November is National Caregiver's Month, and whether you’re a professional caregiver or are bearing the burden of care for family members and friends, you’re likely enduring more stress as a result. Three things to try today to keep your head above water while you’re keeping everyone else in your life afloat.
Fill the well.
Caring for others all day, every day, draws continually on your body, your mind, and your heart, and it doesn’t take long to empty the deepest reserves. Mark McDevitt at Wholeliving.com suggests setting aside time each day to replenish your self — something as simple as five minutes 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 McDevitt, 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, writes Jan Spilman, a blogger and Vancouver-based nurse and therapist specializing in compassion fatigue. 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 caring.com 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 the reason Youtube exists after all), a page-a-day humor calendar from your favorite comic strip, or a website showcasing of unintentionally bad English translations. Whatever lifts you into a little giggle or a big guffaw, make it part of your day.
Becky Karush is a writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. Visit her at lifestorycompany.com