Caregiver survival: Staying healthy

April 9, 2012

managing caregiver stress

You are a caregiver for yourself, too. Remembering that staying healthy is crucial to maintaining balance, health, and control. In order to provide your loved one with the best care you need to be in ideal physical and mental condition, even if it means taking an hour or two to get dinner with a friend or a long bath, seemingly “selfish” acts are often transformed into selfless ones since it allows you to be of greater service to others.

The six pillars of a brain healthy lifestyle.

  1. Regular exercise
    Going to the gym or a yoga class are great ways to start off your day. Exercising in the morning often feels more attainable than at night when the day is spent adding tasks to your never-ending to-do list. Plus starting a physical activity when your day begins will give you a burst of energy.If you have found in the past that your gym commitment is spurious, try something that does not require you to travel to work out. Zumba fitness or Pilates DVDs can be at-home gym replacements. Biking and running are also good ways to work out without going to far from home. If you are in a position to, hire a personal trainer to make house calls.
  2. Healthy diet
    Preparing a balanced meal can be the last thing on your mind when caring for your loved one but it is important to not turn to fast food and processed ingredients for nourishment. That food will not give you the energy and stamina you need and will leave you feeling worse off. Stick to fresh ingredients, avoid frying, and maintain a natural balance of the food groups. Eating “power foods” can help you stay on the right track. Michael Pollan’s Food Rules will help guide you to healthy eating habits.
  3. Mental stimulation
    Although it feels like your mind is constantly working to remember medications, figure out living costs, and avoid being overwhelmed, you still need to exercise and challenge your mind. A game of scrabble or chess with your loved one is a good way for you both to take a break and bond. You can also read to your loved one, engaging both of you in mental stimulation. Try a new hobby or change an old one! This is a good way to rework your brain’s mental pathways.
  4. Quality sleep
    Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to staying on your game, remaining positive, avoiding burnout, and maximizing your potential. Try and be in bed by a certain hour every night rather than falling asleep whenever you pass out. That way you know what time to start winding down your activity level and stimulating engagements. Be gentle with yourself during the day—allow yourself naps if you feel you need them to stay focused. However, try and limit naps to thirty minutes to maintain your nightly sleep schedule. To get the deepest sleep possible, avoid caffeine during the afternoon and night, turn off all of the lights when you get into bed, and do not leave music or the TV on while you sleep. Meditation or prayer in bed will help you quiet the stresses and anxieties that arise while you are falling asleep.
  5. Stress management
    Conscious breathing is one of the best ways to combat stress. When you find yourself in pain or in the middle of an overwhelming situation, count your breath in and countdown your breath out (ex. Breathe in: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Breathe out:5, 4, 3, 2, 1). Practicing conscious breathing will train you to take a moment when stressed or angry before reacting. Your breath will ground you in the moment and it will give you a sense of control when everything else feels outside of your control. Preemptively fight stress by creating a stress free ritual, like taking a walk in the park every day, exercising, meditating, or soaking in a long bath. When the stress arises, call a friend, another caregiver, or a family member. If you need to vent, just let them know you need a listener, and if you need advice, ask for help. Or vent on our forums to caregivers who understand what you’re going through. It can be incredibly hard to reach out to others when it feels like you should be able to take care of it all but you will only hurt yourself with that kind of thinking. Write honestly in a journal about your emotions, whether they are clear or confused. It will often provide clarity and has the same effect as venting to a friend. The worst thing you can do is keep your stress bottled up inside. It will eat at you until it manifests into anger or resentment, taken out on you or your loved one.
  6. Active social life
    Assuming the role of a caregiver may feel like a sacrifice of your social life but it does not have to be. Your friends and family will miss you just as much as you miss them if you simply drop out of their lives. Keep in touch by writing weekly emails; call someone every day to catch up; use social media sites to stay updated on your social circle or social sites specific to caregivers and their loved ones. The ways to stay in touch using technology are endless but keep in mind that face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable. Make a coffee date with a friend once a week or invite a relative over for dinner. Your loved one is bound to miss his or her social life as well, so consider hosting a game night if your loved one is up for it. Frequent communication and meetings with those you love will help you in your caregiving role and strengthen your friendships and familial ties.
Written by Alexandra Axel
Alexandra Axel was the first founding staff member at The Caregiver Space. As a New York native, Allie grew up people-watching and story-collecting, eventually pursuing her undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey in sociology and creative writing. At The Caregiver Space, she worked with social media, graphic design, blogging, and program development to brand and grow an online community composed of, and focused on, caregivers. From the seedlings of an idea to the thriving community that it is today, Allie was there from the beginning to support the evolution of The Caregiver Space. Allie enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, devouring books, biking, crafting, urban agriculture and imperfectly cooking. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her pup, Hen.

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