It can be a stressful time of year. It can be much more stressful when those that are already shouldering multiple responsibilities are taking on the care of a loved one or family member. Care providers burn out at an alarming rate. There are only so many hours in a day and only so much time with which we can support others’ health as well as our own. Here are the best tips to help keep life balanced and healthy, in situations where we are also looking out for those less fortunate in their health.
- Most Important-Keep things in perspective! Too often stress creates a feeling of being overwhelmed. The intensity of medical care or support can ratchet-up this inability to see any light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Stop and take a deep breath, then go through the list that you have in your head of all the things you need to do. Which ones are most essential? Which ones can you ask for help with? Are there any that are more a figment of your imagination or that are serving the ego? Sometimes we let our pride get in the way of reducing our list of responsibilities. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can to meet everyone’s needs and that there may be some sorting required in order to keep it real.
- Stay nourished. Don’t let your immune system get run down or become inflamed because you are always eating on the run or out of convenience. Take the time to prepare at least one home cooked meal each day. Hopefully it can be shared with someone you care about and possibly even those that you provide care for. Include a fresh vegetable and herbs or spices with this meal, as well as a good source of protein such as fish, eggs, or a legume. Make this meal and any others that you are able to prepare an enjoyable process as opposed to a dreaded task. Cooking should appeal to both our creativity and our senses. When this happens, we are nourished on more than one level.
- Take the time to get outdoors. There is no better way to drop your stress levels than to go for a walk in the woods or to simply sit in the sunshine. Both shift our nervous system activity towards the parasympathetic division, which is responsible for rest and repair. Too much time indoors is, in itself, a source of stress. Find nature for at least 30 minutes per day whether in a park or on a mountain. It can really help us find an inner peace and can quiet the mind in a profound way.
- Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink enough water, water with fresh lemon, or tea throughout the day. Avoid sweetened beverages, which don’t help as much with this and can also create a sugar-fix dependency. Keep your urine lighter in color throughout the day and try to front-load your intake of fluid earlier in the day so that staying well hydrated doesn’t compromise your sleep.
- Shut it down at least an hour before bedtime. Unplug from the list of emails and your smart phone. If you are inclined to watch something, watch a movie from a distance as opposed to having a laptop immediately in front of your face. The blue and white light generated from computer screens, especially when at close range, can significantly impair quality of sleep, as it is counterproductive to melatonin production. Find a movie that you can get lost in, much like with a good book, as opposed to a documentary that might leave you feeling lost or depressed. So in summary, watch from a distance and keep it light or entertaining.
- Take a moment to give gratitude. I have always found the greatest solace in being grateful. We almost always have a number of people and experiences which we can be thankful for. This is one of the best ways to close the day or to start a meal. Remember that many of the responsibilities we feel burdened with could actually be looked at as great opportunities. Time shared with others, especially those who are in critical situations, is such an opportunity. As are those experiences that may be difficult, the present situation will not last forever, and will help us grow as individuals. This may take some time to shift our perspective away from "why me?" to "what a gift".
- Practice self-observation, without judgment.
John Bagnulo MPH, PhD. Director of Nutrition