Dementia caregiving is not relaxing work. We cram it into already-full schedules and it’s always stress-inducing. One important tool that caregivers can learn to use is self-care. Good nutrition, exercise, and sleep, are all important, but it turns out that goofing off is also a very good thing you can do for yourself to help release the effects of stress on your body.
Uh-huh, I can hear you say. And just when am I going to find the time to goof off?
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to take it easy—20 minutes will do–but it does need to be intentional. That’s because our bodies need to be able to let physical tension fall away in order to release the build-up of stress that comes with modern life in general, but caregiving in particular.
It’s well known that stress symptoms such as generalized pain (think headaches), elevated blood pressure and lack of concentration can be positively affected by practices such as yoga or meditation. But sometimes even the stress-releasing practices can give rise to more stress because we’ve got to get them into the schedule and then show up for them.
Science is now discovering that little versions of these relaxation techniques, such as rocking in a rocking chair or dangling our feet in a pond or walking on the warm sand of a beach– even for just a few minutes– can produce beneficial results.
It’s because our brain puts out some wonderful feel-good chemicals when we’re happy. Even these short bursts of pleasure-producing activities can get those chemicals pumping through our bodies. Those chemicals not only make us feel good in the sense of being happy, but they can actually give our immune systems a boost.
That’s why taking it easy turns out to be pretty important. The stress chemicals we live with day-to-day as caregivers attack our immune system. The feel-good chemicals counter those ill effects.
David Spiegel, MD, of Stanford University’s Center on Stress and Health says too much down time isn’t good for us, but a balance between times of intense activity and very little activity is good because it mirrors our natural body rhythms and sleep patterns.
There is no how-to or to-do here. Don’t over-plan or uber-organize. The goal is to find small windows of time when you can relax and do nothing more than sit and let your body relax by contemplating something beautiful from a shoreline to a flower to a star.
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