Welcome back! Have you given any thought to what your caregiver shield is made of?
First, let’s define self-care.
Self-care is foremost an awareness of what sustains you and actively tapping into those resources. Sometimes, these resource may feel like indulgences, especially when your schedule is full of care-taking. Maybe you think the ultimate indulgence is massage, or perhaps it’s a pedicure, a wonderful meal or live music. Know what makes you happy and make sure you regularly schedule “me time”. Either way, it is invaluable to set a foundation of wellness for yourself now. You start where you are.
Who sustains you? You will want to surround yourself with these people. Think of the people closest to you – who is a support, who is a drain? Look for the people on whom you can lean, and keep toxic people to a minimum, especially when you are so emotionally challenged. Oftentimes a support group can offer the sustenance and resources you need when you are challenged.
The National Caregiving Organization is full of caregiving resources and connections to other agencies. If your loved one is suffering from a certain condition such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, you can find support groups specific to your area here: Alzheimer’s Organization
Make sure you treat your physical body well too by eating whole foods, exercising, and getting the sleep you need to keep going. Meditation and yoga are also great ways to keep your batteries charged. I speak from experience. Remember my stiff neck? The best thing for me was yoga and I now practice practically every morning. Exercise of any kind will help release tension, settle your mind, help you sleep better and actually make you feel more energized. A walk does wonders.
Sleep is necessary for cell renewal and vital to our mental health. Lack of sleep can actually cause weight gain (The Handy Nutrition Answer Book, 319). Weight gain is also caused by release of cortisol which occurs when you are stressed, and contributes to belly fat.
To improve your sleep, take a few simple steps before bedtime to wind down. Turn off all electronics for 30 minutes before bedtime (and don’t take them to bed with you!), no TV in the bedroom, and try to meditate for a few minutes beforehand. There are many apps out there to try for free – Headspace, Calm, Sattva are just a few to investigate.
Another natural, calming and nurturing thing to do for yourself is indulging in a Hot Towel Scrub. Fill a basin with hot water, dunk a washcloth and wring it out, and then use this towel all over your body. I like to start with my face, then I do the rest of my body, starting with my legs, arms, and finishing off with the torso, using upward movements towards the heart.
Often a stressed individual is responding to their sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) throughout the day, and needs to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system before bed to slow down the heart rate, relax the muscles, and aid digestion. This little ten minute ritual, not unlike a massage, does just that. It soothes and helps you to focus on you. Give it a try.
Eating well is so important too, because if you eat junk food, you are not getting the nutrients you need, which can cause you to overeat. If you eat irregularly, you are causing imbalances in your body chemistry that could cause you to become hypo- or hyper-glycemic (both of which are refer to glucose levels, and can be triggered by not eating enough or too much). Stress-related cortisol release in the body causes unwanted belly fat. (Caregivers Stress = Cortisol = Fat) Stress depletes Vitamin C, which is used by the adrenal gland, and adversely affects nutritional balance, impacting the immune system.
The best way to eat well is to eat whole foods, that you prepare. Planning one day where you cook several healthy meals for the week will save you time, help you eat healthy and reduce your stress. Sign up for a food delivery service such as Door to Door Organics, or your local food store, if they offer it. Combining food delivery and one day meal planning will save your invaluable time.
The most important message I can share with you is that you have to schedule the time for yourself. If you don’t, you can easily get into a rut of pushing your needs back, as you do one more thing. That is, until you can’t.
I learned all these lessons the hard way. I did everything wrong myself, as I took on an unexpected role for which I was ill prepared. However, my stress made me find beneficial tools and now I am healthier than I have ever been. I learned yoga, massage, healthy cooking, and nutrition as I found better ways to support myself, and ultimately my loved ones.
Michelle Martin is an Integrated Nutrition Health Coach and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Her website can be found here: Teeming Health
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.