When our loved ones are ill, as caregivers, we have the natural tendency to want to make them feel better. We may go the extra mile to comfort them, bring them food that they like, or help them to carry out errands and tasks. Although we may have good intentions at heart, we may unknowingly overstretch ourselves by constantly putting others’ needs before ours.
Being a caregiver is an extremely stressful experience in itself, and we need to remember to take equally good care of ourselves in order to be in the best position to help our loved one. How do you know when you are under stress? Here are some symptoms you can spot for:
Self-Care & Relaxation
It is not selfish nor does it make you a poor caregiver if you take some time-off for yourself. The skill of "looking after ourselves" and paying attention to your needs is an important one. Here are some ideas to increase your self-care:
- Enjoying your favourite meal slowly
- Relaxing in a warm bath or shower
- Prayer and reflection
- Maintain a healthy balanced diet
- Take pride in your appearance e.g. going for a haircut etc
- Stop rushing around – you achieve more by doing things calmly
- Give yourself short breaks during the day – relax, stretch, go for a walk
- Plan a holiday or outing
- Visit a place of interest
- Do a crossword or a puzzle
- Visit close friends or relatives
- Listen to uplifting music or sing
Other Stress Management Tips
- Recognise your major sources of stress
- Be assertive - learn to say "no" to unnecessary tasks
- Adopt a systematic problem-solving approach - break your goals into smaller portions
- Recognise and accept your own feelings
- Reduce demands - don't expect too much of yourself and don't feel that you have to live up to others' expectations of you
Calm breathing (sometimes called deep diaphragmatic breathing) involves taking smooth, slow, and regular breaths. It is especially effective when you feel anxious, worried, or have physical symptoms of stress such as heart palpitations or sweaty palms.
- Take a comfortable sitting position and close your eyes if you are comfortable.
- Imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy. Every time you breathe in, the balloon inflates. Each time you breathe out, the balloon deflates.
- Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly (for a count of 3)
- Exhale slowly through the nose (or mouth) for a count of 3.
- As you exhale, you may choose to say the word ‘relax’ to yourself in your mind.
- Repeat the cycle for approximately 10 times or until you feel more relaxed.
- Return to normal breathing for about a minute before you get up and carry on.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
One of the body's reactions to fear and anxiety is muscle tension. Muscle relaxation can be particularly helpful in cases where anxiety is especially associated with muscle tension.
One method of reducing muscle tension that people have found helpful is through a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). Through PMR exercises, you tense up particular muscles then relax them, and practice this technique consistently.
- Select your surroundings. Minimise distraction to your five senses such as by switching off the TV and radio, and using soft lighting.
- Make yourself comfortable. Use a chair that comfortably seats your body, including your head. Wear loose clothing and take off your shoes.
- Avoid practicing after heavy and big meals and do not practice after consuming any intoxicants, such as alcohol.
*Kindly note that if you have any injuries or a history of physical problems that may cause muscle pain, always consult your doctor before practicing these exercises.
- Once you have set aside the time and place for relaxation, slow down your breathing and give yourself permission to relax.
- When you are ready to begin, tense the muscle group described. Make sure you can feel the tension, but not so much that you feel a great deal of pain. Keep the muscle tensed for approximately five seconds.
- Relax the muscle and keep it relaxed for approximately ten seconds. It may be helpful to say something like "Relax" as you relax the muscle.
- When you have finished the relaxation procedure, remain seated for a few moments allowing yourself to become alert.
- Right hand and forearm - Make a fist with your right hand.
- Right upper arm - Bring your right forearm up to your shoulder to "make a muscle".
- Left hand and forearm - Repeat as per right hand and forearm.
- Left upper arm - Repeat as per right hand and forearm.
- Forehead - Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, as though you are surprised by something.
- Eyes and cheeks - Squeeze your eyes tightly shut.
- Mouth and jaw - Open your mouth as wide as you can, as though you are yawning.
- Neck - Be careful as you tense these muscles. Put your face forward then pull your head back slowly, looking up towards the ceiling.
- Shoulders - Tense the muscles in your shoulders as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears.
- Shoulder blades/Back - Push your shoulder blades back, trying to almost touch them together, so that your chest is pushed forward.
- Chest and stomach - Breathe in deeply, filling up your lungs and chest with air.
- Hips and buttocks - Squeeze your buttock muscles.
- Right upper leg - Tighten your right thigh.
- Right lower leg - Do this slowly and carefully to avoid cramps. Pull your toes towards you to stretch the calf muscle. Do this slowly and carefully to avoid cramps.
- Right foot - Curl your toes downwards.
- Left upper leg - Repeat as per right upper leg.
- Left lower leg - Repeat as per right lower leg.
- Left foot - Repeat as per right foot.
Practice means progress. Only through practice can you become more aware of your muscles, how they respond to tension and how you can relax them.
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