By Corrie Pikul
1) Remember to Take Your Sunshine Pill
On those days when you're mentally exhausted before lunchtime, sunshine can make the rest of the day feel less daunting. When our eyes detect light, the pineal gland in the brain produces the feel-good chemical serotonin to perk us up (the root words of serotonin are "serum" and "tonic"--it's basically a happiness potion). The vitamin D you get from sunshine has also been shown to have health benefits, like helping strengthen bones, boosting your immune system and reducing cancer risk, and newer research shows it may help protect the brain. A study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed the relationship between blood levels of vitamin D and cognitive ability in 858 older adults and found that over six years, people with very low vitamin D levels were 60 percent more likely than others to have major declines in thinking, learning and memory. You'll get a dose of D in about 10 minutes in the sun, so take your tea outside or bring a magazine to the stoop (remember to put sunscreen on your face, but for these short periods, leave your arms and legs bare).
2) Let Dr. Oz Refer You to Another Heart Specialist: Dr. Fluffy
You may have heard that pets can ease the suffering of the sick or injured--but these furry Mother Teresas can even help those folks who are feeling generally okay. Petting your dog or cat--or even gazing at your fish in an aquarium--helps calm you down and lower your blood pressure, according to Dr. Oz. Researchers who tracked 24 hypertensive stockbrokers who adopted a cat or dog found that pet ownership blunted the blood pressure response to mental stress (incidentally, the standard hypertension drug did not). Don't have a pet? Visit a neighbor who does or stop by an animal shelter on your way home.
3) Get Hands-On Treatment for Your Back
Picking up things (and kids), sitting all day, having people lean on you--all of these take a toll on your back. You can stay flexible and strong by doing daily exercises like planks, downward dogs and bird dogs. When you notice aches and twinges, though, schedule a massage appointment. A study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that a relaxation-type or Swedish massage is an effective treatment for lower-back pain. Nearly two-thirds of patients who received a weekly massage for 10 weeks said their back pain was significantly improved or gone altogether (only about one-third of the patients receiving medication or physical therapy found similar relief).
4) Allow Yourself to Be Talked into Talking About Yourself
When your focus is on what other people need, want or have-to-have-this-minute, it's hard to remember--let alone do anything about--what you need or want, says Leah Eskenazi, director of operations and planning at the Family Caregiver Alliance. Spending time with a friend forces you to answer the question, "How are you?"--and you may be surprised at how much you have to say on that topic once you get going. We know--life seems to be on high RPMs all the time, and making plans might feel like yet another task you don't have time for. So leave it up to your friends: Once a month, pledge to say yes to any invitation you receive. Sure, the timing may not be the best, but few things are going to fit perfectly into your currently chaotic schedule, and, as your friends have probably been telling you, you need to get out of the house.
5) Snack Like a Smart 5-Year-Old
You're so overwhelmed that you forget to eat, so you go on a de facto fast until everyone is asleep, then raid the cupboards--washing it all down with a nightcap. You know (most likely from experience) that this smorgasbord is going to leave you feeling bloated and woozy the next day. Avoid late-night binges by stocking up on healthy--but tasty--snacks like trail mix, string cheese, granola bars and yogurt drinks, things you can eat while taking care of tasks throughout the day. A quick test of whether it's a good choice: Ask yourself if a health-nut mother would give it to her kindergartener. At night, trade the junk food buffet for a balanced dinner you can whip up quickly (here are 13 recipes you can make in 20 minutes or less). Enjoy that drink (if anyone deserves it, it's you), but be aware that while alcohol may make you feel drowsy, excess amounts disrupt sleep. Consider sticking to one glass--and filling it up before dinner instead of after.
6) Rewrite Your Worst Days as Saturday Night Live Skits
At some point, the people you're caring for are going to say and do things--possibly involving bodily fluids--that are going to put you over the edge. When this happens, of course, you'll take a step back, choose to be mindful and otherwise respond in a perfectly mentally healthy kind of way. Except when you don't. To gain a little distance between yourself and the this-can't-be-happening reality, imagine how the situation would play out as a comedy sketch. In other words, find the funny. And for times when you can't even muster the will to do that, there's always the Internet. Go find the most absurd comedy clips online, and drown your sorrows in this ridiculously cute example, or this cringe-inducing yet hilarious story.
7) Go with Leaves, Not Flowers
Roses and gerber daisies can be colorful pick-me-ups, but they don't have the healing power of the less appreciated eucalyptus, especially when you feel a cold coming on. The scent of these leafy boughs has been shown to ease decongestion and clear the sinuses, so hang a bundle of fresh eucalyptus from the curtain rod in your bathroom as soon as you start sniffling. The heat and steam will activate the herb's essential oils, and one bunch should last a few weeks.