Caregivers: Care For Yourself
As caregivers, we often risk getting and feeling “older” when we start to care for our aging parents. The burdens of our tasks can drain much of the joy and spontaneity from our lives, and that can eventually affect our health and wellness. Don’t let it happen! Instead, tap into the kid you once were and embrace a youthful, carefree time that will make this time easier on you. Here are my tips for doing that:
Naptime: Health experts say we should get 7-8 hours per night. A study showed that sleeping too little or at odd hours can increase your risk for diabetes and obesity because lack of sleep messes up your insulin levels and slows your metabolism. In one study, getting only 5.5 hours of sleep a night translated into 12 extra pounds a year. Remember taking naps as a kid and going to bed at 9pm? Try to plan your naps and bedtime as if you were nine-years-old again.
Bath time: Remember how we used to hate taking baths as a kid? Well, as a stressed-out adult caregiver, you may think that baths are a luxurious dream for which you typically don’t have time. But baths – especially those taken with Epsom salts and fragrant oil like lavender – help reduce stress, improve circulation and aid relaxation. A study done in Japan showed that the stress relief from baths helps you fight colds by encouraging bacteria-destroying properties in the immune system. Take 10 minutes for a bath at least three times a week , and don’t forget the rubber ducky.
Playtime: It sounds silly, but playtime can actually help caregivers avoid the burn-out they so often face. While escaping to summer camp may not be feasible, riding your bike, finding a local summer fair where you can ride the carousel or roller coaster, or jumping into your backyard or local community pool (doing your best cannonball!) can give you the mental health break you need. Find a few minutes every day or at least once a week to “play.”
Daydream: Remember lying on your back and looking up into the clouds deciding which shapes you could find? A lion, a car, or even hearts? If you can find a patch of ground – whether it is your backyard or your neighborhood park, take a few minutes each week to just lie on your back and watch the clouds scroll by (or forget the clouds and just lie on your back in your living room – no TV, no music, no external disturbances allowed). It is a variation of meditation that ensures you have the mental stamina to keep going as a caregiver.
Laugh: Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Being a caregiver is nothing to laugh about – it can take a toll on you that is physical, emotional and financial. But finding the funny bone in caregiving can get you through the day. My mom told me that when she was caring for my grandma after a stroke, they both slipped as she was transferring her from wheelchair to bed. Rather than be sad or upset, they both sat on the floor laughing at the absurdity of the situation. One study showed that laughing is a mini workout – it burns calories, increases your heart rate and sends more oxygen to your tissues. Maybe laughter is the best medicine!
Hold hands: Remember the first time you held hands with someone you liked? Your heart beat faster, your oxytocin levels (“cuddling hormone”) surged and a warm feeling of happiness came over your whole body. The National Alliance for Caregiving found that most caregivers feel all alone and 10 percent of caregivers who reported a decline in their health had turned to alcohol or prescription drugs to cope with their stress. Hand-holding can be the prescription caregivers need. A University of Virginia study showed that wives who held the hands of their spouse or a friend reduced their stress levels. Reach out physically to a friend or family member or virtually such as through the help of the online site Lotsa Helping Hands that can connect your volunteer community to get you the break to do all the things above.
Becoming a caregiver is a huge responsibility, but taking the time to embrace your inner child will help you find the balance you need between caring for yourself and caring for your loved one.
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers that will be published in January, 2013 by Balboa Press, an imprint of Hay House Publishers. You can find more information at: www.caregivingclub.com.