Imagine this scenario for a moment.
Mary is a full time caregiver for her husband, who has had Alzheimer’s for two years. Its very hard work, but her husband is still well enough they can communicate effectively and she rarely feels beyond her capabilities. She has occasional help from her supportive family, and has every intention of being the primary caregiver for the duration.
Yet Mary has health problems of her own. She sleeps poorly, always aware of her husband’s potential needs. She takes a variety of medications to control her own heart condition. She tries to spend time with personal activities whenever possible; however she’s finding the occurrence is decreasing over time. Her stress levels are climbing, which is impacting her health. Her doctor has talked with her about stress reduction, yet she simply has no idea how to fit it all in, given her situation.
Unfortunately, this is a growing problem throughout the western world, as more people are faced with caregiving roles every day.
And in many cases, the scenario above plays out like this:
Mary becomes so stressed and overworked, she eventually has bigger health issues of her own. She soon ends up in the hospital with a heart attack, leaving her own health in a delicate state. She can no longer provide caregiving for her husband, and the family rushes to make immediate transitions, without the time or resources to consider what’s best for all involved.
While this scenario is all too common, it doesn’t have to play out in this manner.
From the beginning, as you move into a caregiving role, its important to realize that as a caregiver, you need rest and renewal to be able to do all you do. Rather than waiting for stress to set in, start the process as soon as you find yourself caring for a loved one, creating the time and space you need for mini retreats.
Sounds good in theory, but how do you make it so? Start with a plan.
To maintain your own level of health, its important that all caregivers plan mini-retreats that allow time for rest and relaxation. These time away periods should optimally be daily, weekly, monthly and yearly for maximum effect.
Every day, do something just for you. It doesn’t have to be for long periods of time, or even far from home. A nightly bubble bath, a walk through a neighboring park, or even a glass of wine and time to read a chapter or two of a romance novel can help you escape even for just a few moments.
Every week, spend an hour or two away from home. This could be lunch out with a special friend, a weekly massage, or even the chance to visit your hair salon.
Every month, spend one full day doing something you love. Sign up for a full day meditation retreat. Sign up for a painting workshop. Or simply enjoy shopping and lunch with a friend, with a movie thrown in before returning home.
Then every year, schedule a week of vacation to be able to relax and rewind for a longer period of time. Schedule time that works for a family member or friend to take over the daily responsibilities. If further help is needed, consider hiring an in home caregiver to provide you with full support and peace of mind while you are away. This is you time – you don’t have to travel half way across the world to enjoy yourself. A simply mountain retreat can give you a chance to sleep in every morning, hike and enjoy the mountain scenery, and even visit the massage therapy center a time or two.
By weaving rest and relaxation into your caregiving routine early on, you can avoid the stress and overwhelm that quickly envelopes many caregivers, pushing them to health problems of their own. Take charge, and be the best caregiver you can be.