Five 5-Minute Pick-Me-ups for Caregiver Stress

Enjoying seascape at sunset
Image from istockphoto

Need a pick-me-up but don't have time for leisurely stress-busters, like lunch with a friend or the proverbial hot bath? Don't get even more depressed. Treat yourself to a mini mood boost.

These time-outs take just five minutes but provide what you need to keep going on a stressful day:

1. Relive a "memory photo."

The next time you're having a wonderful experience -- a birthday party, a quiet walk by yourself in a beautiful place, a simple interaction with your loved one -- take a "memory snapshot." Imprint the memory on your mind by focusing intently on everything you can about the moment, using all of your senses. What do you see up close and all around you? Take in the colors, the textures, the details. What does it smell like? What does a kiss or piece of chocolate cake taste like? Spending just 30 seconds consciously taking in as much as you can about a moment helps imprint it on your brain, making the full experience easier to recall later.

Then, when you're stressed, close your eyes and conjure up the memory you "photographed." It's a quickie escape that can recapture the positive feelings you had in that moment -- and bring them into your present.

2. Slow your breathing.

Slow, deep breathing restores energizing oxygen -- something that's harder to take in during the shallower way we tend to breathe when we're feeling rushed and tense. To shake off tension and feel revived, try to consciously take bigger, slower breaths. You'll notice your entire body relaxing slightly as you breathe.

Or try this paced-breathing exercise: Inhale through your nose for a count of five, hold for a count of seven, and then slowly exhale through a slightly opened mouth for a count of eight. (You should hear a slight whooshing sound as you exhale.) You can do this seated or standing, whichever is comfortable, and with your eyes opened or closed.

3. Take a chocolate break.

Snacks made of simple carbs, like white flour and sugar, tend to give you a quick spike of energy followed by a crash. Eating a small square of dark chocolate, on the other hand, offers longer-lasting benefits. A 2009 Swiss study found that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate (about a two-inch square) every day for two weeks lowered stress hormone levels in people who were feeling highly anxious. (They ate half the dark chocolate at mid-morning and half at mid-afternoon.)

Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants (which help fight the biological effects of stress) and provide a small hit of energizing caffeine. And let's not forget the feel-good endorphins released when the first velvety flavors hit your tongue. Eat a minimal amount (an ounce or two at a time) and you avoid the sugar crash; spring for tasty brands with high cacao counts, and you'll find your craving satisfied with just this small taste.

4. Float your worries away.

Psychologists sometimes use this tool to help people break negative cycles of ruminating over worrisome things: Think about everything that's stressing you today. Now imagine placing them in a basket attached to a balloon. Release the imaginary balloon into the air and watch, in your mind's eye, as it reaches the ceiling, magically goes through the roof, and floats into the open sky and, finally, into space.

5. Fantasy shop.

Many people find shopping calming. If you can't get out of the house -- and you don't want to be tempted to fork over cash -- do some virtual shopping instead. Save up the catalogs that come in the mail (catalogs are better than online shopping because they require more effort to complete a purchase). Then sit down for a break your stack in front of you, along with a cup of tea or your favorite beverage. The brain is stimulated by novelty, so the new things you see will engage your mind while allowing you to disengage from your stressed state.

As you flip the pages, imagine you could spend any amount of money on anyone -- including yourself. What silly or luxurious things would you choose? What would your loved one like if he or she were doing the spending? Bonus: Armchair window-shopping isn't only escapism; it can be a painless way to scratch an itch to indulge yourself.


8 months ago, said...

#1 is no help. To paraphrase Dante: “There is no greater sorrow than to recall past happiness in times of misery”


over 4 years ago, said...

num 4 topic is really helping ..


about 5 years ago, said...

I don't have a lot of time with a stressful job and caregiving. I sometimes feel that I am on call all the time. This article gives me simple ways in which I can relax and get rid of the stress. I am noticing that I am getting colds more often probably due to increased stress which adds to my stress. Thank you for reminding me that taking care of me is possible in short time periods and is worth it. Debbie


over 5 years ago, said...

Yes, they have super dark chocolate, today, it's strong, but....helps.


over 5 years ago, said...

I needed these ideas and more! Just do not know where to start but will try the breathing program first!


over 5 years ago, said...

Thank you for so many ideas, I love the one of taking a memory picture, but I actually take a photo. I like that! Later looking at it makes me sad, though. But, the walk is great, oh! which also makes me sad, because I used to take lots of walks with my hubby. Now, what helps me a little is getting out of the house, talking to people, which I dont allow the time, but when I do, is good. Some of the acquantaces I have are very nice and understanding. They feel I need a break, they see me sad all the time. But, I try to snap out of it, turning my negatives, and sad thoughts to POSITIVES ONES. And to say a prayer, God help me, God help us. And to say Thank you to God for EVERYTHING HE has done for me. It could have been worse. Thank you all for your understanding and for always taking your time to write a message. I missed my caregivers meeting last night. I wanted to go but I went to see my husband and the doctor and social workers were there and we were talking about my husband. By the time, we finished it was already too late.


over 5 years ago, said...

Good tips. Here's my addition to the breathing... I also think phrases while I breathe slowly and deeply, slowing down the words to match the breathing. Example: (breathe in) Lord, I feel your spirit (breathe out) moving through me. (breathe in) I feel Your peace (breathe out) take away my stress. And so on... Hugs to all!


over 5 years ago, said...

Just what the title said: quick/easy/& can be done anywhere! Thanks!


over 5 years ago, said...

I think I wil try the breathing technique. It was part of a yoga class I took years ago and maybe that will help relax me. Got to find something to get the kinks out..


over 5 years ago, said...

They were all good ideas. I will try the balloon idea and see if it helps when I can't get a worry thought to stop repeating over and over again in my brain.


over 5 years ago, said...

Here's another calming activity. Being with pets (making cats pur, playing with a dog, etc) definitely helps calm me down and brings me joy. Even watching birds bathing in a birdbath can be calming.


over 5 years ago, said...

I have found listening to music or found a site on here where I can listen to relaxing songs of wolves or indian music that is very calming.


over 5 years ago, said...

I have found a site on u-tube where I can download or just watch videos and music of wolves or indian songs..to me its very relaxing and helps me get through the day.


over 5 years ago, said...

It's odd,my comment awhile ago shows blank. Anyway,what I said-- Sometimes in the evening before the sun goes down I sit in my lawn swing with a glass of wine and my dog nearby and think of all the good things in life. It is very calming and I can almost feel the endorphins humming in my brain.


over 5 years ago, said...

Hi and thank you. As well as being a caregiver I am the cofounder of the InterPlay practice: great for self care. I just published my friday virtual InterPlay which shares five more one minute suggestions to move toward playfulness (another way to respond to stress) See https://interplayfriday.wordpress.com/


over 5 years ago, said...

When you are in the process of caring for a loved one you need to find the things that can help you keep a positive perspective on the situation. These are very good ideas. Thanks for mentioning them.


almost 6 years ago, said...

The Five-Minute Respite. We need respite! All caregivers need to take a respite. Getting away from the situation is key to regrouping and being able to return to the often stressful act of caregiving"“even if it's five minutes. There were times I looked forward to a simple bathroom break. Imagine that! Also see Tips for Caregivers--Tip # 6 Seek respite, even for five minutes. Martyrs are not heroes. NEVER say NEVER. Consider your options"”adult day care, in-home care, board and care, assisted living, skilled nursing facility. For all 8 Tips: http://www.thecaregiversvoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/TCV-Tips-for-Caregivers.pdf


almost 6 years ago, said...

thanks for the tips, I feel better already. Simple but so helpful. Loved the shopping idea.


almost 6 years ago, said...

One to four very helpful. Number five is a little flaky.


almost 6 years ago, said...

I needed this article, today, right now. My Dad is in the hospital for the second time this week, and the walls around us seem to be caving in. It is amazing how these "tips" this morning appeared when I needed them, and they worked. I tried the breathing exercise and it really helped. The balloon "fantasy" sounded too simple, but I tried it and guess what: I FEEL BETTER. Many thanks. Keep'em coming. If any readers have any other tips to add, I am very happy to read them all. I have found that slow "stretching" of different parts of the body and back help me also, as does massaging the back of my neck (stiffened from chronic stress!).


almost 6 years ago, said...

Memory photo is a great idea. It helps to focus on the good images. And what better than chocolate to ease the wounded heart and relax the breathing.


about 6 years ago, said...

Just knowing a few things that are quick to release stress.


over 6 years ago, said...

These pich-me-ups are some I never thought about. I really like the one about chococlate, I LOVE DARK CHOCOLATE. Thanks for the others. I will have to try them all.