As a senior caregiver, you know what it means to never get a break. After racing to keep up with another person’s every need, there’s not much time left to take care of yourself. And as much as you’d like to take time off, you can only afford a weekend away every so often. But that doesn’t mean you have to let stress take over in the interim. When anxiety is looming, a brief moment of respite can make a world of difference. Here are five simple ways you can incorporate mental health breaks into even the busiest of days.
Go for a walk
Going for a walk does more than changing your environment. A 10-minute walk around the block delivers a powerful mental health boost because it combines three elements proven to improve mood: exercise, sunlight, and nature. According to the University of Minnesota, exposure to nature reduces stress and promotes a sense of calm, exercise releases neurochemicals that improve well-being, and sunlight exposes your body to Vitamin D, a powerful tool in the fight against depression.
Make a phone call
It’s common for caregivers to feel isolated from family and friends, but reaching out is a powerful way to reenergize. Rather than worrying about burdening others, call a friend when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need help. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to lend a helping hand, even if it’s only running a few errands. Furthermore, simply connecting with other people can help you feel better. According to the American Institute of Stress, social support is proven to reduce stress’ impact on physical and mental health.
Take a power nap
Even if you get a solid eight hours of sleep each night, you might still benefit from a power nap. A 15 to 30-minute afternoon nap improves your mood and your ability to handle stress, making it an excellent tool to apply when you feel irritability and impatience creeping in. However, nappers should avoid snoozing for longer than 30 minutes, because slipping into a deeper sleep cycle makes it harder to wake up and could affect nighttime sleep quality. If you struggle to fall asleep easily, use that time instead to practice breathing exercises in a quiet, dimly-lit room.
Pack a book
When you need to escape stress without actually going anywhere, try reading. While most of us read constantly, whether it’s the news, social media, or email, it’s not often that adults prioritize reading for pleasure. However, reading is a powerful stress-reducer; just six minutes of reading can slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. When you pack a novel or nonfiction book with you wherever you go, you can flip it open to find a welcome distraction whether you’re sitting in a waiting room or just need some downtime at home.
Start a gratitude journal
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the stress and responsibility of caregiving. However, as difficult as this time may be, it’s important to cherish these moments with your family member. Make a point to focus on the good things by starting a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a sort of diary where you jot down positive thoughts and small victories, leaving out the negative. Not only will this practice help you retain an optimistic outlook now, but it will be an invaluable source of memories after your loved one has passed.
Due in no small part to the high-stress nature of their work, family caregivers have worse health outcomes than the average adult. While caregiving is a sacrifice, it shouldn’t come at the sake of your own well-being. Ensure that self-care strategies are a part of your daily routine to preserve your own health while caring for your loved one.