This past weekend I spent a day with a friend doing nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing. We spent the day unplugged from technology, sauntering in and out of our favorite stores and restaurants, indulging in riotous laughter, the joy of purchasing paper products, and a leisurely dinner highlighted by a mariachi singer named Gabriel. Both my friend and I are caregivers. Both of us work twelve-hour days at our computers. And both of us are preparing for two months on the road of speaking, in addition to our work and caregiving responsibilities.
Our opportunities to play, relax, and get away are few and far between.
According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, my friend and I are typical of today’s caregivers. The report states that in the past year, 61% of employees had used at least one day of paid vacation time and 9% had taken a week or more to care for a loved one. In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly common for men and women between the ages of 40-60 to be engaged in full-time jobs while caring for aging parents.
So how do we balance jobs (sometimes more than one), care for our loved ones, maintain healthy family relationships, and still take the time to rest, relax, and care for ourselves? The simple answer is, we will have to work to maintain balance, and it will never be easy. But it will help if we apply a few principles:
- Begin with today. Try to strike a balance in your day-to-day self-care. Avoid the temptation to neglect your own needs (good nutrition, rest, exercise, islands of relaxation).
- Watch for warning signs of stress. Be aware of the things that indicate you’re under stress and watch for them. Are you irritable? Losing weight? Gaining weight? Unable to sleep? Angry? Consider seeing your medical doctor or a counselor.
- Create islands of rest. Sit down for fifteen minutes in the afternoon and read a book. Take a walk. Create a schedule that allows certain days for shopping or visits to the library or any place that gives you a sense of respite. Check out services and agencies that provide respite services, and make use of them.
- Treat yourself. Get a manicure. Buy a book. Take pictures. Go to a comedy club. Take naps. Go to a movie once a week. Do things that give you a break and refresh your soul. My husband Dan and I took short trips on our Harley to get out of the house and refresh our spirits during our most intense caregiving years.
- Use what you’ve got. Assess the services available through your community. Look for churches with eldercare ministries. Conduct a family forum and discuss who can help with finances, with cooking, with respite visits, and with other resources. Brainstorm with others who are caregiving for creative suggestions. And consider caregiving support groups in your community or online.
So why the “Mariachi Principle”? Last week when I took my friend out for a R & R, my goal was to indulge her soul with the things that would make her smile. That meant mariachi music. So we ended our evening at a little Mexican restaurant where Gabriel sang his heart out to my dear friend.
I haven’t seen her smile so much in months.
Every caregiver needs their own mariachi moments sprinkled throughout their journey. Discover what yours are. Then plan them. Don’t be ashamed to do something that’s good for your soul. The refreshment that feeds your spirit not only feeds the soul of your loved one, it makes God smile.