Every caregiver has been there: completely stressed, at our wits' end, wanting to scream or laugh or cry (or all three). And while it's nice to imagine that there's some magic way to make all that tension vanish, caregivers know better. Caregiving is stressful, day in and day out. There's no quick and easy cure for that.
So we asked a few of our favorite experts -- those who really understand the unique strains of caregiving -- to tell us just one stress-reducing tip they use that really works. Hopefully you'll find a new idea (or a helpful reminder) here:
Lose Yourself in Music That Matches Your State of Mind
"I probably use exercise the most as a way to de-stress. However, that is not something new and not always possible while in the midst of caring for someone. After that, for me the most effective means to get away from feeling stressed is music. Getting lost in music serves for me as a form of meditation. The style of music and the tempo I'm looking for varies with the nature of the stress and my mood. In general, I've come to believe that rather than music that contrasts with my state of mind, music that expresses it works better. That may seem counterintuitive, but you might find it interesting to run your own experiments and see what works best. For example, if I'm feeling stressed and frustrated, picking soft and romantic music isn't as helpful for me in getting past the stressed feeling as something more dynamic, such as classic jazz or rock and roll. On the other hand, if I'm feeling stressed and sad, something softer and more lyrical seems to be more effective. For me, it's important to not use the same music all the time, so I've become dependent on my kids' playlists. Pathetic."
-- Ken Robbins, geriatric psychiatrist
Breathe Like You Mean It
"Caregivers are so short on time that it can be tricky to do things to de-stress. My tip to help relax takes little time and no equipment. Taking in deep breaths that come from the diaphragm help to relax your muscles, calm your mind, and slow your breathing.
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"To breath using your diaphragm, place your hand on your lower abdomen. Breathe in through your nose, taking the breath deep from low in your belly, expanding your belly as you breathe in. You should feel the hand on your abdomen rise. Then breathe out through your mouth while pulling in your belly. Your hand should move in as your abdomen pulls in. Do three or so of these breaths to cleanse and be ready for the next part of your day!"
-- Monica Heltemes, occupational therapist and owner of MindStart
Change Scenery -- for Just 5 Minutes
"The truth is no matter how much advice there is, trying to de-stress is like dieting. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Remember the grapefruit diet?
"I tend to run, Run, RUN from the moment I wake up. For the past three decades I've talked about slowing down.
"As a caregiver I was always doing something -- mostly keeping up with my father. I finally gave in. When life got too overwhelming, I took a five-minute respite. It worked so well (for me) I introduced the idea to caregivers.
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"The five-minute respite works because it's a quick change of pace. Heck, if we can spend five minutes in the bathroom, we can spare five minutes for a brief respite.
"When life gets too crazy and we're bordering on doing something that might land us on a state-sponsored vacation (prison), it's time to step away. Go outdoors or even to a different room. Take a deep breath, then take another. Stretch. Do something . . . anything to break the cause of that stress."
-- Brenda Avadian, founder of The Caregiver's Voice
Go to Bed an Hour Early
"Honestly, my number-one method for de-stressing is to get into bed an hour earlier than I normally would, or even two, if I could ever sneak it in -- even if everything isn't done for the day. The stress reduction that comes from not feeling like I already know when I go to sleep that I won't have enough hours to sleep is just the beginning. A few nights in a row of more-than-usual sleep changes my outlook on everything, gives me better focus, better mood, better stress tolerance, better ability to make healthy food choices, and energy for even a little bit of exercise.
"Besides being good for my inner mental and physical health, I know sleep is good for my skin, too. Research has shown that the term 'beauty sleep' is real! It's during sleep that our body runs the healing cycles that reduce oxidative stress on the cells, helping reverse signs of aging and reduce damage, breakouts, and inflammation caused by all of our daytime stress: caregiving stress, environmental stress, lack of sleep, and poor-diet stress. The more we sleep, the better our body is able to preserve its youth and beauty.
"Of course, I might have to wait another night or two to catch up on my DVR'd TV shows, but the reward of better sleep far outweighs an episode of Mad Men."
-- Jessica Krant, dermatologist at Art of Dermatology