Off the Merry-Go-Round: Three Simple Daily Practices for Caregivers

In case you missed it, recently I’ve revisited and revamped the purpose of the blog. Details here.

Parisian carousel horse, May 2011

It sounds like you’re really busy,” says a well-meaning acquaintance upon hearing of your eldercare and childcare schedule. “Just be sure to take care of yourself. Take some ‘Me Time.’

As someone who has always bristled at the notion of “Me Time” because it sounds like a selfish vestige from the ’80s, this kind of comment conjures up visions of extravagantly dressed ladies sitting poolside in a Sex in the City rerun. As thoughtful as it’s obviously intended to be, there are days when the suggestion feels like another “to-do” in an already full schedule.

Note that I now feel a little like I’ve broken a taboo in coming clean about how I perceive that suggestion, but there it is. I said it. And I admit that I’ve said the exact same thing to other caregivers. Well, minus the “Me Time” phrase. “Take care of yourself”–It’s just one of those “go-to” responses in casual conversation. No harm, no foul.

Yet of late I’ve gradually come to realize that there are some ways to meet that challenge–and that’s what the admonition to “take care of yourself” can feel like to those of us swamped with care-taking concerns for two separate generations of people at once–with a little common sense.

So, here are my suggestions for nurturing yourself off the ol’ merry-go-round we caregivers call “daily life”:

1. Nourish your body. I’ll go ahead and confess that I’ve resorted to too much fast food in the last year. I struggle with a soda addiction. But I also know that on the days that I eat a balanced, healthy diet at least 70% of the time, I feel a lot better and a lot less overwhelmed. This isn’t about numbers on the scale, by the way. This is about fueling your engine. If you’d like more information on this topic and are a middle-aged woman (most caregivers are), I highly recommend Dr. Pamela Peeke’s Fight Fat after Forty on the topic of “High Quality/Low Stress” foods.

2. Write it all down. Taking the time to write out what needs to be done can take the pressure of remembering it all off. Lists rule! After the list making’s done, find a place to “park” random thoughts and ideas, be it via blogging, social media or a cheap notebook. Writing things down like this allows me to fill up newly vacated brain space for light-hearted stuff, which brings me to my next suggestion.

3. Do frivolous things frequently. Find ten minutes a couple of times a day just to let your mind wander. No agenda. Hanging out on Pinterest works well for me. So do magazines and books. I re-read all of Lauren Willig’s spy-themed romance books this spring when my mother was in the hospital. I swear it saved my sanity. I even read part of one aloud to my mother on one of her darkest days. She kept asking me to keep going; the “escape” was a relief. Perhaps there’s something else that lets you unwind? I knew a woman who liked to take the time to repaint her toenails every couple of days. Whatever works, please do it.

There it is. Nothing expensive, nothing fancy. Modify these suggestions to fit your life, practice them daily, and you can answer the “take care of yourself” quip with a genuine smile and a hearty “Oh, I do. I definitely do.”

No designer duds or round-trip flight to Manhattan required.

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  1. My best “me time” tip is to do one thing that qualifies as creative every day. That doesn’t mean you have to start the great American novel or repaint the entire house. Keep it simple — Make a new recipe. Braid your daughter’s hair. Rearrange a few knicknacks. Take a different route to the store. Write a letter. Just do one thing every single day.

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