Simple Steps to Healthy Living for Complex Needs Parents

What is Healthy Living?

There so many streams of thought on what healthy living is.

Different standards according to how or where you were raised and what you were exposed to.

Most people would agree, that it means both physical and mental health working together in harmony.

As the parent of a child with a life-limiting illness, there are also many different ways to approach healthy living:

  • For some “that’s a future me problem” either consciously or subconsciously.
  • Others are starting to think that the way they feel, cope or even the way they look in the mirror is an indication that something is amiss. But with everything going on, figuring it out, or making a plan of action just brings on more stress.
  • Or you could be one of the unicorn ones, perhaps forced by past circumstances that current people can’t see. You keep yourself fit and healthy year-round, knowing it’s the best way to prepare yourself for each day.

There is one other category that immediately comes to mind:

  • Those who are struggling massively with their health. Years of stress and trauma, just doing so so with looking after your health.
    Now you’re booking your specialist. You have to figure out how to fit your doctors’ appointments between your child’s.
    Often the doctors have no real explanations and no real solutions. They make comments like ‘You can only live with that level of stress and pressure for so long before it starts to affect your health.’

I’ve seen it this many times.

At this point, I’ve seen parents putting their affairs in order because their child’s needs are so complex.

They know it will take months and months to iron out the details of their child’s care. So don’t want to wait and see what the doctors come up with in case it is too late.

The way I see it is you want to be in any of the first 3 places.

Then you have more choices.

If you’re in the last position, even if you find the right solution, it will take more than 5 minutes to fix years of neglect.

So let’s think.

Look at our lives, and ask: am I do enough for myself & am I doing enough for the people who need me the most?

Are we doing enough to consider ourselves healthy?

Some studies show that only 3% of people are doing enough to meet the criteria of real healthy living.

There are a variety of different areas of healthy living.

I am not sure that any is more important than another.

Four Areas of healthy living

Healthy eating:

This is a broad topic because healthy eating includes considerations like: Are you eating 5 -11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? 

But it also includes things like, are you making it a priority to have family meals regularly? Do you know the benefits are more than just quality time?

5 to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables?!

Some experts would probably say it should be even more with poor soil quality and over-farming.

That sounds like a lot. Realistically it is.

If you know anyone who is doing that everyday while balancing being a parent of a child with additional needs, please send me their name.

I want to pick their brain!

An average hospital day for me personally involved something basic and boring for breakfast if I don’t skip it entirely. If I was really good that might include a fruit. 

Lunch would normally be equally as boring, possibly contain some lettuce or spinach. Maybe a tomato, probably some protein; ham or chicken. Or left-overs, maybe pasta. 

 However, it also could be a sandwich from the ward fridge, cheese & Vegemite, chicken and mayo. Egg maybe.

Perhaps cheese, perhaps nothing.

Dinner, this is where I’d try and make it up. (Often blowing my portion sizes out.)

Some veggies (normally frozen – I will point out though, with snap freezing they have massively improved their ability to lock nutrients into a food.) I’ve heard its just as good as fruit and veggies that are a few days to a week old.

Some protein and fill the plate up with carbs.

But when I go back and add up a ‘good’ busy day, I get 3-5 servings. Missing out on all kinds of different minerals, vitamins, fibre, and good fats that are required for good nutrition.

Nutrition effects, sleep, weight, mood, energy – all the other areas of healthy living. When I got that right – starting looking after myself, all of those things improved and more.

I added a whole food supplement:

22 fruits and veggies in the morning, all the water-soluble vitamins and minerals you need in a day, takes 30 seconds.

wild Alaskan sockeye salmon capsule, packed with omegas and good fats that our bodies need to repair at night, & a noni fruit extract that improves absorption of nutrition, improves blood flow, improving mental clarity.

Family meals

Family meals are encouraged because meals together are not only good for relationship building, and battling isolation. More than that, dinners around the table together in most cases, increases nutritional intake. Setting the example of healthy living for the children.

We created our list of meals to cook in the hospital.


Incorporating fruits, & nuts is an excellent and easy way I found to have a stash. It helped me avoid the food court dash to buy something sugar-filled.

Do an intentional shop when you’re taking a breath.

Even have some dried fruits and nuts in your hospital go-bag.

Physical activity

Exercise for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. 

This doesn’t mean you need to go join a gym, start bodybuilding or training to run a marathon.

Though if you want to go for it!

Just make sure you don’t neglect the other areas of healthy living.

You can break it down

I was in hospital one day with Matthew, listening to an interview with an exercise expert – he was also a bodybuilder, and personal trainer who had so many degrees I can’t remember what any of them were – I got to ask him a question:

“What if I can only fit in 10 minutes at a time?”

His response was “If you exercise in 10-minute blocks you may well work harder and more effectively than guys who come into the gym and smash out huge workouts.”

Life-changing moment.

I built my exercise in the hospital routine around that recommendation.

Aim for 30 minutes a day but if you can’t do it all at once, do a bit at a time.

Some focus on aiming for 10,000 steps a day, which is awesome.

Especially if you’re getting outside.

Fresh air, vitamin D. Blow the cobwebs out, space to just be.

But if you find that challenging, ten-minute blocks of exercise reduce the number of steps you need to do!

I love this app/website that converts the workouts to steps.

Mental health

Healthy living is more than just physical health it includes emotional, mental and spiritual health.

Mental health is also supported by other areas:

  • Exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Nutrition helps mood, sleep, mental clarity, brain fog.
  • Sleep helps mental clarity, body repair & brain fog.

Going hand in hand, while we live a lifestyle of mental, physical and emotional stressors we can’t neglect any area and expect to thrive.

Other things to try for supporting and improving mental health:

  • Journaling – for me this may be praying in writing. Other days its laying everything that is on my mind out on paper.
  • Meditating – for me this often looks like the same as praying. I might read my bible or another book on reflection or inspiration, taking the time to think or reflect on it. Or it could be breathing exercises.
  • Laugh – do something fun. Watch a funny show, hang out with someone who makes you laugh, watch funny cat videos.
  • Positive attitude – Instead of focusing on the burden of the tasks that weigh you down, rephrase: ‘I get to make dinner because I have a beautiful family.’ ‘I get to do medications again because they are improving my child’s quality of life & keeping him comfortable.’
  • Brain dump – try to reduce the mental load you carry. A simple way I found was by writing everything down. Not putting pressure on myself to remember everything. I learned to brain dump as part of putting a system in place for my basic home routines – in a binder – check out where I learned in the Mom Binder Masters group.
  • Be pleased with your efforts – celebrate your achievements.
  • Reach out – don’t stay isolated. There are so many others feeling the same way you are or would be happy to hear from you.
  • Professional help – get support when you need, even if you’re not sure if it will help, give it a go.

What to avoid

Excessive eating – lots of comfort eating will need to further issues we need to deal with in the future, better to have a plan for when we ‘need’ to comfort eat.

Smoking – anyone who smokes or doesn’t, knows the health benefits of quitting. One that surprised me: 6 months after quitting you will likely have lower stress levels.

Alcohol – we also know the recommendations on moderate consumption of alcohol. A few things that we don’t know.
Excessive consumption of alcohol makes people suffering the symptoms of anxiety worse. It affects the production of collagen in your skin. Making you look older! Your organs have to go into overdrive to process the toxins. Taking the energy and focus of other things they are normally supposed to be doing.

Big problems

We believe that healthy living is too much work, it takes too much time. That it is more stress than it is worth.

Advertising and research pour dollars into messaging re-enforcing these ideas.

That’s it’s okay and normal to just put aside yourself until the problem is big enough that your doctor can write a script or do a procedure to deal with the symptoms.

You deserve the time and attention it will take to create your healthy living style.

You are worth it.

Your family, your child will be better off.

Not facing the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle in the future, benefits everyone.

Will creating healthy living have that many benefits?

Other than those already listed?
People who meet the criteria for healthy living have significantly longer lives than those who don’t.

Up to 14 years for women and 12 years for men.

This is not fluffy hope, this is life-changing stuff.

If you have any questions about how you do this with your life, I’d love to brainstorm with you. If you’ve found ways to make it work, I’d love to hear those too.

Check out our Looking After Yourself page or connect with me on facebook or email.

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