6 Ways family caregivers can get the rest they need
Get some sleep. Take it easy. Put your feet up and relax.
Easier said than done, right?
If you’re a caregiver, it probably feels like you rarely have a chance to rest. By the end of the day you’re exhausted, and it’s an effort just to climb into bed. With luck you drift off quickly and get a good night’s sleep.
There’s no question that you need adequate sleep. But there’s something you might not know about sleep — it’s possible to get enough of it and still not feel rested. You’ve probably experienced this. If you have a busy life with work and family obligations, there are times you feel spent even if you get to bed at a reasonable hour.
You may experience fatigue that comes from the environment, your circumstances, and the mental exertion that gets you through the day. Simply going about your regular routine often means you’re running low on some important resources.
You need more rest.
It can be the answer to restoring balance.
And ironically, quality rest can improve your sleep.
6 types of rest every caregiver needs
If you’re a caregiver, you’re short on rest. You also recognize the hard truth of assuring someone else’s well-being — that time available for rest is nearly non-existent.
Before you decide that getting extra rest is wishful thinking, consider the following types of rest. They might be easier to fit into your busy schedule than taking time for a nap.
We commonly think of rest as physical downtime. In fact, rest is more complex than just a physical recharge. Quality rest involves what you see and hear, how you think about things, connections you make, and how you appreciate your place in the world.
Sensory rest is time away from things that make up your daily life — things like bright lights, the drone of a television, or the position your body is in as you work. Phone and computer screens emit blue light which helps keep you alert but can also result in digital eye strain. Loud conversations can make concentration difficult. Sitting at a desk all day can leave you stiff and sore, just as being continually on your feet can cause back strain.
We’re living in a time of over-stimulation.
- How to rest. One answer to getting sensory rest is to unplug — move away from the computer, put your phone in silent mode with notifications turned off, and put on some soothing background music for a while instead of the television. A quick solution is to simply close your eyes for a minute and concentrate on the sound of your breath. Sitting in a darkened room for even a brief respite can help you recharge.
Mental rest is banishing difficult or troubling thoughts from your mind. When you aren’t getting enough mental rest, you may be forgetful or feel stressed or short-tempered. Caregivers experience a lot of mental strain that stems from concern about their loved ones. It may be difficult to fall asleep at night because your mind is sifting through those same troubling thoughts that kept you on edge during the day.
Mental fatigue is often made up of worry or overwhelm.
- How to rest. Even short bursts of mental rest throughout your day can be beneficial. Try to schedule little breaks — a 5-minute walk, a quick escape to another room and away from the center of activity, for example. It can also be useful to write down what’s troubling you. If you enjoy poetry keep a book of it handy — read a verse and think about the imagery it provides. Or keep a list of phrases or quotes that inspire you and pull one out when your brain goes into overdrive.
Social rest and emotional rest go hand-in-hand — they both involve time away from relationships or situations that drain us. Caregivers are especially susceptible to social and emotional fatigue because they’re empathetic and dependable. Others rely on them for their own social and emotional needs, which can be draining.
Social and emotional exhaustion can occur in the midst of people you love the most. There may be feelings of guilt or resentment that complicate things. Without enough rest, the result can be debilitating.
- How to rest. Whenever possible, seek out friends or family who energize you. Accomplish this with a quick phone call or even a text message if you can’t see them in person. When you have an opportunity to have some time to yourself away from your caregiving responsibilities, head for your uplifting people. Do your best to turn your focus away from your fatigue.
Spiritual rest is a way to be in touch with your place in the world. It can involve an organized religious practice, a communion with nature, or a fellowship with others who have similar beliefs. When you’re focused on difficult or challenging work like caregiving, there may be a disconnect from your spiritual well-being.
Spiritual depletion can make you feel as if you’ve lost your way in the world.
- How to rest. Meditation is an effective way to get spiritual rest. If you’re new to it, try this 5-minute meditation to get an idea of how restful it can be. Prayer is another way to rest. Finding a way to be alone and silent, even for a short break, can also help you to reconnect. Light yoga moves are meditative and calming, like this routine.
Creative rest is about your surroundings and how they foster curiosity and appreciation in you. Caregivers are daily problem-solvers. Creative rest can help you continue to feel inspired by the work you do for your loved ones. When you’re mired in concern and the unpredictable nature of caring for someone, you may lose sight of the beauty in the world along with your energy for finding meaningful solutions.
Being preoccupied with someone else — prioritizing their well-being over your own – can leave you feeling empty of gratitude for life’s wonders.
- How to rest. Creative rest requires a way to feed your enjoyment of things that please you. A quick bit of creative rest is to turn on music you like. Taking some time to prepare a snack or meal you crave works, too. If you have time to walk outside, this is an excellent way to be inspired.
More ways to think about rest
Rest for some looks like being in a quiet place or finding solitude. Rest can also look like this:
A smaller to-do list. Whether your list is all in your head, on an app, or jotted in a notebook, give it a critical eye. Think about the items that are must-do’s for the day vs. the items you wish you could accomplish. Adding things to your list that aren’t likely to be accomplished might cause you stress later because they’re left undone. Pare down your list and put at least one kind of rest on it each day.
Logging off. Your electronic devices create a dependency that’s hard to break. You might be surprised at how much time you can free up by tucking your phone into your pocket with notifications turned off and the volume turned down. Pledge to leave it there for at least part of the day. This is not only a time-saver, but you’ll get some sensory rest as well.
Read Catherine Price’s book, How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life (available through King County and Seattle Public Library systems).
Taking your time. Being productive all the time isn’t sustainable, and effective multitasking doesn’t really exist. If you have a lot to do, be mindful of doing each thing as well as possible. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to do just one thing at a time and do it deeply. If you’re walking the dog, just walk the dog — don’t make a phone call or listen to a podcast.
Taking a break from responsibility. As a caregiver, your responsibilities seem endless. You run errands, monitor medications and treatments, make appointments, prepare meals, and provide companionship – all the while keeping a close eye on your loved one and observing changes in their physical and mental well-being. SeaCare In-Home Care Services can help you with support that gives you time to recharge and get some much-needed self-care.
Quality care for your loved one is at the top of our to-do list. We offer you peace of mind with services that fit your needs and give you a chance to rest. Contact us today.
Katie Wright writes about aging and senior wellness from Bellingham, WA. You can read more about her here.