Dealing with a loved one who’s ill or incapacitated is stressful; we all know this. Unfortunately, though, the psychological needs of caregivers, family members and friends often get lost in the shuffle of arranging for care, scheduling doctor’s visits, and dealing with health crises.
Some caregivers, especially family and friends, feel selfish thinking about their own mental wellbeing while their wife, brother, son or mother is in such dire shape, but the fact of the matter is—whether you’re a primary caregiver part of the time or simply assist while a full-time nursing aide cares for your loved one, if you’re not in good psychological shape, your ability to help is critically diminished.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should rearrange doctor’s appointments so that you can take a spa day, but an ongoing effort to attend to your mental health—think of it as maintenance work, like you’d do for your car or a garden—can not only benefit you, but also the loved one you’re caring for.
The question is—how do you do it?
Relax in Minutes
Sometimes, as a caregiver, you may feel like you don’t have the time to spare to help yourself relax; we understand. Caregiving is a full-time job, whether or not you have a nursing aide helping you. Here are a few techniques you can use when you’re stressed but only have a couple of minutes to yourself.
- Deep breathing. This isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Often we breathe from our chest, rather than our abdomen, which means we’re actually getting less oxygen than we should. To ensure that you’re breathing from your abdomen, lay a hand on your chest and another on your stomach. When you breathe deeply, your stomach should expand—moving the hand there drastically—while the hand on your chest only moves a little bit.
- Visualization. There’s more to visualization than simply remembering a pretty vista you saw once. In order to get the full benefit of visualization’s stress relief, focus on each sense in turn. For example, if your chosen visualization is a tropical beach, you should not only try to see the palm trees in the sun, you should feel the sand beneath your toes, smell the salt water on the sea breeze, hear the crashing waves and the sounds of sea birds, and taste that piña colada!
- Stretching. Yoga is a great relaxation technique, but if you’re short on time it might not be the best option. So instead of doing a full series of poses, you can, instead, focus on just a few simple stretches. A good move for stretching your spine is the cat-cow, in which you get down on your hands and knees, and then slowly and rhythmically arch your back (like a startled cat) and then inverse it, letting your stomach arch toward the floor (like a cow’s belly). Any kind of stretching can refresh you and help reinvigorate you, though, and the best part is it requires no equipment—only a few minutes and a little bit of space!
- Treat yourself. While self-medicating for stress is never a good thing, treating yourself to something you like every once in a while can have a positive effect on your overall mental health. Love chocolate? Keep a stash of Hershey’s kisses somewhere and, when you’ve had a rough day, allow yourself a few. There are other ways to treat yourself, too—YouTube your favorite scene from your favorite movie, listen to an embarrassingly bad band you happen to love, or take a bubble bath instead of a shower! A little treat can do wonders.
- Scalp massage. Massage of any kind feels great, but scalp massage is easy and has multiple benefits—it boosts blood flow, relieves stress, and can reduce headaches and migraines (which is especially useful if you’re prone to tension headaches, often brought on by stress). Place your thumbs in the hollow behind each ear and spread your fingertips over your head, as far as is comfortable; massage in circles for a minute or two for instant relief.