In order to remain comfortably at home, more and more elderly and chronically ill people depend on a family caregiver's help with activities of daily living such as personal hygiene, cooking and transportation. While family caregivers are often glad that their family member can remain at home where they're comfortable, the reality of providing that assistance can really take its toll. Caregivers struggle with finding time to take care of themselves amidst all the work they're doing for their family member. Add to this a job and kids of their own, and caregivers can begin to feel overwhelmed.
When a family caregiver has little time to take care of themselves either physically, mentally or socially, they are at high risk for fatigue, depression, anxiety and a host of physical ailments. At the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, where I work, we call this "caregiver burnout." We know how important it is to keep burnout at bay when family caregivers have some or all of the burden for keeping their family member safe and healthy at home.
It is common sense that we can only care for someone else if we're taking care of ourselves first, but many caregivers struggle to put themselves ahead of the person they're caring for -- even for a few minutes each day. One resource that many caregivers might not realize they have access to is respite care. A good-quality respite program can ensure that a family member's needs are well met, giving the caregiver a much-needed chance to exhale. Yet, unfortunately, respite programs are not available in all communities, and in some places, the fees can be prohibitively expensive.
So when you can't find the perfect care situation that enables you to take long stretches of quality time to yourself, we recommend you do the next best thing -- commit to just five minutes a day to do something for yourself. Here are some ideas that we've heard from caregivers that help them to decompress:
There are many experts who teach restorative breathing techniques. You'd be surprised at how our stressful lives can lead to unhealthy breathing habits. Online coaches or instructors at the gym can provide helpful tips to guide you in mini-meditations and breathing strategies to restore inner balance. Even if you take only five minutes out of each day to breathe deeply -- no special instruction required -- you can give yourself peace of mind. Just set your timer for five minutes, close your eyes, and let your breath flow.
According to TV's Dr. Oz, research shows that listening to 30 minutes of music, especially classical music, produces the equivalent calming effect of taking 10 milligrams of Valium. So we figure -- just five minutes of music should help you to de-stress. Whatever your genre, put on some music every chance you get -- while cooking, driving or cleaning the house -- and enjoy! Even a five-minute music break can help you recharge.
A German study in Psychopharmacology found that vitamin C helps reduce stress and return blood pressure to normal levels after a stressful situation. And since oranges last a long time in the refrigerator, so you can always have one on hand. Other stress-reducing foods include nuts (especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts), avocado, oatmeal and salmon. Mindfully managing your own well-being with foods that support good health can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
We all know that exercise makes us healthier. But finding time for hour-long workout sessions eludes many caregivers. The good news is that recent evidence suggests that accumulations of short sessions of physical activity may provide as much protection as one longer, continuous session. If caregivers we meet can't follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to "accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week," we tell them that "even five minutes of activity can calm you and start to get the kinks out." So give yourself five minutes to walk around the block, do some knee-lifts and, if you're feeling ambitious, try some push-ups or planks. Who knows? Five minutes could turn into 10 before you know it.
Finally, most caregivers have a laundry list of tasks they need to do to manage their own lives as well as care for their family member. Just thinking about all these responsibilities can overwhelm many people. We suggest you write down your list in order of priority, and then commit to getting just one or two things done per day. Gaining some control over your to-do list will help you feel more in control.
If you have any suggestions for how to de-stress quickly, share them here.
For more tips on preventing caregiver burnout, please visit the Visiting Nurse Service of New York website.
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