Self-care for the caregiver
| September 18, 2013
Your middle-aged patient is slightly overweight with blood pressure and lipid levels that are both borderline and a lifestyle that’s contributing to all three concerns. He works long hours in a stressful job, doesn't exercise enough and rarely gets what most people would consider a full night’s sleep.
What advice would you offer this individual? All of the standard fare, most likely: eat better, get into a routine of walking every day, keep regular sleeping hours, take steps to reduce stress. But he already knows all of that. You know it, too, but do you follow you own good advice?
Healthcare professionals are notorious for putting the well-being of others ahead of their own. If you’ve fallen into poor habits related to self-care, consider engaging in one or two of the following practices — all of which require only modest change using a 30-day trial approach — and then adding others when the time feels right.
1. Healthy eating: Honor your body by replacing the one meal each day where you tend to slip up nutritionally with 100 percent whole foods. For example, if your habit is to grab a latte and a pastry on the way to work every morning, prepare to-go breakfasts the night before that consist of fruit, nuts and organic yogurt or cottage cheese. Try this for a month and then determine if you feel better and have more energy. If you don’t notice any difference and really miss the caffeine and sugar, your local coffee shop will no doubt welcome you (not to mention your money) back with open arms.
2. Daily exercise: Commit to daily exercise for one month. That’s it — just one month, as an experiment. Figure out what works for your schedule and then log it into your schedule just like any other important appointment. Maybe you walk a couple of miles four mornings a week and work out to a yoga or Pilates video on the other three days. If mornings are not your best time, buy a one-month gym membership and alternate exercise classes with weight workouts on your way home from the office each day. If you can’t see a difference in your body and feel a difference in the way you feel physically and emotionally, then ditch it and go back to being sedentary. Odds are slim that you’ll be able to honestly say you feel better without regular exercise.
3. More sleep: For one full month, make getting enough sleep a priority. Enough might be seven hours, or it could be nine. Turn off the television or computer and put down that book early enough to give yourself however many hours your body needs to function optimally. Feel like an “old fogey” going to bed at 9 or 10 p.m.? Let go of that notion in exchange for having the energy to live life fully during your waking hours. If you don’t notice an improvement in the way you feel after a month of adequate rest you can always go back to being sleep deprived.
4. Less stress: Tackling stress is a tough one because it manifests in so many different ways. Give some thought to what causes your stress and what tends to relieve it. Then, commit to a 30-day stress-reduction program that you design uniquely for you. This might involve meditation, journaling, brief yoga or stretching routines morning and evening, weekly massages, taking fresh air breaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon, or even arriving at the office 20 minutes early each morning to get organized and plan your day so that you’ll feel more in control. Whatever you choose as your personal stress-reduction plan, stick to it for a month and then assess how your feel and how you function.
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