The winter holidays are coming up fast – can you believe it?! And that means many of us are bracing for one of the most joyous and stressful times of year. This is especially true for those of you who are caregivers. Gift-buying and the associated financial strain, family gatherings with their trying dynamics, and coordinating multiple schedules around dozens of events is even more taxing if most of your energy goes toward helping an ill or injured loved-one. When your role within your family is that of a caregiver, ordinary stress is automatically doubled.
Reducing stress is tricky because each of us does it differently. There's no one-method-fits-all way to ease tension or minimize worry. But there are also a variety of techniques and ideas for de-stressing that aren't widely known and may appeal to some of you who are grappling with a heavy load. So with that in mind, here are some easy, effective ways to lessen your anxiety and tension as a caregiver.
- Connect with other caregivers – in person or online
Stress experienced in isolation feels so much more burdensome than stress that is shared and discussed with truly understanding listeners. Talking with individuals or communities that can sympathize with your struggles relieves pressure instantly. If you are a caregiver to a wounded warrior, reach out to the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network for online support or Operation Family Caregiver,which offers one-on-one counseling. Hearts of Valor provides support groups and connects families to one another, and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation offers community programs, fellowships, and grants to military caregivers. Caregivers to parents, children, and others can investigate the Family Caregiver Alliance, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, or the Caregiver Action Network.
- Take a 10-minute walk
Exercise always pops up as a great way to de-stress … but when you're a caregiver, the very idea of leaving the house for a 40-minute yoga class seems laughable. It's still true, though, that moving your body is incredibly beneficial. So start small: Let yourself take a 10-minute walk around the block every day. You'll boost your endorphins, give yourself a breather from your tasks, and allow some of your stress to float away.
- Let go of the “shoulds”
As a caregiver, you undoubtedly have a long list of things you must do each day, and an even longer list of things you “should” do. That second list lurks at the back of your mind, right? Scolding you silently for all the household chores and social niceties you've been shirking. Well, you've been shirking them because you have limited time and energy! You absolutely cannot expect yourself to do everything. Make a list of those “shoulds,” look at it long and hard, then crumple it up and throw it away. Release that guilt and feel its burden lift.
- Try a pressure point trick
I'm sure an hour-long massage is just as out-of-the-question as that yoga class … but you've definitely got time for this simple Naam Yoga technique. Psychologist Sharon Melnick, author of Success Under Stress, says applying pressure to a point between your second and third knuckles—near where your finger and hand meet—provides instant release. Slide your thumb down the side of your middle finger until you're just above the final joint. Push in, and breathe.
- Write it out
Connecting with others is undeniably effective at relieving stress, but it's not always possible. And it's not always what caregivers want or need. But keeping pressure and anxiety bottled up inside can have nasty consequences. So consider journaling. Every morning or evening is best, since keeping to a schedule makes it more likely that you'll commit to the process, but even writing about your feelings sporadically can help. Be honest, be brutal, write down the things that are weighing on you. The act of putting thoughts into words has helped people release stress for millennia. It may seem like a small act, but it can be incredibly beneficial to modern-day caregivers, too.
Let's keep this discussion going! What de-stressing techniques have worked for YOU? What would you add to this list? Any links or resources to share?