Spring is such a beautiful time of year---especially for caregivers. The season represents renewal, re-growth, a reawakening. The final gray days of winter have many of us longing for sunshine, green grass, and bright flowers. When those rays of sun do come streaming through our windows, we smile, for a few minutes...until we see the dust glistening in the light...and we get the itch to clear things out and clean things up!
That's a good thing, because spring cleaning is good for the brain! As we think of tidying up our homes, we should also be thinking of eliminating some of our burdens...the stress, worry, fear, guilt, regret, and anger that can come with being a caregiver.
Think of how nice it is to look around a room in your home after it's been cleaned and freshened. Your body and brain will feel the same way when you focus on letting the negativity go, and replacing it with the hope and light that comes with spring.
Just like cleaning those windows, clearing your mind allows a path to let the sunshine in! Let the promise of brighter days be inspiration and motivation for you to re-evaluate your role as a caregiver, and re-commit to making your own care a priority.
Take this time to regain control of the things you are able to manage. Try not to spend time worrying about the things outside of that realm. Being a caregiver takes an enormous amount of energy! You don't need to waste a drop on anything like that.
Maybe as part of your personal spring cleaning, you need to discover a way to find more time to reconnect with yourself, and spend some time doing the things you used to like to do (if you even remember what any of those things are). Uppta (http://www.Uppta.com) is a great way to buddy up with someone who can help you streamline your caregiving role, fast. It's an organization of professionals that help carry some of your load, by being your advocate---helping you to navigate through the health care system itself, find helpful resources, consult for advice on important medical decisions, and more. Uppta allows you to completely customize the kind, and amount of support you need. Visit their website to find out more.
And while we're talking about helpful web sites for caregivers, how long has it been since you've checked out sites for specific diseases/issues? For example, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Alzheimer's Association, and more all have amazing web sites, filled with helpful content, including sections geared specifically for family caregivers. Spending some time there is empowering. You've heard the phrase, "knowledge is power," ---that's especially true when it comes to being a caregiver! Knowing exactly what you're dealing with and how to deal with it goes a very long way to chasing away fears, and building strength.
Here are some other things you should be thinking about, which show that spring cleaning is good for your health!:
- Spring Cleaning Burns Calories!: De-cluttering can burn anywhere from 100-500 calories an hour! That activity also gets the blood flowing, and triggers the brain to release endorphins (feel good chemicals).
- Spring Cleaning Makes You Happy!: Studies show that a dirty house contributes to depression. Studies also show that caregivers are twice as likely to suffer from depression, so take advantage of an opportunity to create healthy, positive surroundings that will boost your mood. After cleaning, treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers, or a new picture frame to display a favorite photo. Those new focal points will make you smile!
- Spring Cleaning Calms You Down!: Clutter is stressful! Clearing your space creates a more relaxing environment. Don't be surprised if you sleep better in a clean room. Add some lavender essential oil spray to intensify the feeling.
And finally, here are some nuts and bolts tips for taking advantage of spring cleaning, from a caregiver's perspective:
- Get into the medicine cabinet: Is anything expired? Are they stored in a cool dry place in their own containers? Do you have any questions about any of the medications?
- Check the batteries: Replace batteries, and test smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, security systems, medical appliances, and more, to make sure everything's working properly.
- Get a plan: Create or evaluate your family emergency plan. If you need help, fast, who will you call? Make sure emergency contacts are up to date and stored in your phones and computers. Does everyone included in the plan have accurate contact info?
Don't get overwhelmed thinking you have to tackle all of these items at once. Chip away at a little bit at a time, it'll get done! And, checking these items off your To Do List will make you feel better, and more in control fast. That will give you the fuel you need to keep going. The reward will be a stronger; more positive you to breathe, relax, smile, and enjoy that spring sunshine and flowers!
by Jennifer Antkowiak, Caregiver Coach & Advocate, Founder/CEO jennifer Cares
There's so much hope in a new year! It's filled with opportunity to make changes that will make us happier, and healthier. For caregivers, thinking of making a change-even for the better-feels overwhelming. We are already so strained with our daily responsibilities...it's all we can do to just keep going.
I don't believe life is supposed to be a struggle. I do believe that each of us has the power to deal with even the heavy challenges that come out way in a positive, productive way.
Here are some things we can focus on immediately to see big improvements in our health and wellbeing:
Get More Sleep: Just do it! Chances are you are mentally and physically exhausted. Stop sleep walking through life...it's too precious! Although you can't "make up" for lost sleep, your body will respond positively, and quickly, to increased sleep. Studies show most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. The laundry will wait. E-mails will wait. Focus on creating a bedtime routine that allows you to slowly "shut down" every evening. Create a restful bedroom. Keep it dark. Use a lavender essential oil spray on curtains, pillow cases, and sheets to promote soothing feelings of comfort. Write down any worries or thoughts-psychologists say the simple act of getting those things out of the brain gives back a sense of control, and can help to calm you down so that you can get the rest that your body and brain crave.
Get More Exercise: Move more! It's that simple. I know that you may feel you don't have enough energy to exercise, but think for a moment---it may be that you don't have enough energy because you don't exercise! When you get that body moving, you increase blood flow and oxygen to every cell in your body and brain. The brain releases endorphins-feel good chemicals-that make you feel better fast. It's powerful stuff. Ease into working out, especially if you haven't done anything in a while. Try a little walk...either outside, or I love Leslie Sansone's Walk at Home DVD programs. Just pop in a DVD whenever you want, follow along, and get a great workout. I also love Zumba fitness. I'm a licensed instructor of this popular Latin dance-based program, and teach classes that help have people smiling, sweating, and losing weight! Studies show that we need 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week for general good health. That 30 minutes doesn't have to be in one chunk though. Three little ten minute sessions work just as well. And, keep in mind exercise doesn't have to be formal...dance with the kids, go bowling, do some house work-it's all about simply getting up, and moving!
Get Enough Good Food: Caregivers are notorious for making sure everyone around them eats well, but skipping meals, or over-eating, when it comes to their own nutrition. Take a little time to plan out your meals for the week---or for at least a few days at a time. Do not skip breakfast! It's important fuel that gets you ready for the demands of the day. Like with exercise, breakfast doesn't have to be a big production. Peanut butter on a banana, Half a big bagel with cream cheese or toasted with a slice of cheese, or whole grain cereal and fruit will do just fine. Aim to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with healthy snacks in between. That means you're eating about every 3-4 hours, which is absolutely perfect for keeping a steady flow of much-needed energy so that you can accomplish what you need and want to in your busy day. We have great, easy, healthy recipes here.
Get Some Help: I present a lot of talks and workshops to caregivers each month---and nearly every time one of them comes up to me after, tearfully tells me it's too hard to do it all themselves, and asks me where they can find help and support. Every caregiving situation is different. If you work outside of the home, if you have a long-distance caregiving situation, or if you have a family of your own to take care of, you know it gets extremely difficult to find the time you need to be the caregiver you want to be to your loved one. I list several support resources at jenniferCares.com, and I recently came across another new service. I'm happy to be working with Uppta (Uniting Patients and Providers Through Advocacy) to let people know about the services they provide. They are a professional team of patient advocates---critical to caregiving, a patient advocate is "on the inside". He or she gathers information about, keeps up with changes in, and works to understand the needs of the person who needs care. The information the patient advocate gathers and keeps is critical to families---many times, it's used to make important medical decisions! A patient advocate also navigates through the medical maze, asking the right questions, to get important answers regarding diagnosis, condition, treatment and care. Family caregivers are often not trained in these matters, so it makes sense to add someone who is, to the team! With Uppta, you can create a customized plan that will give you the advocate services you need for your situation. You have to pay for those specific services, because Uppta reps are independent advocates who work for you---not for hospitals or insurance companies. Getting this kind of help can give primary family caregivers added peace of mind, and a back-up plan that takes a big chunk of worry and stress out of their lives.
Make 2012 YOUR year! Yes, as a caregiver you're wired to put the needs of others before your own. Realize that making changes like these is not selfish. Making your own care a priority allows you to be strong enough to care for those you love in a smart, strong way. All the best to you and yours in this new year!
1. Make a commitment to take care of yourself this year: devote at least ten minutes a day to doing something just for you. Your own wellbeing is critical to providing the kind of quality care you want to give to others.
2. Get yourself in a positive frame of mind: have a mental attitude that allows only those thoughts, words, and images that work to move you forward through growth and success. Thinking positive means to expect only that good things will happen, because they are supposed to happen.
3. Go through all the medications your loved one is taking: Make notes regarding and questions or concerns. Write down names and dosages of all and review with the doctor at the next appointment to make sure no changes are needed.
4. Set up an inexpensive calendar: (Dollar Stores even have them) devoted only to medical records and doctor appointments. Log the date of the appointment, and also notes on the reason for the visit, and any important information from the visit itself. This is also a good place to store contact info for doctors and pharmacies. It will feel great to have everything in one place!
5. Evaluate your caregiving plan: Are there other family members who want to (or should be) involved? Have a family meeting (or conference call) to give a status report and ask for help where needed. Do you need a back-up or respite plan? This is a great time to create that.
6. Go over legal documents: Do you have a completed Advance Directive at home and on record with the doctor? Has your loved one created a Will? Is a Power of Attorney needed? Talking about these issues and having the documentation you need to support your loved ones wishes is important and empowering.
7. Go over insurance and tax records and information, as well as any other important documents: (investments, loans, etc.). Is all the information current? Knowing you can quickly and easily find information if you need it takes a huge worry off your shoulders!
8. Go over your own important information: make an appointment to see your insurance agent for an evaluation. Are your levels of home, life, and health insurance still right for you and your family?
The cold and snow of winter keeps many caregivers and their loved ones indoors. How to keep your loved one's (and your own) spirits up during the long winter months? Here are some tips to help with keeping you mentally and physically strong:
• Maximize your minutes with good old-fashioned talking! Set aside some time to reminisce, and capture the stories in a special journal. It will become a family heirloom! (Caring Questions by Jennifer Antkowiak was written with improving communication in mind. It's filled with hundreds of conversation starters perfect for this time of year).
• Look at your library, or the internet to find old shows (even radio shows) and music your loved one enjoys. Comedies are especially helpful in chasing away the winter blues.
• Try easy crafts-local craft stores have small, all-in-one kits perfect for this. Getting the hands and brain involved in a creative activity is a good thing for both of you!
• Take a virtual vacation! Does the person you're caring for love the beach? Surf the web for island tours. Many sites are filled with beautiful pictures that bring back happy memories, or help to create new dream trips!
• Start or end the day with some deep breathing and stretches together. It doesn't have to be a planned routine. Just stretching out the arms and legs, doing some easy neck and shoulder rolls, whatever's possible, will help a great deal to calm and relax both of you.
• Do chores together! OK, may not sound like fun...but it's an activity that will get you both moving, and have you both feeling useful and productive. Folding laundry, watering plants, going through papers/mail are all good things to knock off your To Do List together.
• Invite a family member or friend over for a little bit. Seeing a new face, and hearing stories from someone new can be a nice break from the normal routine.
Like so many things, being able to manage your role as a caregiver, so that you can really smile and enjoy life, starts in the mind. Understand and accept that as life changes, it's ok to allow plans to change. In fact, being flexible and embracing the new reality of your life will go a long way to paving the way for happier, healthier days!
Take Care of YOU!:
1. SETTLE YOURSELF DOWN: Take some time to relax. Close your eyes and focus on taking some nice, deep, even breaths. Just five minutes of quiet can bring you peace.
2. GET OUT AND GET MOVING: Just a few minutes of exercise can work wonders to clear your head, lift your spirits, and improve your health. Start by simply walking out the door and keep going, briskly for five minutes...then turn around and head back home. Do that three times a day and you get all the benefits of a thirty minute workout, even thought you haven't done thirty minutes at a time.
3. EAT OFTEN AND EAT WELL: Stock up on fast, fresh mini-meals that can be eaten on the go. Easy wrap sandwiches, hard-cooked eggs, cooked chicken breasts, yogurt and granola, bananas and peanut butter, and almonds are all great choices to keep you fueled, and filling full longer.
4. GET ENOUGH SLEEP: Sleep is serious recovery time for the body and brain. Get at least six hours a night. Keep a little notebook by your bed and write down and worries or things you don't want to forget. Getting them out of your head really helps to pave the way for a more restful night.
5. GET A SYSTEM: A cluttered environment causes anxiety and stress. Don't get overwhelmed with the clean-up! Set the timer on your microwave for ten minutes, and look for ten things to throw away or recycle. Organizing in baby steps is less intimidating. You'll feel so much better!
6. GET A HOBBY: What makes YOU happy? It's important for your overall wellbeing to make time to do something that you enjoy. Scrapbooking, knitting, or even playing cards or doing a puzzle are all proven stress-busters!
7. HAVE A LAUGH: Lighten your mood and lift your spirits with a funny movie, or even old TV and Radio shows. They can be refreshing and fun little escapes.
- 79% of caregivers reported needing help with things such as "finding time for myself, managing my emotional and physical stress, and balancing work and family responsibilities."
- 59% work and manage caregiving responsibilities at the same time.
- 40% of women and 26% of men caregivers rate their emotional stress levels at 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale of stress.
- The stress from caregiving can take ten years off a person's life.
- Caregivers are twice as likely to develop depression.
- There are 50-million volunteer family caregivers in the U.S.
- 80% of the daily care of the chronically ill in the U.S. is being given by volenteer family caregivers.
- American compnaies lose billions of dollars a year due to lost productivity related to caregiving responsibilities.