How do you take care of yourself while caring for someone else? Here are some ideas.
1. BREATHE Take a deep breath, down into your belly. Feel your waist and ribs expand. Hold it for a second or two, and then blow out like you are blowing through a straw. Notice how you feel. For fuller relaxation, try “square breathing”, a technique from Dr. Andrew Weil. Breathe in slowly to a count of 5 or so (the first side of the square), hold it for the same count (the second side), and then slowly exhale for two sets of the same count (sides 3 and 4). To quiet your brain, count silently and visualize the square as it forms. Pausing between inhales and exhales prevents hyperventilation.
2. SLEEP Lack of sleep disrupts the hormone cycles your body needs in order to function properly. It leads to irritability, depression, and poor judgment, mistakes and accidents. It is now being linked to elements of heart disease and cancer. You may not be able to sleep more than a few hours at a time at home. Periodically, ask a friend or family member to stay with your loved one, or use respite services, so that you can get two or more good nights of sleep. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/03/27/sleep-deprivation-risks.aspx
3. EAT WELL Too little sleep, stress, and lack of time often lead to poor food choices. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, but there are some good basic guidelines. Keep your meals and snacks low-fat, keep your carbohydrates “light” (think fruits, green salads, and vegetables instead of starches), and be sure to eat protein, about 4-6 ounces per meal. An apple, some low fat chedder, and a handful of almonds make a great snack. You will feel better and think more clearly. Try cooking two or three large healthful meals on the weekend that you can eat throughout the week. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for more help.
4. EXERCISE 20 -30 minutes of aerobic activity releases endorphins in your brain so that you feel better, think better, and have better stress tolerance. Endorphins last for 48 hours. So, go up and down the stairs, power walk around the block, put on music and dance, get an exercise DVD. To get started, talk to your doctor. Like they say, “Just do it” – at least 20 minutes every other day.
5. FIND JOY Do something just for yourself, that makes you laugh or brings you pleasure. Our days fill too quickly with “”have to’s” You need a “want to” that keeps you in touch with who you are.
6. STAY CONNECTED Caregiving can be isolating. Friends will help you remember who you are, more than just a caregiver, and will support you through the hard times. Call them; give them schedules to call or visit you.
Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” Truly, a caregiver’s creed. Take care of yourself. Now.