Guest Post Author: Angela Stringfellow | Caregiver Homes
There’s tons of advice offering relaxation strategies to help caregivers cope with stress, but what about those moments when you feel like everything is going to fall apart — the moments when you feel like screaming? No one needs to tell you that self-care is important, but finding the time to focus on your own needs seems an impossible feat, let alone finding the money to pay for luxuries like a day at the spa or a massage.
As a caregiver, you need stress-beating self-care strategies that you can use, in the moment, without taking valuable time out of your caregiving duties or money that you simply don’t have to spare. Here are a few such coping strategies that are both cost-effective and easy to use – strategies that you can implement in minutes, with immediate results.
Visualization and Guided Imagery
This stress-busting tactic is free to use, and for some, it’s an effective coping technique when you desperately need an escape. MentalHelp.net describes the technique as a “systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image of an attractive and peaceful setting or environment.” It’s really as simple as that:
- Find a calm, quiet space.
- Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and body.
- Close your eyes.
- Devote all your attention to imagining your ideal escape – a beach, the woods, a boat on the middle of a glistening lake, or whatever setting makes you feel calm and relaxed.
- Spend time focusing on your senses and imagining the sensations you’d experience in your visual escape. For instance, you might imagine the feeling of warmth on your skin from the sun or the smell of the ocean.
- Imagine yourself feeling calm and relaxed, happy and smiling.
- Once you feel relaxed, you can end the visualization, open your eyes, and rejoin the real world.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique often used in conjunction with guided imagery, but it works as a stand-alone stress-busting tactic as well. This stress-busting strategy is also sometimes called “tense and release,” as it involves systematically tensing up muscle groups, from your head to your toes, and then relaxing while focusing on the way your muscles relax as the tension flows from your body.
Because it requires your full attention, progressive muscle relaxation can take your mind off of those in-the-moment stressors for a few quick minutes, and once you’ve worked through each muscle group, you might just be surprised by how much calmer and more relaxed you feel.
Essential oils can be useful for a variety of circumstances, but there are several essential oils that are particularly beneficial for stress relief, such as lavender, bergamot, chamomile, fennel, and Ylang Ylang, among others.
There are a few ways you can use aromatherapy to combat stress. The simplest way is to open a bottle of stress-relieving oil and gently breathe in the aroma. If you have the time for a quick shower, you can drop a few drops of essential oil into the shower for a whole-body aromatherapy experience, complete with the relaxing sensation of hot water and steam.
5-Minute Cardio Break
Exercise releases endorphins – those feel-good chemicals in the brain that make us feel happy and content. That’s why a quick, 5-minute cardio break can be such an effective stress-beating strategy for caregivers. Put some basic exercise equipment to use if you have it available, or you can do something as simple as a set of jumping jacks to reap the benefits of physical activity for combating stress. According to Harvard Medical School professor John Ratey, MD, just two minutes of exercise is enough to boost your mood – as long as the activity increases your heart rate.
10-Minute Yoga/Stretching Break
While it won’t raise your heart rate like cardiovascular activity, taking a 10-minute stretching or yoga break can also do wonders for beating acute stress and anxiety. Whether you simply take a few minutes to yourself to stretch your aching shoulders, arms, and legs or want to follow a formal, instructor-led yoga series, this is an activity you can do for free in just a few minutes for some immediate relief.
There are many yoga tutorials and guided stretching videos available online, free of charge. You can even choose videos that demonstrate the best stretches to target certain muscle groups, such as your upper body, or those that can help to alleviate a stiff neck or lower back pain.
Taking time out for self-care as a caregiver may seem like a mountain you just can’t climb. Thanks to these creative, cost-effective, stress-beating tactics, you can finally combat stress and find a welcoming escape to get through those moments when you feel like you’ve met your breaking point – all without breaking the budget or spending hours of time away from your loved one.
Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer based in central PA. She writes about aging, senior living, and issues facing older adults and senior caregivers for Caregiver Homes and a variety of caregiver-focused publications.