Bobbi Blanchard had been spending nights on a trundle bed, keeping an eye on her daughter, Joelle. And her body was rebelling.

Because Joelle had developed unexplained tremors and unusual nighttime behaviors, Blanchard was missing sleep and comfort while recording her daughter’s experiences. Like many Gillette parents, she was caring for her child—but not for herself.

Taking Time Is Important
In that respect, Gillette families aren’t alone. In the U.S., an estimated 16.8 million people (usually parents) spend nearly 30 hours a week caring for children who have special needs.

“It’s difficult for our parents to find time for themselves, but it’s also very important,” says Scott Schwantes, M.D. He leads Gillette’s integrative care committee, which focuses on holistic practices and alternative therapies for patients and caregivers.  Joelle Blanchard and her mom, Bobbi Blanchard, are pictured at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

Quick Ways to Recharge
Caregiver stress can affect any family, Schwantes explains. “Parents are especially at risk when they’re providing 24/7 support,” he notes. “Resilience can be eroded, but we can also shore it up and refresh it.”

Recent research has found that:

  • Meditating, holding a yoga pose or repetitive prayer can change the body’s stress response into a relaxation response.
  • Mindfulness practices—things like breathing and awareness exercises—can reduce stress and depression in as little as six weeks.
  • Classes on healthy emotions and coping behaviors also corresponded with lower levels of stress and depression.

Schwantes advises similar strategies. “Parents should take time for themselves, and use coping behaviors like exercise, hobbies and forging connections with others.” 

Gillette Can Help
A quick, easy way to learn from other parents is to watch these Parent-to-Parent videos — short clips with advice from other parents of children who have complex medical conditions.

Gillette also offers free weekly massages for parents whose children are hospitalized. And from time to time, inpatient families have the opportunity to create stress relief kits with things like chamomile tea and dark chocolate.

During periods of extreme stress, caregivers might need support from services like chaplaincy or social work. “I can’t emphasize enough—if you think you need help, ask for it,” says Schwantes.

A 15-Minute Vacation
Recently Joelle came to Gillette for a 48-hour sleep study. When Blanchard learned that Gillette was offering free chair massages for caregivers of inpatients that evening, she was the first to sign up. “I hadn’t had a massage for a long time,” she noted after her session. “I feel so much better now!”

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