2015 is the Year of the Caregiver

Recently, I worked with a 93 year-old male client who told me that he used to abide by “happy wife, happy life” but now that he has lost his wife after seventy years of marriage, he abides by “happy caregiver, happy life”.

So true: if the care-giver isn’t happy and healthy, then the cared-for can suffer.

Whether you are a family member taking care of a parent (or child) or a professional caregiver, it is vital that you stay healthy, strong and resourceful.

One key to staying healthy is to make time for physical activity. Notice I didn’t say “exercise”. Activities like working in the garden, walking through the neighborhood or the mall, or chasing your dog around the backyard, or dancing to your favorite music all qualify as physical activity. Physical activity not only burns calories and gets your blood flowing, helps you do your “mental laundry” and work-off stress. If you are caring for someone else, you are experiencing stress, whether you recognize it or not.

Another key to good health is eating foods that help you maintain your activity level and core health. The good news is that those foods that help you be you maximize your health are delicious, don’t take a whole lot of preparation and we readily available.

So what foods should you make sure to get onto your plate at each meal every day? Think color. Naturally colorful foods are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. What foods are naturally colorful? Fruits and vegetables! Fortunately, most grocery store produce sections are stocked with packaged, cleaned lettuce mixes, and pre-cut fruits and vegetables. During the off-season, look beyond the produce department to the freezer section for frozen berries, pineapple and mango. Often, frozen fruits and vegetables have higher vitamin content than those found in the produce department because they are harvested and processed at the peak of ripeness, preserving the nutrients.

Managing stress is another key component to staying healthy. Exercising that part of you that clears your mind and frees you from the everyday toil will help dissipate stress. What is it that you love to do? Make time for it. Spend unstructured time with friends. See a movie. Clean-out a drawer. Play cards with your pals. Walk nine holes. Make time for rest and re-creation.

Don’t let your sleep suffer. Turn-off the television, the iPad, computer or whatever screen you are hooked on, at least an hour before bedtime. The human brain needs an hour to recover from the screen before it can shut-off for a sound sleep. Physical activity early in the day can help you sleep soundly. A leisurely walk after dinner can be relaxing. Avoid alcohol right before bedtime. A drink may help you get to sleep but it can make it difficult to get back to sleep if you are awakened in the night.

Humans need to touch and be touched so find a way to use your hands for pleasure. Pet an animal. Knit, crochet or do some form of needlework. Visit a fabric store and caress the beautiful, colorful, textural fabrics. Or pamper yourself and have your hair shampooed and blown dry. Get a pedicure. Be in the moment and find a way to enjoy the feel of the textures around you.

It is just important to stay connected with your friends and community. It is all too easy to get caught-up in the role of caregiver and forget about maintaining your friendships. When you maintain your friendships, you are taking time to maintain yourself.

Every time I speak with a client or caregiver, I ask them what they did for themselves that day. Often, the first time I ask the response is “nothing” but after we talk about how important it is that they take care of themselves, the next time I ask they usually have something to share.

Take time for yourself so you can better take care of others.

M, D, L 2006 cropped

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