3 simple ways to care for the caregiver

Pat ThorneEducation, Family Caregiving, General Information2 Comments

Making self care a priority in 2016

In last week’s blog I focused on the importance of taking care of your self and introduced you to the Caregiver Bill of Rights. In my Facebook posts this past week I have been giving you daily reminders of those rights and have suggested ways to put them into practice. This week I want to focus on the first of those Caregiver Rights:

“I have the right to take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness.

It will give me the capability of taking better care of my loved one.”

(click here to read the full list)

How?

So how do you make caring for the caregiver a priority this year if you’ve never done this before? How and where do you start? You begin by making small and simple changes in your daily routine.

Here are 3 simple ways to begin to care for the caregiver.

1. Take a minute

In my counseling practice I teach my clients about the long term benefits of a mindfulness or meditation practice and help them find a practice that works for them. Now many hear the word meditation and immediately discard it as new age mumbo jumbo. But the amount of research available on the subject is astounding. Studies show that a simple daily meditation practice not only reduces anxiety and depression but also benefits the physical body over the long term.

Meditation can take many forms and it is important that you find a method and process that works for you, your lifestyle and belief system. In this week’s newsletter I taught you a simple one-minute meditation exercise, one you can easily do anywhere and anytime. From one minute of quiet, practiced several times throughout the day, or a dedicated 20 minutes twice a day, either will have a significant impact not only on your mental and emotional well being but your physical health as well.

2. Learn how to sleep

It sounds odd, but the reality is that most people don’t know how to get a good night’s sleep. Many struggle to fall asleep while others struggle to stay asleep. When you are sleep deprived you are just not as effective as a caregiver. You will tend to be more irritable and is it much more difficult to focus and problem solve. So learning how to get a good night’s rest is essential to being a less stressed caregiver.

How much?

To begin you need to know just how much sleep you need every night. The rule of thumb is about 8 hours a night. But if you are like me, you need more; closer to 9  (10 if I can get it:-) and some of you really do need less. But many of you fool yourself into thinking you need less sleep than you really do. Just because you can “get by” on less doesn’t mean that it is healthy or sustainable. Also we tend to think we can do with less during the week and then “make it up” on the weekend. Well our bodies don’t work that way; it was designed to be in balance with a regular schedule of sleeping, eating and physical activity – everyday.

Count backwards

No, I don’t mean count backwards as a method to fall sleep (although this does work) I mean count backwards to tell you when to go to sleep. If your alarm is set to go off at 7 am and you need 8 hours of sleep then you need to be asleep by 11, which means you need to start the process at 10 pm.

It takes an hour

Our bodies are naturally wired to sleep. But it is a physical process that takes about an hour to complete. When our environment is dark and quiet, and our mind is calm and settled; it sends signals to the brain to begin the sleep process. It triggers an increase in melatonin and other body chemistry that induce sleep. So to be asleep at a certain time you need to start the process an hour before, creating the conditions to signal the brain to go to sleep.

Clear the mind

An hour before you want to sleep begin to clear your mind of the things that are cluttering it; write out you to do list for the next day, journal, read, pray, meditate, listen to music, do something that will quiet the mind and settle the body. If you are still feeling anxious and tense then try a simple relaxation exercise called a progressive body scan. Starting at your toes begin to tense, hold and release your muscles. Work your way up the body to your head, tensing and releasing each major muscle group. If you are still feeling tense, then repeat the process moving down your body.

Limit input

Turn off the TV, cellphone, even your eBook reader. Not only the content but more importantly the light emitted from these devices can send stimulating signals to the brain that may keep you awake. You know this is happening when your body says “I’m tired” but your thoughts are keeping you awake. Reading is a good way to settle the mind but read a “real book” or magazine. The eyes are reading from light reflected and deflected off the paper versus an electronic device that is emitting light.

Set the stage

Make sure your room is dark, quiet and the right temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. Wear earplugs or get a white noise machine to block out noise. And use room darkening curtains or eyeshades to block out the light. Darkness is an important trigger for the sleep cycle.

If these simple changes don’t help, then talk to your doctor about the over-the-counter remedies or prescription solutions available.

3. Move more and more often

Notice I didn’t say “exercise”. Many of you have probably made a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise. And these resolutions tend to be the first to go by February. What I am encouraging you to do is much easier. Just set the intention to move more and more often. Physical activity keeps the heart pumping, the blood circulating and all of our internal systems working more efficiently. Our physical body was designed to move but our modern lifestyle is more sedentary. So we have to make a conscious effort to be more physically active. There are lots of simple ways to incorporate more movement into your daily routine – without going to the gym or buying any expensive equipment. Park the car further away and walk, take the stairs, walk the dog more often and for longer distances.

As a therapist and blogger my job has me sitting most of the day. So I recently bought an inexpensive pedometer to see just how many steps I was taking – at it wasn’t many. But now, by watching the number of steps I’ve taken through out the day, I am motivated to take just a few more! It’s a small change but a change.

Keep it simple and sustainable. Begin to be aware of when, where and how often you are moving and do more of that.

I hope you found this helpful.

Please be sure to send me your comments and questions by clicking on the comments link at the top of this page.

And until next time – take care of yourself and know that there is

…help for the journey

2 Comments on “3 simple ways to care for the caregiver”

  1. Pat,
    Thanks for the helpful posts . They are very beneficial to us as a caregivers to Maria’s mom. I look forward to reading them.
    Dempsey

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I am so glad you are finding these helpful. Best of luck on your caregiving journey

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