Self-care for caregivers
Caregivers need TLC, too. Follow this guide to giving yourself a much-needed time-out.
Being a primary caregiver for a loved one with a chronic medical condition or who is recovering from surgery or an illness requires the kind of mental stamina and strength usually associated with astronauts or superheroes.
Worried you missed the handout of capes when you accepted this role? Take heart—you can get through the emotional roller coaster of a ride that is caregiving when you make time to nurture your own mental health.
At Leeza’s Care Connection, an educational resource for caregivers founded by Leeza Gibbons as part of her Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, the message to caregivers is: Take your oxygen first, like when you’re on an airplane. That’s the best way to help a loved one.
Try one or more of these practical ways to recharge your mental health on a daily basis.
Breathe. Healing breaths that are central to yoga can help you regain a sense of clarity. But you don’t need to take a class to learn a special technique. Start by simply taking a pause for a few slow, deep, deliberate breaths. One specific yoga-breathing exercise that promotes a sense of calm is Nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. It’s very easy to do. Like it sounds, you alternate which nostril you breathe out of by blocking the other with your finger. You can find detailed instructions for how to practice this technique here.
Take advantage of waiting times. While your loved one is undergoing a test or procedure (something where you’re not needed in the appointment), head out for a short walk, grab a coffee or smoothie, and just soak in the moment when you’re on your own. If straying too far makes you anxious, go ahead and stay put, but be prepared with a good novel or a craft project. The idea is to give your mind something else to focus on.
Find a tribe. Chances are you escort your loved one to a support group for their condition. You can benefit from finding your own network of caregiver pals who’ll understand exactly what you’re going through. The doctor’s office, local hospital, or area agency on aging should be able to hook you up with possible groups. Or explore an online group: Try the AARP’s Caring Community, the support section at agingcare.com, or one of the condition-specific support groups for caregivers at caring.com.
Keep a journal. Getting your thoughts down on paper has been shown to reduce stress levels. How? It helps you clear your mind and process what you’re thinking and feeling. If you don’t like the idea of keeping a dedicated journal, you can reap the same benefits by jotting down your thoughts at any given moment and then tossing out the paper. A 2013 study found that the symbolic act of throwing away the paper banishes negative thoughts, at least in the short term.
Do a quick release before bed. You’re forgiven if you want to simply crash at the end of a long day. But one thing you can do right after your head hits the pillow is a mindfulness technique known as progressive muscle relaxation. Here, you’re going to clench and release each muscle group for about five seconds at a time. Start at your forehead and then move down to your toes. Feel free to repeat any area as needed.