Essential Self-Care For Caregivers
“Self-care is how you take your power back.”
― Lalah Delia
The best and most important way to jump-start your self-care routine is to manage your stress levels.
A certain amount of stress is normal and necessary. If we didn’t experience positive stress every second of the day, we wouldn’t breathe, our bodies wouldn’t function, and our brain would stop working. Healthy stress keeps us alive –pure and simple. Unhelpful stress, on the other hand,is any event that interferes with our peace of mind and well-being on the physical, mental and emotional levels.
As a caregiver you are familiar with the stress that comes along with the role you have chosen or that has chosen you. Even the most resilient people feel the strain that accompanies taking care of others.
According to the Mayo Clinic about 1 in 3 adults in the US provides care to other adults as informal caregivers. I’m sure that is also true for those providing caregiver services to children and youth.
The Mayo Clinic provides these signs of caregiver stress:
Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
Feeling tired often
Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
Gaining or losing weight
Becoming easily irritated or angry
Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Long-term stress is a one-way ticket to chronic health problems. Self-care on a daily basis is key to managing short or long-term stress. One way to deal with stress is to build resilience, which can be defined as the ability to rebound quickly from a crisis, tragedy, trauma or a serious case of ‘stress mess.’ For more tips on self-care, check out our blog post A Caregivers Guide To Self Care.
According to the article, “The Secrets of Resilient People,” by Beth Howard that appeared in the AARP Magazine November December 2009:
“Highly resilient people don’t fall apart or if they do, it’s not for long. They call on their inner strength and recruit outside resources to keep moving forward. And they ‘tweak’ their future expectations to fit a new reality be it the loss of a loved one, a life-changing diagnosis or a devastating financial blow.”
Resiliency varies from person to person but scientists agree there is a genetic component and that resiliency, like any skill, can be learned and practiced. A good place to start is with your breath.
A Yoga-Based Self-Care Technique for Dealing with Caregiver Stress
What it is: The Relaxation Breath is a technique you can do anytime and anywhere in any situation. It is a breath technique that does four things at the same time. It:
Brings your attention to your breath
Allows you to take fewer breaths per minute
Lengthens your exhalation
Calms the nervous system
Why it works: Science has found that in addition to its metabolic functions in keeping us alive, how we breathe has a relationship to how we feel. For example, when we feel stressed, angry or in pain we often hold our breath, breathe rapidly or take short shallow breaths. When we become aware of how our breath reacts to stress, intense emotions or pain, we can begin to manage our breathing, which in turn can lower the impact of stress on the body and the mind. Regular practice will help you build resilience and improve your response to stress.
How to do it: Instructions for the Relaxation Breath
Sit with your spine comfortably aligned.
Soften your chest and shoulders.
Close your eyes or keep them slightly open with a downward gaze.
Inhale normally. Exhale normally.
After exhaling, (and before you take another breath in), hold your breath out and silently count “one thousand one, one thousand two.”
Repeat and continue for 2-3 minutes or longer if you are comfortable.
If you practice regularly, you will be able to use this technique in situations when you must stand and keep your eyes open.
If we are consistent with our self-care practices, we build resiliency and can keep our stress from becoming long-term and chronic.
“Stress is the trash of modern life. We all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” ― QuoteGarden.com
About the Author:
Beth Gibbs, M.A, C-IAYT, is an author, speaker, yoga teacher and self-awareness trainer. She has published a personal growth book for adults titled, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment and Resilience in a Complicated World and a children’s book, Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi. She blogs at bethgibbs.com