It can be a challenge to find time (and energy) to look after ourselves, when we're caring for someone else. Prioritising our own wellbeing can all too often fall to the bottom of the list - or off the list.
Here are some simple tips from other carers, for finding small moments to replenish ourselves.
We've called these small moments of wellbeing "micro-respite". Sometimes that's all that's available to us, around our caring roles.
It's clear from talking with many carers that a significant number of us are waiting until we're totally exhausted, before prioritising our own self-care.
Let's see if we can change that. Starting with a simple question:
Have you planned time to replenish yourself today?
Could you immediately come back with an activity that you had already planned for your day? If you can't, you're not alone. The very act of having to think of an activity can feel overwhelming in itself. Let alone finding time in our busy day, someone to look after the person we care for, or any uncomfortable feelings such as guilt or resentment we may have.
To (hopefully) help, we've pulled together four quick techniques, that can slot into our days, even whilst we're hanging the washing out or popping our PJs on! Tried and tested by real (busy) carers. Hopefully, there is something that works for you or inspires another idea.
Why is replenishment essential?
10 minutes of replenishment is like popping new batteries in a toy, petrol in our car or popping our phone on charge!
We all need new juice, or we simply stop working!
Without refueling and nurturing our own bodies and minds, we put our bodies under extended stress. We run on adrenaline for a while (men for longer, as men have more adrenaline), but then we run on our primary stress hormone cortisol.
Both adrenaline and cortisol have a hugely beneficial purpose, in overcoming an immediate threat or stressful situation.
However, they are meant to be called upon in short bursts, after which our bodies recover.
Many carers live in an almost permanent state of stress. Drawing on more and more cortisol, with potentially long-term health implications.
"Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, [and] enhances your brain's use of glucose..."
"The body's stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities..."
"The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems."
The long-term health implications can include:
Anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory, and concentration impairment.
Do you recognise any of these in yourself?
When stressors are always present and we constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. And if we as carers acquire these health implications, it becomes even harder to continue caring to the level or degree we would want to. With the stress increasing and a cycle of ill health falling out of it.
This is why it's important for us to love and nurture ourselves. Both for ourselves, but also for the people we look after and support. We can only give our best care if we are physically and emotionally sustainable. And we can only be sustainable if we're looking after ourselves.
But what if we don't even have 10 minutes to ourselves?
Four ways for carers to replenish, when there's no time
Clearly, a day at a spa, taking an art class, or a few hours to go on a long walk or fit in a yoga class, are more obvious ways to experience 'self-care' and have 'me time'. But it's not always practical, possible, or even appealing when we're just plain exhausted.
Here are some proven techniques that take mere minutes to do and fit in with our busy days. They can really support us, during those high-stress periods of caring.
1. A Sensory Mindful Minute (One minute)
Pause. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing. I like to do this when I'm hanging the washing out. Closing my eyes, feeling the sun on my skin, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, smelling the clean clothes or cut grass. Simply breathing slowly and deeply, listening and feeling all of our senses. Just like that, in the middle of a job! Just for a minute.
Rather than rushing through the job, using this pause to experience the beauty in that moment, focusing on the here and now. Giving our minds a break from running away with our thoughts.
The slowing down and the shift in our attention and focus, not only feels great, but it also has a physical effect on our bodies. Regulating our breathing, calming our minds, slowing us down and widening our world view to include some of the beautiful moments.
Repeat this sensory, mindful minute, throughout the day.
2. A Bedtime Meditation (Four minutes)
As we climb into bed, at the end of a potentially busy and draining day, we have a few moments to ourselves. This is a great opportunity for a short guided visualisation, to relax your mind and send you into a blissful sleep. Below are three minutes and 34 seconds of guided relaxation to relax our mind and body. Helping to ease us into a good night's sleep.
3. Drink Water (30 seconds throughout the day)
This one is so simple to do and just as simple to forget! It's all about getting into a good routine and habit.
According to Vandana R. Sheth, R.D.N., a certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“We often wake up after a night’s sleep slightly dehydrated"
Which can mean we start our day feeling pretty rubbish! And that's before we've even started!
Why not fill a jug of water (with slices of lemon if we have them!) and pop it in the fridge the night before.
We can then start our day with a beautiful, chilled, hydrating glass of (lemon infused) water.
Not only does this rehydrate us, making us feel physically better, it also sends an important message to our mind, that we matter and deserve to be looked after.
And remember to drink plenty more throughout the day! While we're getting into this new habit, perhaps we can use an alarm on our phone to prompt us.
4. Think of three things that were OK today!
As we're getting ready for bed, think about three things that were OK about today. Maybe the sunshine was out. Maybe we grabbed a cuppa on our own for five minutes. Maybe a friend called. Maybe it's simply that we have a safe home, a garden or our health. Find those three things that were simply OK.
Doing this, allows us to shift the amount of focus we have on the stressors of our days. Creating a new perspective of our day. Shifting the spotlight a few degrees to draw in some of the good, or 'ok'.
If we have the energy, write them down. Creating a gratitude journal is a great way to embed those positive memories in your mind. It's also a great read on a tough day! It's a high-lights reel!
How often should we 'self-care'?
According to an article in HuffPost, we need a mixture of short bursts throughout each day, and some longer stretches of self care too.
"For anyone seeking to live a healthy, sustainable life, one vital habit is self-care. In order to nurture the health of our mind, body, and soul, we need ways to recenter and restore. We need these in short spurts throughout the day, and also longer stretches."
Perhaps this is good news! Short bursts sounds achievable - even for a busy carer! And most of the techniques above can be repeated throughout our day. As for the longer stretches of self-care? When the time comes and the pressure releases a little, you can start to build in those yoga classes and long walks.
Without looking after ourselves, we're unlikely to be sustainable. That is to say, our ability to keep caring is hindered. To truly give our best care, we must be nourished and valued. And the only person who can really do that for ourselves, is ourselves.
Ultimately if we burn out, we will be unable to continue caring.
How do we know if something is replenishing us?
We feel rested. We feel a sense of calm. Our mind stops racing. Our heart rate slows.
How does that sound? Good, right?
The techniques above can support these feelings. With practise, they can slot into our busy days and become an integral and valuable part of our day to day lives.
Let's finish with a final question:
How will you replenish yourself today? Just choose one small thing.
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