“You need to take care of yourself.” Could there be seven more annoying words for a caregiver to hear? You know that you are at risk for caregiver stress and burnout due to the fact you care for an ill or elderly relative or friend. You may already have experienced some symptoms like insomnia, exhaustion, irritability and mood swings. You worry that as someone your family depends on, you cannot afford to get sick – and that causes you more stress. So yes, you know, you should take care of yourself. But how? You are already running on overdrive from early in the morning to late, late at night. How can you possibly make time for self care?
You don’t have to! Even small acts of self care can reap big rewards. Here are 7 surprisingly simple ways to practice self care when you are a caregiver. None of these actions require you to find any extra time in your day so you have no excuse not to try at least one of them, or better yet all of them.
- Drink water. Drinking water is the simplest thing you can do to take care of yourself and, it packs a huge punch. By helping blood to transport oxygen and other nutrients to your cells, water increases your energy levels. Water also helps build strong muscles, which many caregivers need to assist with bathing and helping family members in and out of chairs and beds. The National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board, says women should try to drink 74 ounces of water per day and men should try for 101 ounces, so keep a water bottle with you at all times.
- Since there is so much waiting involved in caregiving – at someone’s bedside, at the doctor’s office or hospital, in the pharmacy, on hold with the insurance company, this can be a great time to take up a new hobby like knitting or jewelry making. Creating something can reduce your stress level and give you a sense of accomplishment that is often lacking in caregiving. In fact, experts say crafting can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression or pain. Because the human nervous system is only capable of processing a certain amount of information at a time, crafting quiets the brains and lets you tune out your other worries.
- Listen to music. Neuroscientists have proven that listening to music increases the positive emotions people feel. Download the music that moves you to your iPod or smartphone and create a positive soundtrack for your otherwise stressful life.
- When you sing, you send musical vibrations through your body. These vibrations can in turn alter your mood. So as you are running errands or driving to your next appointment, why not roll up your car windows and belt out a tune? You’ll be surprised how relaxed you feel when you arrive at your destination.
- Buy yourself flowers. As a caregiver, you’re probably running lots of errands for other people, so add an item to your shopping list that is just for you. Pick up a bouquet of flowers for yourself and put them on your kitchen counter or your desk at work. Jeannette Haviland-Jones, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, conducted a series of studies and found flowers make people happier and deliver a significant boost to their mood.
- Go outside. Get some fresh air, especially if you’re spending most of your days in institutions like hospitals or senior housing. Look at the sky, study the clouds and let nature heal you. Studies show people who spend time in green spaces have lower stress levels.
- Practice deep breathing techniques. Breathing exercises have been proven to help fend off the 'fight-or-flight' response we often feel in stressful situations and help manage our moods by decreasing feelings of anger and anxiety. Practice deep breathing techniques. Inhale through your nose for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of four. Strive for 10 minutes a day if you can – but even five minutes will make a difference.
Self care doesn’t have to feel like one more chore you need to take on as a caregiver. Even the simplest acts of care can help you relax, reconnect and rejuvenate.