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How to Be a Healthy Caregiver

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When you’re the one keeping the home fires burning, whether you’re a woman in the juggling act of work and children, a stay-home daddy/homemaker like my husband is, or a caregiver for your sick spouse or aging parent, you know how depleting that role can be. I watch my husband making my daughter’s school lunch, getting her dressed, feeding her breakfast, all while making my green juice, locating my cell phone to get me out the door and on a plane, and folding the last minute laundry he just finished. I also see him forgetting about his own self-care, as I see so many women do.

When you’re in a caregiver role, it’s easy to forget that you must – MUST – put your own oxygen mask on first. In spite of what people might lead you to believe, you simply can’t optimally care for others when you’re personally depleted. If you’re one of those depleted caregivers, this post if dedicated to you.

Five Tips For Being A Healthy Caregiver

1. Prioritize radical self care for YOU. I know you’re busy. I know your To Do list is overflowing off the paper you wrote it on. But trust me on this one. If you don’t take care of yourself, your body will force you to slow down and nurture it. Think about it. You’ve seen it happen. The woman who juggles 100 balls to keep her family life humming without caring for her own needs winds up with cancer, and then her family is forced to figure out how to manage without her. Don’t wait until illness slows you down. Do what it takes to recharge: take a hot bath, read a book, go on a retreat, get a pedicure, take a painting class – do something just for you.

2. Take charge of your own health. Yes, you’ve gotten your kids to their yearly physicals and your mother to her annual exam. But what about you? Are you up-to-date on your preventative health screening? Have you seen the doctor this year? Be sure to make the most out of the mere 13 minutes you’re likely to get with your doctor. You might want to start by visiting a reputable online health Q&A forum and directory to get your personal health questions answered by physicians, whose rated profiles you can verify as trustworthy, so that you can get smarter about your own health concerns and prepared with questions for your own doctor.

3. Schedule meditation into your busy day. If you can only do one thing to make yourself a healthier caregiver, take twenty minutes per day to sit quietly in meditation. Create a sacred, silent space. Close the door. Tell the kids you’re out of commission. Close your eyes and simply focus on your breath. When your thoughts wander – as they will – just notice them as an objective, nonjudgmental observer. If you’re planning, say “Hi planning” and refocus on the breath. If you’re remembering, say “Hello remembering.” If you’re fantasizing, “Howdy fantasizing.” As emotions arise (they will), notice them too. Greet sadness. Greet desire. Greet anger or grief or resentment and let them pass like clouds in the sky. Keep coming back to your breath. When you first begin, it may feel like training a puppy. You keep sitting the puppy down and saying “Sit!” and the puppy keeps getting up. But the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to settle your mind, which fills your body with healthy hormones, relaxes your nervous system, and improves physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health so you can be a happier, healthier caregiver.

4. Add fresh, organic greens to your diet. Sure, salads are great, but if you really want to super-load on raw veggies, buy a juicer and make yourself a glass of green juice every morning. Or even easier, get a high speed blender like a Vita-Mix and make yourself a green smoothie (I like fresh kale, sprouts, coconut water, and frozen mango. YUM!). By stabilizing your blood sugar with high potency greens, you’ll mainline the most nutritious foods on the planet to your body in a nearly predigested form that’s easy for your body to assimilate. You’ll spike up your energy, prevent illness, boost your immune system, and feel great!

5. Balance your Whole Health. As I’m writing about in my next book – and as the scientific data proves – it’s not enough to care for the body solely in a biochemical way. The body needs more than sleep, veggies, supplements, and physicals. The data shows that it also needs healthy relationships, a healthy professional (or work-at-home) life, creative expression, spiritual connection, a healthy sex life, a healthy environment, a healthy financial life, and a healthy mental state. What is out of balance in your life? What might you do to improve not just how you care for your body, but how you care for your Whole Health?

I learned the hard way, like many health care providers and healers, that you can’t help others from a place of depletion. If you try, your body is likely to rebel. The body speaks to us in whispers – fatigue, headaches, sore muscles, frequent colds, decreased libido, anxiety or depression – but if we fail to respond to the whispers and take action to be more wholly healthy, the body begins to yell with more serious problems like autoimmune conditions, heart disease, or cancer.

Don’t wait for your body to yell. Follow these easy steps to nurture yourself first. I promise it’ll not only make you feel better; but you’ll also be able to better provide care for those who count on you.

By Lissa Rankin, MD, integrative medicine physician, author, speaker, artist, and founder of the online health and wellness community OwningPink.com.

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