As anyone who is a caregiver will tell you, one of the hardest needs to meet when taking care of another person is the need for rest.
Sometimes, it can seem like we are barely making it through the day, only to find the rest we so desperately need is also elusive at night, whether due to our loved one’s night wakings or our own struggle to stop (physically or mentally) and sleep.
From boosting our immunity to improving memory, there are a multitude of reasons why rest is a necessity.
But as caregivers, it can seem impossible to get all the rest we need.
So, here are four tools to help you squeeze a little rest into almost any impossible situation.
Simply put, mindfulness is any act of being entirely present in this moment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve immune function, and enhance relationships, among other things.
The great news for caregivers is that anything can be done with mindfulness, even improving rest.
To start your journey to rest, breathe in deeply through your nose. Exhale through your mouth.
Continue breathing this way as you engage your 5 senses.
What do you see?
What do you hear?
What are you touching?
What do you smell?
What do you taste?
Allow yourself to be fully present where you are… let thoughts about what you need to do, or what you wish you had done, float away. Take as long as you can… just a few moments, 5 minutes, even 20 minutes, if you are able.
Incorporating mindfulness for rest into caregiving might look something like this:
While making a smoothie for your loved one, you allow yourself to totally engage your 5 senses in the task, breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth as you notice the smell of the blender as you take off the lid, the feeling of cold on your hands from adding frozen fruit, the sound of the bag, the appearance of the ice on each piece of fruit, the sound of them hitting the blender cup, the swirl of the blender mixing each element, the rattle settling into a loud whir as the ingredients become smooth, and the taste of the smoothie you’ve just created.
Add in an element of gratitude for each of those sensory experiences, and you’ll raise the benefit of the entire experience tenfold.
Donna Eden offers a quick afternoon pick-me-up exercise to help you rest while busy:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your left shoulder firmly with your right hand, then run it across your body down to your right hip (think about following the line of a cross-body bag), and let your right hand rest.
Take your left hand and hold your right shoulder firmly. Then run it across your body down to your left hip. Let your left hand rest.
Repeat the whole process a few times and notice how you feel rejuvenated as a form of rest.
Let me just be clear: I hate naps. I always have. Not because I don’t need them to rest, but most often because they are either interrupted, insufficient, or (rarely) I sleep too long and wake feeling worse. But, when they’re done correctly, naps give us the rest we need, which results in an energy boost and enhances our ability to think clearly.
Make sure you set a timer for this, because oversleeping (anything longer than 20-25 minutes) will have you feeling worse when you wake.
It’s also important to note that if you suffer from insomnia or depression, naps might make things worse instead of better… so, perhaps choose one of the other options for rest instead.
Sometimes, we can have so much going on that we find it hard to rest and fall asleep (we are thinking of all the things that need to be done while we have 15 quiet minutes, or wondering if we even have 15 quiet minutes). Don’t get upset about this.
Close your eyes and try to let go of those thoughts. Remind yourself that everything that needs to be done will be done better if you have a little rest first.
Breathe deeply. Rest your body and your mind.
Even if you don’t fall asleep, this 15 minutes can be rejuvenating.
Here is another break to rest that can be done almost any time.
Choose any stretches you enjoy, or try any combination of these: side stretches (one arm over your head while leaning to the opposite side, then switch), lunges, standing toe touches, or any number of yoga poses.
While stretching, focus on breathing deeply and notice how your body feels.
In general, focus on stretches that meet your body’s needs for opening and loosening, and ending with some jumping jacks or running in place will help you feel energized.
Rest is a vital part of resilience. While a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still important, these activities will help you make it through when ideal sleep is out of reach.
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