A Gift of Zen for the Caregiver

By Lydia Andrews

It’s been a year since my mother passed and I have to be honest, I am still feeling the effects of the stress and challenges from caring for her to this day.  Emotionally, mentally and physically.  In the last two years of her life, I did start to focus more on taking care of myself more because my body forced me to do so.  I was still going, going, going, non-stop and it took a toll on me but there were things I incorporated into my life to help me take better care of myself – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

You know how they tell you on an airplane, the emergency to do rules and one of them is if the oxygen levels drop in the cabin, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you.  They tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before you tend to others.  Only when we take care of ourselves first can we then effectively take care of and help others.  Same rule applies to the caregiver. Here are a few suggestions for you, in reference to mental, emotional, spiritual and physical self-care, for 2018.

MENTAL/EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE

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Detach & disconnect.  This is a hard thing to do.  It’s easier said than done but it is necessary.  You have to give your brain a rest and time to recharge.  It is said that we have over 60,000 thoughts…each day.  60,000.  That’s a lot of brain chatter.  Disconnect from any and all things that cause you negative feelings and emotions.  Stay off social media.  Turn the tv off.  If you alone are responsible for caring for an elder, see if someone can be in charge for a day or two or a weekend.  Do you have a best friend that can help?  A church member?  A neighbor?  If there isn’t anyone, go into another room and just take 15-20 minutes and listen to music you love.  Or read a favorite book.  Do your best to find some time to disconnect to help reduce stress and lessen the negative chatter.  When you begin to do this regularly, it will contribute to improving your mental & emotional being.

Identify personal barriers.  I know for myself, I would very often feel guilty taking any time to myself.  Thoughts like “If I don’t do it, no one else will”, or “I am the only one responsible I can’t take time for myself”, played over and over in my brain.  Are similar thoughts replaying in your mind as well?  Ask yourself this instead: what good will I be if I become ill?  Is it really selfish for me to take time to care for myself?  Do I have an issue with asking anyone for help?

Not only did I have feelings of guilt but sometimes anger and frustration as well.  Why was I the only one taking responsibility?  Why was I dealing with this alone?  So, my life is on hold and I have nothing to say about it?  So many thoughts and questions like these I’d play over and over in my mind.  I realized I had to stop looking to blame anyone or anything and stop looking to hold anyone accountable.  The situation is what it is and how I respond to it was key.  It’s no one’s fault.  I was there to do the best that I could with what I was given.  The same goes for you.  Take that anger towards other siblings and/or family members, for not taking their part in all of this, and put it towards what YOU can do to improve the situation and your self-care.

Take a self-assessment and get to the core of why you may be avoiding taking the time to create and implement a self-care routine for yourself.  Ask yourself how are you getting in your own way to better self-care.

PHYSICAL SELF-CARE

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Get moving!  You may be reluctant but exercise is good for you.  Not only for losing weight but for reducing and eliminating stress. It helps your body release “feel good” hormones which in turn help you to feel more energy, boost your mood, improve flexibility and build endurance.  I love to power walk and do yoga.  Yoga helps to get me centered and more focused on my breath which helps to bring my stress levels way down.  Find an exercise you like and do it.  Do it often.   Even everyday household chores can help to improve your health.  The key is to increase your physical activity and get to using those muscles!

Exercise will improve sleep, increase alertness, decrease tension and improve your mood.  Find the time to incorporate it into your daily routine, even if it’s when you are with the elder you are caring for.  If they can join you when you walk great…do that!  Maybe they can join you in a stretch to help with staying flexible.

You’re thinking “I have no time for exercise.”  Well, don’t think of a large block of time; think of short periods of time twice a day or maybe throughout the day.  Can you carve out 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening?  If you can, bring the person you’re caring for with you.

Make your healthcare a priority.  Don’t forget about your health care.  Are you keeping up with your appointments?  Make sure to schedule your routine wellness appointments and keep up with them.  Stay on top of your needs especially when it comes to preventive care.  And, that includes finding support through a therapist or a church group or a group for caregivers.

Eat clean.  This should be a no brainer but in case it isn’t here’s a simple way to make sure you are doing this.  You should avoid sugar, drink alcohol moderately and ease up on the dairy.  Eat foods that come in their own natural packaging/wrapper.

SPIRITUAL SELF-CARE

Prayer.  One of my mantras is PRAYER WORKS.  Most religions encourage some form of prayer to commune with God or a higher power, seek guidance, ask for help, give thanks.  Do you incorporate prayer in your daily routine?  Give it a try.

Meditation.  Be still and breath.  That’s exactly what meditation is.  It’s being still and just focusing on your breath.  Take 3-5 minutes each day and be still.  And, as you get used to doing this, increase the time you allocate to meditating.  Meditation helps you to become more aware; it increases mindfulness of self.  It relaxes and soothes the mind.  Work to add this into your day.

Be a part of a spiritual community.  Join a church, temple, mosque, synagogue or spiritual community so you can be around people who share your spiritual values and beliefs.  Join a community that will help you to navigate through your experience and help you to always find the hope and brighter side to your situation as well as provide emotional support.

I came to realize that being selfish wasn’t such a bad thing.  I had to be selfish in order to take better care of myself and realize that me doing so was allowing me to have something to give to my mom when I was caring for her.  You can’t pour from an empty cup.  So, for 2018, make YOU a priority.

Lydia Andrews is a holistic health coach, author, motivational/empowerment speaker and lifestyle wellness, advocate. Follow Lydia on Twitter @BWellLiveHealthy

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