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Surefire Stress-busters

Put Saving Your Own Sanity on Your 'Must-Do' List
By: CaregiverZone

Most of you keep a long list of "today's to-do's." The list usually has appointments for the senior in your life, errands for your kids, maybe a favor or two for your spouse. But does it include a treat just for you?

The responsibility, emotion and stress of caregiving put you at risk of exhaustion and illness. That makes a daily break to reduce stress all the more important. But many caregivers never get around to it.

"We as caregivers tend to deprive ourselves and delay and delay and delay gratification until 'the right moment,' until we 'have more time,' or until things 'settle down,'" caregiver Suzanne Berens of Walnut Creek, Calif., e-mailed to us. "It ain't gonna happen, so do what makes you happy."

These tips come from caregivers who carve out time for self-care. Just 15 minutes a day can make you feel like smiling again.

Relax your body
  • Get moving. The No. 1 stress-busting physical activity is exercise. A 30-minute workout three times a week sends more oxygen to your brain, rids your body of toxins and gives you an outlet for pent-up emotion. If physical limitations keep you from more strenuous exercise, try lifting 2-pound weights, stretching or simply walking briskly for a half-hour. Aside from the physical benefits, exercise gives you time alone to clear your mind.

  • Pet a cat or dog. It's been medically proven that stroking an animal's fur lowers your blood pressure. But you don't need a clinical study to tell you that interacting with a grateful, gentle creature calms you down.

  • Dig in the dirt. Gardening, whether on a grand scale or in a few pots on your windowsill, brings a sense of peace and well-being. If you don't have a green thumb, go to a nursery and ask for a selection of hardy, low-maintenance plants (these should be called "caregiver plants" - they take care of themselves). "Sometimes when I can't deal with life, I go out in the back yard and stick my hands in the soil," said caregiver Laurie Grimes of Rockford, Ill. "I grow tomatoes not only because I like them, but it's good for me to grow them."

  • Float away. A 15-minute float in a pool can be meditative, almost spiritual, Berens said. "You can't feel your own weight … and you hear nothing but the sound of your own breathing, so that's all you tend to think about once you get through about five minutes of chatter in your head. … I felt like I was connecting with myself for the first time in a long time - kind of saying, 'Hey, Suzanne, I haven't talked to you in a while. What's going on with you?'" This also works in the tub if a pool isn't convenient.

  • Snooze. A 15-minute nap can be a lifesaver. Listen to your body. It knows what you need, even when you're too distracted to ask.

Ease your mind
  • Laugh out loud! Call a friend to share a belly laugh, or put a funny show on the tube. "Sometimes I laugh so hard at 'Designing Women' and 'Golden Girls,'" said caregiver Deb Hollinger of Concord, Calif. "I just roar. I sleep better."

  • Read about a frivolous topic. Make it a romance novel or a magazine about celebrities, hairstyles or tattoos - only mind candy will do. The point is to relax and escape.

  • Spin some discs. If you're full of pent-up feelings, get up and dance. If you need to lean back and breathe deeply for a few minutes, play the music that relaxes you. And remember: Music can enhance almost any relaxing activity you choose.

  • Doodle. Get paper, pens and pencils of different colors to make it more fun. You don't have to be Van Gogh to be a great doodler. Doodling is a good way to take 15 and relax, and it also helps during stressful phone calls, especially when you're on hold.

Pamper yourself
  • Get a massage. Put yourself in the hands of a massage therapist who knows where most people carry their stress - in the shoulders and neck. A massage can bring a release of tension. If an hour is too much for you, even a 15-minute session can be relaxing. Many massage therapists use aromatic lotions and soothing music during the session, so it's a great investment in multi-sensory stress reduction.

  • Smell the roses. Has it been too long since you enjoyed the fragrance and beauty of fresh flowers in your home? Buy a bouquet and sign a card to yourself!

  • Soak in the tub. "What a person really needs is time alone," Grimes said. What better place than a bathtub full of steaming, scented water and bubbles? Light candles, put on a relaxing CD and lock the door. "Sometimes when I'm feeling sad, deep, penetrating heat tends to pull me out of it," Grimes said. "When I'm depressed, I get achy."

  • Have a manicure. Hollinger has a manicure and pedicure about once a month. "I swore I never would pay somebody to do what I could do myself," she said. "But it just feels good. You sit there for an hour; you feel like you've splurged. You feel a little bit pampered."

  • Perfume the room. Feed your senses with aromatic candles or essential oils. Lavender, mint and lemon commonly are used for relaxation, but all that really matters is what smells good to you. Remember scents from your past you associate with soothing times, such as cinnamon, lilacs or baking bread. Warm essential oils in special holders with votive candles or more simply in a pot of water on the stove. It might be best to avoid incense, which produces smoke.

  • Have a tea party for one. Turn a simple cup of herbal tea into a gift to yourself by using a lovely china cup and tea service. Choose special cookies or biscuits, and sample a new kind of honey to accompany your treat. Put on your favorite music (jazz or classical might add to the teahouse feel), and that plain old cup of tea suddenly becomes 15 minutes of luxury.

© CaregiverZone