Managing Fatigue as the Parent of a Special Needs Child

Managing Fatigue as the Parent of a Special Needs Child

Child covering eyes

Looking after a special needs child is a serious physical, emotional, and mental investment. Moreover, it’s something you have to do day in and day out, frequently for years on end. It can take away from your spare time, push back your life goals, and cause you to neglect your health. It very likely leaves you feeling depleted and exhausted – sometimes even burned out.

If you can relate to this description, chances are you’re suffering from parental fatigue or “compassion fatigue”. It means your needs aren’t being met, and that you have to replenish and look after yourself better. Here are some suggestions on managing parental fatigue, including how to diagnose your exhaustion levels and what to do about it.

Assessing your fatigue

Parental fatigue is different from the fatigue you feel after a hard day’s work. It tends to be persistent, deeper, and impossible to shake off. It can leave you feeling constantly drained, tired, anxious, and withdrawn. It can take away from the enjoyment of your life, not to mention it reduces your productivity across the board. If it’s severe enough, it may be chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), says Nemours KidsHealth.

Here are four signs you are experiencing parental fatigue (or caregiver burnout) as opposed to your run-of-the-mill fatigue:

  1. Sleep problems: You may have developed sleep issues. Some examples are insomnia, trouble falling asleep, and not feeling rested even after getting your 8 hours.
  2. More difficulty parenting your child: When you’re fatigued, you may find yourself distancing from your child, getting irritable, or simply not having the energy to parent your child properly.
  3. An effect on your marriage or social connections: You may have problems maintaining your marriage and other significant social relationships in your life.
  4. Developing depression or anxiety: You may have developed mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

A treatment plan for reducing your fatigue levels

Reducing fatigue requires rebalancing your life to prioritize your wellbeing. You will need to actively make an effort to look after yourself. It’s a good idea to create a self-care plan. This is nothing but setting aside some time every day to look after your wellbeing. Any wellness plan you make should involve you looking after three primary needs:

  • Physical health: Look after your body better. Some ways to do so are resting more, taking relaxing showers, going for walks in nature, eating better, and following an exercise routine.
  • Mental wellbeing: You can tune up your mental health by meditating, trying art therapy, talking positively to yourself, getting more sunlight, and having more relaxation time.
  • Emotional support: You can support your emotional well-being by connecting with other people, listening to music, having more fun, setting boundaries, thinking positively, and resting more.

Some self-care pitfalls to avoid

Things could go wrong on your self-care path, especially if you don’t have much experience with holistic wellness. You could, for instance, under-treat your condition, put too much burden on your support network, or simply follow the wrong self-care plan. It’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or doctor if you feel stuck or unsure about the steps to take.

Keep chipping away at your life goals

Last, but not least, you should keep trying to achieve your life goals. Ultimately, you live only once and for yourself. When you follow your dreams, you feel satisfied, content with life, and more motivated. Here are some possibilities. It will also help you keep the tiredness at bay.

  • Career: You could move to a more rewarding or relaxing career that you always wanted to pursue, for instance. If your current job is too demanding, this may be exactly what you need.
  • A new (online) degree: More education can help you find a better job – or it just might be an aspiration that you’ve always had. You can pursue a degree online from an accredited institution at your own pace. You can do it as slowly as you like while taking care of your duties.
  • Hobbies or creative pursuits: New hobbies are an excellent use of your time. They allow you to feel fulfilled and can also help reduce your stress.


It’s only when you look after yourself properly can you continue to look after your loved ones, including your child. Incorporate some healthy habits and don’t abandon your goals, whether that’s earning a degree or starting a new career. If your needs are met, you’ll have more energy to do all your chores and look after your child. You’ll also feel lighter and happier with yourself and life in general.

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