When you become a caregiver, you suddenly don’t seem quite as important to yourself as you should. Your priorities are shifted immediately to the loved one you’ve taken under your wings. While providing care is a rewarding experience, it also has its pitfalls, with stress being the #1 issue. But if you want to be a truly effective caregiver, you have to remember to put yourself first sometimes.
Here are nine things you can do starting today to give your mind and body a moment to recharge.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep offers so many benefits that it would be tough to list them all. A few specific to stress include increased productivity and having better emotional control. The National Sleep Foundation explains that sleep is when your body goes to work optimizing your systems and repairing damage from the day. Try to get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
- Don’t neglect your diet. The food you eat can make or break you. If you eat on the run and survive off cereal and quick snacks, you don’t give your body and mind the fuel it needs to keep you going and in high spirits. And, eating foods that don’t digest properly—boxed dinners, fast food—can make you feel weak and sluggish, which will only make it more difficult to handle stress.
- Do something every day just for you. Your days will likely be filled with caring for your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few moments to do something you enjoy. This could be watching your favorite television show, drawing, or baking. Participating in your favorite hobby can help reboot your thoughts and allows you to focus.
- Stretch your muscles. No matter where you are, you always have the power to stretch out your stress. According to Plexus, there are numerous stretching exercises that can be done while sitting and don’t require any special training. The benefits of stretching include relieving tension and easing joint and muscle stiffness.
- Read a book or magazine. It only takes six minutes of reading to slow your heart rate and release tension from the muscles. The Telegraph reports that the temporary mental break you get from reading a book is not just an escape, but it can help stimulate your brain and ease you into a state of altered and stress-free consciousness.
- Take a stroll down memory lane. Positive memories can have a positive effect in the here and now. Nature Research recently published an abstract that lists many ways that reminiscing about positive memories can act as a buffer against acute stress. Thinking about happy times can actually lower your body’s cortisol production, leaving you in a more positive state of mind.
- Ask for help. Asking for help is difficult for caregivers. But there is no shame in admitting that you need support even while supporting others. Enlist the assistance of your loved ones, friends, and family or consider hiring a part-time respite provider so you can focus on other aspects of your life, including your own family or career.
- Keep good habits intact. Try to maintain as many good habits as possible. If you currently exercise in the morning, continue to do so. You should also keep up other good habits including drinking plenty of water, visiting your doctor for regular exams, and spending time with your pets.
- Go outside. Everybody loves a warm afternoon in the sunshine, but the weather doesn’t have to be perfect to reap physical and mental health benefits from being outdoors. NBC News explains that going outdoors can actually lower your blood pressure and can help with anxiety and depression.
Being a caregiver, especially to an aging relative, is a full-time job and one that offers many benefits, including time spent with one you love and a greater appreciation for life. But you have to take care of yourself throughout the process.