Caregiver stress is very real — and if you are caring for a loved one, you need a plan for dealing with it. Taking a few minutes to do something positive for yourself can go a long way toward making a difficult day better. It can even have long-term benefits on your health! So treat yourself — try one of these ideas from Caring.com:
1. Read something funny. Laughter has been shown to trigger the relaxation response, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and even boost the immune system and ease pain. It might seem corny to dive into a comic book collection, a joke book, or a few minutes of America’s Funniest Home Videos, but the effects are real.
Not finding the funnies very funny today? Try forcing a smile. The simple act of turning your facial muscles into a smile triggers the brain to initiate a relaxation response. Bonus: Smiling tends to inspire others to smile (not unlike yawns inspiring yawns). So your smile might make your loved one a little easier to live with.
2. Crank the volume. Music therapy is often used to calm or stimulate dementia patients, but it can have similar effects on anyone. Playing music with a strong beat has an energizing effect. Melodic orchestral or acoustic tunes can improve thinking and focus.
To get the full pick-me-up effect, raise the volume so that the music fills the room. Really listen. Create a few special playlists that you label by mood so you can match the tunes to your needs: “Happy music,” “Energy kick-start,” “Dance favorites.”
3. Take a power nap. Ten minutes of shut-eye might not sound like much, but it can be enough to feel restorative, especially if you’ve had a disrupted night’s sleep. Midafternoon rest, when the body clock is at a natural lull, is thought to be especially productive.
A longer, 30- to 60-minute nap allows you to fall into the deep stage of sleep that’s even more restorative, but it’s harder to wake from. If you only have a short break, set a timer or alarm clock, so you don’t oversleep.
4. Pump a little iron. Lifting free weights tones your arms and strengthens your bones — but those are long-term extras on top of the energy boost this simple (and not too sweaty) workout provides. If you’ve never used a handheld weight, start with two- or three-pound dumbbells, sold at sporting goods stores or large variety stores such as Wal-Mart or Target. Lift the weights in sets of 8 to 10 slow repetitions, increasing the amount of the weight over time.
Any quick exercise can have the same effect: running through a few yoga poses, stretching, walking around the block if you can get out of the house, going up and down the stairs a few times.
5. Write a letter. Simmering resentment, anger, or frustration can sap energy. Psychologists sometimes use this tool to help people let go of energy-blocking ruminations: Write a letter to yourself or your loved one. Put in everything you’re feeling. Describe specific incidents. Imagine what you wish had happened instead, or what you wish for in general. (More “thank-you’s” and appreciation? More free time? Your old pre-caregiving life back?)
The act of putting your true emotions down on paper (or in an e-mail you don’t send) helps your body release them, just the way you feel better after confiding in a friend. Then, when you’re done, rip up the pages or delete that e-mail.