One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your loved one is to carve out time and space for yourself. This has to be a conscious action that you take every day. It could be as simple as spending 10 minutes playing a fun game on your smart phone.
If you don't learn how to take a timeout, your frustration is going to boil over. You'll be less productive and your relationship with your loved one will suffer.
Here's a list of the top 10 things you need to do regularly.
- Get regular physical activity. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is a good energizer that reduces stress, helps keep blood pressure and cholesterol at heart-healthy levels and helps maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 30 minutes a day most days of the week, if not all, days that would be best. You can break it down to 10- or 15-minute sessions. Walking is a great way to get started, even if you only walk around the yard.
- Eat heart-healthy foods. They give you more energy, keep your brain fed (which helps combat depression) and help prevent other health problems. If you've got to “eat on the run,” choose nutritious snacks.
- Take time every day for an activity that you enjoy such as reading, listening to music, crafts, cooking — whatever makes you happy and relaxes you.
- Keep humor in your life. Laughter IS good medicine. Find the humor in your situation when possible, watch a silly TV program or pop in a comedy movie. Find things to laugh about with your loved one. They need joy too! Laughing quickens the pulse rate, stimulates the blood circulation, activates muscles, increases oxygen intake and helps you relax. If you've forgotten how to laugh, try to be around people who still know how. Laughter's contagious!
- Get out once a week and go somewhere enjoyable. Visit the local coffee shop, attend church events, take a class, visit a friend or just wander around the mall or a park. If your loved one needs constant attention, ask for help. You can find someone to give an hour a week to let you get out.
- Treat depression and stress. Recognize signs and symptoms and do something about it as soon as it starts. If you think you may be depressed, get professional help. Talk it out. Admit your feelings.
- Take care of your business. Keep your checkbook balanced, work when you need to, spend time with friends and family and don't stop planning for the future. It's out there waiting for you. If you live totally “in the moment” of your caregiver responsibilities, you'll find it more difficult to re-integrate into life later on. Keep living.
- Keep all your medical and dental appointments. Do all you can to keep from getting sick. If you're sick, you won't be able to do what your loved one needs. Ask for help when you need it to get away and take care of your health.
- Think positive. Take time every day to refresh your mind. Admit your limitations. Let go of guilt. Admit that you're angry. Pat yourself on the back for the job you're doing. If you're feeling guilty or angry, take a break.
- Stay connected with the outside world, even if it's just by phone or online. Don't isolate yourself. Talk to friends about something other than your situation. Stay interested in what would be going on in your life if you weren't caregiving. It's still there and you're still a part of it.