Taking care of an elderly parent can be hard, especially on your mental and emotional health. It’s important to take a step back once in awhile, put down the laundry, turn off the stove, and just breathe. Remember: you’re only human, you can only give so much of yourself before you break down. It’s crucial that you take some time for self-care.
I know, you’re probably saying ‘Yeah right, easier said than done!’ That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven ways to reduce stress when you’re a caregiver.
#1 – Self-Care: While this one is the most obvious and seemingly broad of the bunch, it’s the most important. When you’re busy making sure everyone else is eating healthy, substantial meals and sleeping soundly, it can be easy to forget that you have to take care of your basic necessities, too. This includes getting a full night’s rest and sitting down (okay, maybe standing up) to eat three meals a day.
#2 – Exercise: We know, we know. You get enough exercise running errands, doing chores, and swinging back and forth from home to work like a pendulum. But what about real exercise? It’s not just about getting your blood pumping, it’s about that quiet time you get listening to music on the treadmill, that inner stillness on the yoga mat.
#3 – Sound Therapy: Speaking of music, sound therapy is another effective way to reduce daily stress. There’s a biological reason music has such a huge impact on our emotions. Certain tones and frequencies can measurably make our bodies more relaxed. Pop in headphones next time you’re running around the house. Or, if you’re listening to something everyone likes, put it on out loud so everyone can enjoy a little distraction.
#4 – Talk (Express Don’t Repress): This strategy is more akin to venting rather than communicating. You’re probably used to communicating all day, listening to mom or dad’s needs, listening to the kids and spouse, listening to the boss at work. You know how to communicate. But how often do you get to vent? — Not just little complaints, but talking about your feelings, your hopes, your dreams, your struggles, your daily life? Seek out a friend (or even a therapist if that’s something you would be comfortable with) and just talk. Don’t be afraid of appearing “weak”; you’re strong, so strong, and you have emotions that deserve to be expressed.
#5 – Meditation: Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting lotus-style on the floor for an hour a day. All it means is closing your eyes and focusing on the darkness. When you have a thought, recognize that thought, think about yourself thinking about it, and gently cast it aside. It can be for a few seconds, a minute, fifteen minutes. It can be in the driveway right before you leave for work. It can be in bed before you fall asleep. Just close your eyes and empty your mind. It takes practice — videos are helpful if you need some guidance — but try it for a few minutes each day. I promise you it’s worth it.
#6 – Self-Compassion: This is different from self-care. While self-care is mostly taking care of your most basic necessities, self-compassion is taking care of your emotional foundation. When you find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of negativity, give yourself a break. Remember to value yourself and what you’ve accomplished. Extend the compassion you have for others to yourself. When that vicious cycle begins, say to yourself, “I am a remarkable person.” Keep saying it until you believe it — it’s true.
#7 – Positive Thinking: How many times have you heard this one? Well, I’m going to say it again: getting into the habit of thinking positively (even if at first you have to trick yourself) helps to actually make you feel better. Integrating humor into your daily routine, writing down what you’re grateful for at the end of each day, and just practicing positive thinking can both ease stress and make you more resilient to future stress triggers.
So, repeat after me: “I’m only human. I deserve a break. I am compassionate to others and to myself.” Do you believe me yet? Keep trying. It may take a little while to ease the stress, the weight of the world, but you can do it. You’ve come this far. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be this: remember to breathe.