that needs to be in working order to help his or her child.
A parent’s individual, overall well-being is important not only because of his or her family and children, but also because they are deserving of feeling good physically and emotionally. Even though it may not seem like it on bad days, a parent’s needs are vital and imperative piece of the puzzle.
A message can be verbal, or something that’s felt in the heart. What all messages have in common is that they can influence our perspectives for better or worse. Luckily, by gathering positive messages, the bad ones can be cast away.
- Accept Help
- Celebrate Your Child
- Dare to Dream
- Experience Magic
- Find and Foster Creativity
- Gain Perspective
- Get Your Mojo Back
- Keep the Family Together
- Let Go
- Love without Barriers
- Pat Yourself on the Back
- Plan Ahead
- Pursue Happiness
- Reinvent Normal
- Share Some Love
- Take a Break
- Welcome to Holland