If you are a caregiver, you probably don’t have a lot of extra time to take care of yourself. I remember when I was in the throes of taking care of a newborn, people would tell me, “don’t forget to sleep when the baby sleeps.”
While that’s a fabulous idea, I don’t have little fairies who come into my house to cook, clean, pay bills and keep up with laundry and everything else while I nap. My guess is, as a caregiver, neither do you. However, self-care is critical to your well-being. If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others. Operating at a level of near burnout can also negatively impact your mental and physical health.
So how can you take care of yourself when your plate is already full? Can it be done in short bursts? I hope so!
If the likelihood of getting hours of free time to take a spa day or get out of town are slim, can you steal 5, 10, 20 minutes? Will it even help? Yes! Doing something for yourself, no matter how short can reduce your stress levels and improve your health.
Here are some easy, cheap or free self-care activities you can start now.
If you have 5 minutes:
- Set the timer on your phone, close your eyes and just breathe. Even if your brain was racing through your to do list the entire time, you at least stopped your body for a few minutes.
- Take a few minutes to stretch. I have started doing a few simple stretches before I get into bed every night. It feels good to get the kinks out and helps me relax. My routine is pretty simple. I stretch my neck, hamstrings, quads and hips. Those are my tight spots, but you may have other areas that need a little more love.
- Do the three minute body scan. You’ll have two minutes to spare!
- Get fresh air. If you are driving somewhere, park a block or so away and walk. You’ll get a bit of exercise and fresh air.
- Jot down a few things you are grateful for or a few goals. Having something to look forward to can brighten your spirits.
- Play a game on your cell phone. I used to have a game called Brick Breaker on my old phone that I would play whenever I was feeling anxious. I could play for just a few minutes to take my mind off of whatever was stressing me out. I think I need to find a game for my new phone!
If you have 10 minutes:
- Take a walk. Go outside and take a brisk 10 minute walk. Studies have shown that breaking up exercise into small bursts is beneficial to your overall health. You don’t need to carve out 30 minutes all at once.
- Flip through a magazine or read a book. I have a tough time with this one as I am a huge bookworm, so 10 minutes doesn’t seem like long enough to get really into a book. A magazine is easier for me to dig into when I am short on time since I can get through an article or two in that amount of time.
- Do a little browsing. If you are like me, you don’t get a lot of time to shop. Sometimes, if I have an extra 10 or 15 minutes, I go to a discount store like Ross or Marshall’s and browse the shoes or home section. It’s just a nice little escape from my world.
- Listen to music. Music can help lower stress levels so put on your headphones and blast your favorite tunes. You can probably fit two songs into your 10 minute break.
- Sit down for a snack. If you are crazy busy, chances are you eat many meals and snacks on the run. Take 10 minutes to sit down and actually taste your food. It can be anything from a granola bar to yogurt. Just stop, sit down and eat it without popping up every few seconds to care for someone else.
- If you have cable, visit the On Demand section and find an exercise routine that takes 10 minutes. There are several yoga and pilates videos, but I have also seen kickboxing videos that take 8 – 10 minutes.
If you have 20 or 30 minutes:
I can’t imagine having this much free time regularly, but if you can squeeze it in once a week, these are great ways to rejuvenate.
- Take a long, hot bath. Before I had kids, I used to take a hot bath at least once a week. It is near impossible these days to get away for a bath. Also, quite frankly, at the end of the day, I’d rather just go to bed. If you can manage, schedule in a hot bath 30 minutes before bedtime so you can go to bed relaxed.
- Try a yoga video. You can find a 30 minute yoga video on YouTube or on your cable network’s On Demand section. If yoga isn’t your thing, find some form of exercise that is. You can do a kickboxing video or dance workout. Get your heart pumping.
- Escape with a book. My favorite hobby, by far, is reading. I forego television to read. It allows you to escape to another time or place and step away from your troubles.
- Embrace a hobby. Have you wanted to learn to sew or knit? Do you enjoy coloring? Use your 20 or 30 minutes to dig into a new or old hobby.
If you have a whole night and day free:
This one is a stretch for most caregivers, but if you can, find a way to take an entire overnight to yourself. I have tips for arranging care while you’re away here. Here are some things I would do, but do whatever fits your budget and refreshes you.
- Stay in a local hotel overnight. You don’t have to go out, you can order room service, watch a movie and just relax in a nice clean space. Its hard for me to relax at home because I look around and see all the things I should do, so this is my ultimate relaxation luxury.
- Stay with a friend or family member. If you can’t afford to stay in a hotel, is there a friend or family member who you enjoy spending time with who doesn’t stress you out? Do a grown up slumber party!
- Create your favorite day. What would you do if you could create your favorite day? I would sleep in, go out to breakfast and take a walk at the beach. After my walk, I may go to the mall or book store and do some shopping. After my outing, I’d come home, have a glass of wine, good cheese and read a book on the couch…alone. What would you do?
It may seem near impossible to scrape together some time for yourself when there is so much to get done in the day, but it is so important to your well-being to try. In addition to my caregiver shortcuts and grocery shopping timesavers, here are some little things you can do to free up time:
- Stop checking social media so frequently. Set aside time a few times a day to check in with friends and family on social media and then put the phone down. You’ll be able to save at least 5 minutes.
- Learn to say no. This is a hard one for most people. We all want to please people, but sometimes, you need to weigh your options. Will what you say “yes” to be more important than your sanity? Just say no if the benefit does not outweigh the cost. As they say, “no” is a complete sentence.
- Can you multi-task? Do you need to get your mother’s prescription from the pharmacy? Download a reading app on your cell phone and read a book while you wait in line. Park a block away from the pharmacy so that you can squeeze in a walk. Invite a friend over to batch cook with you so that you can spend time with someone who makes you feel better while you get through your chores.
Self-care is essential to your well-being. How can you squeeze it in and what are your favorite activities?