Research shows that carers have the lowest levels of wellbeing of any group of people in the general population in Australia. The reality is, most people who care for someone with an illness or a disability barely have time to even think about looking after themselves, let alone actually getting around to it! But self-care is really important! After all, if you’re in a heap on the floor, who is going to look after your loved one(s)?
We live in crazy, fast-paced times.. For this reason, even people who are not carers need to actively take steps to decrease their stress levels or they risk burning out, or even worse, developing anxiety or another mental health problem. When you add the pressures of caring for others, it is not surprising the stats are so damning.
So, to make it as easy as possible to thrive, here are a few simple suggestions. I highly recommend you get out a pen and by the end of reading this article, please write down three things you will endeavour to incorporate into your routine.
TEN QUIET MINUTES IN THE MORNING
Set aside 10 minutes every morning to do some simple mindfulness meditation on the breath. Wash your face to wake yourself a up a bit and sit in a comfortable spot.
Close your eyes, rest your hands gently in your lap and tune into the movement in your torso as your body expands and softens with each breath. Pay special attention to the exhalation and how the body softens and sinks downward. See if you can feel any muscle tension in your body and actively soften these areas. Let any thoughts that arise be there, just notice them, but bring your attention back to the breath as many times as you need to.
There are 1,440 minutes in the day. Using 10 of these to meditate will ensure you prepare your mind and body to squeeze the most out of every other minute!
ONE (OR MORE) MINUTE OF SLOW DEEP BREATHING
A 10-minute block is powerful, but breaking this up into 1-minute intervals of concentrated, slow, breathing can also work wonders. Ideas of when you might be able to squeeze this in include, while you are waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave, when you are stopped at a red light or in traffic – or in fact any time you are driving. When you manage to actually sit down and have a drink/cup of tea. Can you think of any other times you can do this?
Lastly, a meditation App like Smiling Mind or Headspace can really help you develop a regular mindfulness practice.
Sadly, our western diet is really unhealthy these days… Additives, preservatives, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and too much sugar in general are a disaster for our overall wellbeing.
Michael Pollan who has researched diet, culture and health extensively. His advice in 7 words is: Eat food, mainly plants, not too much.
Perhaps the most important point he makes is to eat “food” (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and meat) as opposed to “food like substances”.
“When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?”
For more info about his approach check out his other rules for healthy eating here.
AVOID TOO MUCH SUGAR
Sugar in anything but small amounts is basically toxic to our bodies yet our western diet is FULL of sugar. By cutting out a few of the primary culprits you can dramatically reduce your intake.
Soft drinks are one of the worst, and juices are not much better. For those of us who love soft drinks, sadly the diet ones are also terrible for us, so just retrain your body and mind to drink water! Breakfast cereals are also stacked to the rafters with sugar. Wholegrain toast or low sugar cereals are the way to go for convenient breaky’s. Add banana or sultanas to make cereals yummier. more info on keeping tabs on sugar intake go here.
For most if not all carers, time is of the essence. And exercise takes time. We get it. While getting to the gym or going for a run regularly simply may not be an option, there may be ways to get more incidental exercise that you haven’t thought of. Here are some ideas:
- Walk to the shops
- Take the stairs
- Make going for an evening or morning walk part of your routine. You can even turn this into a mindful walk – bring a purposeful awareness to focusing on the sights, sounds and other sensations as you are walking
- Do a 15-minute online yoga practice whenever you can (YouTube).
- And for anyone out there keen to get some more rigorous exercise in, try this 9 minute strength training workout.
SLEEP AND REST
Do you prioritise getting enough sleep? If you’re like most Aussies the answer is a big NO! Seven to nine hours a night is recommended for 18 – 64 year olds. But research shows that approximately 45 per cent of Aussies have poor sleep patterns that lead to fatigue and irritability and puts them at risk of depression, anxiety and, eventually, if it continues, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. For more info visit the Sleep Health Foundation website.
You really might be doing everyone a favour to put some formal respite in place. So if the time has come to organise some respite, Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre can be contacted here.
Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep and prioritising some down time:
- Have a regular bedtime and wake at the same time each day if you can, ensuring you are allowing your body to get as much sleep as it needs.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, and as dark and quiet as possible.
- Avoid all screens for an hour before bed
- If someone offers to help out to give you a break, ACCEPT THEIR OFFER! Go for a walk, out for a coffee or just take a relaxing bath.
- Prioritise relaxing activities on your own, AND with your family. A picnic, a walk, or a day in the country can be very nourishing!
To finish, I’d like to really encourage you to go and get a pen and a piece of paper – research indicates that writing things down can really help with following through so why not spend another few moments on this important exercise. For each activity you think you can squeeze into your already crazy full life answer these questions.
And go easy on yourself! Keep it realistic so you don’t just end up feeling disheartened and give up! Good luck, and most importantly, TAKE CARE!
I am going to prioritise looking after myself by doing:
Where, with who, how often?
What might get in the way?
How can you overcome this?
What will support you to do this?
Article by Susie Hopkins
Susie is the Founder and Managing Director of Thrive Services for Wellbeing.