10 Ways caregivers can reduce stress and feel instant relief

Spa still-life.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and in celebration of the anniversary of the release of my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” this month I will be posting ways that caregivers can relieve stress, feel better and more energetic, and forge a stronger connection to the person they lovingly care for.

  1. Before you get out of bed in the morning, breathe deeply and for a minute or two repeat an affirmation such as: “Today will be a good day.” “I am a loving, patient person.” “I’m feeling strong and healthy today.” “I am grateful for my family and friends.” “I am a kind, compassionate caregiver.”
  2. Eat a good breakfast. Your blood sugar is low when you awake after fasting for 6-8 hours. Support healthy blood glucose levels by eating protein, a complex carbohydrate, and colorful fruits or veggies for vitamins and antioxidants. A bowl of cereal with low or no-fat milk doesn’t cut it. As a caregiver you need the energy to get you through the morning. My favorite energy-boosting, neurotransmitter supporting breakfast is eggs (anyway you like them), sautéed kale or spinach with onions, a side of beans and melon or strawberries to finish it off. Yes, it sounds like a lot, and it is. But the portions can be small and you can use your left-over veggies from dinner the night before. Of if you want a lighter breakfast during summer, have a protein smoothie with yogurt, protein powder and fruit. Just make sure that whatever you eat includes high-quality protein.
  3. Go for a walk. If your care partner is ambulatory, take him or her with you. Research published in the March 2017 issue of “Cell Metabolism” found that a brisk walk could help slow the aging process. In “Calmer Waters,” researcher Monika Fleshner, PhD writes “Based on the research that my colleagues and I have done in the past thirteen years, we know that regular physical activity promotes stress robustness (resistance to stress) and changes the way the brain and body respond to stressors. . . If you are highly conditioned from a regular exercise routine, then you can respond better psychologically and physically.” (pg. 174, “Calmer Waters”)
  4. Sing in the shower, sing with your care partner, sing in a spiritual setting. “Music engagement can help you connect with your loved ones and care partner. Oxytocin, the chemical in our brain that is released during intimate interactions such as breastfeeding and intercourse, helps us to form trust and bonds with other humans. It is fascinating that this chemical is also emitted when people sing and make music together,” says neurologic music therapist Rebekah Stewart, MA. (pg. 224 “Calmer Waters”)
  5. Stay present. Learning how to stay present enhances how you relate to the person you are caring for, allowing you to create community with that person. The simple act of breathing with someone—of matching your breath to his or hers—enables you to create a spiritual connection with that person.
  6. Create a soothing space. Light a candle, enjoy a vase of fresh flowers, light incense, listen to uplifting music.
  7. Use aromatherapy oils to uplift the spirit and calm you down. Explore the variety of essential oils which can be used in a diffuser, spritzed on a pillow case, shirt collar or handkerchief or tissue that you can tuck in your shirt pocket.
  8. Dance as though no one is watching you. Dance alone in your living room to your favorite music, or with your care partner. It is an easy way to get the blood flowing, loosen up stiff muscles, and a fast and easy way to uplift your mood.
  9. Get a dog (if you don’t have one). “Animal Assisted Therapy is recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health as a type of psychotherapy for treating depression and other mood disorders. Spending time with an animal seems to promote a sense of emotional connectedness and well-being. Touching and playing with animals is a wonderful way for families coping with Alzheimer’s disease to experience joy, fun, and laughter,” says Diana McQuarrie, Founder and Executive Director Emeritus of Denver Pet Partners. (pg. 107 “Calmer Waters)
  10. Laugh. Charlie Chaplin once said that “A day without humor is a day wasted.” No matter how hard things seem, even if you are a caregiver to someone who has been ill for many years, try to find the humor in everyday things. My husband had Alzheimer’s disease and toward the end of his life he had trouble eating a sandwich. Once he asked, “What is this?” after I handed him a chicken salad sandwich. When I told him what it was he responded by throwing the sandwich across the table and exclaiming, “This chicken is dead!” I burst out laughing and because laughter is contagious so did he. Watch YouTube funny videos of animals, children, etc. when you’re feeling down. You will soon be laughing and the endorphins will flow and uplift your mood.

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