11/24/2013 11:28 am ET | Updated Jan 24, 2014

Intensive (Self) Care

By Becky Karush for meQuilibrium

The ranks of family caregivers are growing every year -- two out of every five adults are caring for a loved one who is sick or disabled, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. November is National Caregiver's Month, and it's an excellent time to take care of your own health so that you can tend to the people depending on you. Here are five ways to get started.

Fill the well.
Caring for others all day, every day, draws on your body, your mind, and your heart, and it doesn't take long to empty the deepest reserves. Senior care expert Scott Eckstein suggests setting aside time each day to replenish your self -- something as simple as resting in a quiet room, taking a walk around the block, or making an appointment for a hair cut or checkup.

Remind yourself of you.
Even when caregiving is at its most intense -- a fever spikes, the baby needs round-the-clock nursing -- being a caregiver isn't the only hat you wear. Think about who you were before this role, says Eckstein, and the things you loved to do. Were you an avid gardener? Tend to some pots of herbs or easy greens, like arugula, on the windowsill. Did you love to watch television? Catch up on your favorite shows while you fold the laundry. That person you once were still exists, and those beloved activities can help keep you sane.

Give yourself a soundtrack.
Music is a proven stressbuster, notes the Alzheimer's Association. In fact, just listening to tunes you love can help calm the nervous system, boost a bad mood, and reduce stress-based anxiety. (While some studies point to classical music as especially effective at settling nerves, any music that suits you will do the trick.)

If you are caring for someone with a neurological illness, music can be a way to bring pleasure and connection into days when clarity is hard to come by. See this list from for songs likely to jog memories.

Take care of your back.
Caregiving often involves bending, pushing, and pulling, points out the National Family Caregiver's Association. Using proper lifting and bending techniques is a good first step toward protecting your back, but scheduling a weekly massage is an even better. Or try booking a series of appointments with a personal trainer at your gym with an eye toward strengthening your back and core muscles. The regular one-on-one attention will feed your own need for care, and you'll end up with more physical and emotional power to bring to your daily work.

Find the funny.
Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Online lists humor as one of the top strategies to deal with stress, as laughter has been shown to reduce blood pressure. It can as simple and silly as a video of a cat stuck in a hamster wheel (making caregivers laugh may be one of the noblest callings of Youtube), a page-a-day humor calendar from your favorite comic strip, or a website showcasing unintentionally bad English translations. Whatever lifts you into a little giggle or a big guffaw, make it part of your day.

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