Taking care of oneself while providing for others is a balancing act that we nurses endure every day. Any caregiver—whether you're a nurse, a home health aide or a devoted family member—will realize quickly that daily care is an endlessly arduous job.
When a caregiver has too little time to take care of themselves physically, mentally or socially, they are at high risk for fatigue, depression, anxiety and a host of physical ailments.
Where I work, we call this "caregiver burnout."
We know how important it is to keep burnout at bay when caregivers bear some (or all) of the responsibility for keeping their loved one safe and healthy at home.
For your sake, as well as the sake of the person you're caring for, it's important to decompress.
Here are five tips to help you get there:
It may surprise you to learn that constant stress can lead to unhealthy breathing habits. There are a number of experts – at the community center, at the gym, even online – who can guide you in mini-meditations and breathing exercises to help restore your sense of inner balance and clarity. But special instruction is not necessarily required. Even taking just a few minutes each day to breathe deeply can give you a greater peace of mind. Just set a timer, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
- Eat Relaxing Foods
Vitamin C has been proven to help reduce stress and return blood pressure to normal. And, since oranges last a long time in the refrigerator, you can always have one on-hand. Other stress-reducing foods include avocado, nuts, salmon and oatmeal. Managing your well-being with snacks that support good health can help suppress feelings of stress and anxiety. (Here's a list of 14 antioxidant-rich foods that offer specific health benefits).
- Move Your Body
We all know that the fastest way to healthy living is exercise, but setting aside an hour-long workout session eludes most caregivers, and rightfully so. But a rigorous workout isn't the only physical activity you must rely on to ensure your body is staying healthy. Engaging in light sessions of physical activity each day can have dramatic effects, and get you closer to reaching those workout goals – even if it's just for five minutes. Give yourself the time to walk around the block, do some stretching and, if you're feeling ambitious, incorporate some resistance training with either weights, or exercise bands.
- Tune Up
Research shows that listening to 30 minutes of music, especially classical melodies, produces a significant calming effect. Just five minutes of music should be able to help you de-stress. Whatever your genre, put on some tunes every chance you get – while cooking, driving or cleaning the house – and enjoy. (Take a look at these 13 theme songs for caregivers).
- Focus on the Task at Hand
Caregiving isn't one job; it's multiple jobs throughout all hours of the day. Juggling those tasks in your mind can be overwhelming, even before you actually start doing them. The best way to manage this mental laundry list is to get it down on paper. Write down your series of to-dos and focus on one task at a time; it's one of the easiest caregiver time management skills. Watching those tasks get crossed off throughout the day will help you focus, lower your stress and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.