“How are you?” I ask as I enter Mom’s room.
It’s the same question I ask on each visit, and her answer is the same one she always gives. “Tired,” she says. “I’m so tired.”
I look at her with her blue eyes half-shut, wisps of unbrushed white hair, and exhausted expression. She is tired.
She is always tired.
And for good reason. From age 30 to 68, she furthered her education, taught school, and raised 3 kids while caring for an invalid husband. My memories of her are of a woman in constant motion from dawn until after supper when she would lay down on the couch while listening to her children’s endless bickering as they did dishes. Even when school was out for Christmas vacation or for the summer, she stayed busy sewing our clothes, supervising our 4-H projects, tending her garden, canning and freezing produce.
She never quit.
She rarely rested. She seldom took a vacation. Not after her kids were grown and on their own. Not after her husband went to the nursing home. Not after she retired. Not after her husband died.
Eventually, she paid the price for her lack of rest.
She was almost 80 when her mind and body began to fail her in 2008. Since then, she spends a few hours of each day in a chair reading or working crossword puzzles. But she spends most of each day in bed, sleeping or napping, soaking up the rest she eschewed for most of her life as she faithfully cared for others.
As a caregiver myself, I try to follow her example of faithful steadfastness. With one notable exception. In watching my mother fail, I have come to understand the importance of rest for caregivers. Taking time to rest not only improves the quality of life in the here and now, but also can potentially improve the quality of life as we grow older. Here are 3 simple ways I’ve learned to rest while caregiving.
- Take a mental break. As an introvert, I rest best when I’m alone. So as a caregiver, I’ve found ways to be alone in a crowd. One way is to volunteer to run shopping errands while someone else holds down the fort at home. I’m alone while driving to the stores. At the store, I’m surrounded by people, but they are people who demand nothing of me. I’m in charge of no one and get the mental break I need. It. Is. Wonderful.
- Take a story break. During childhood, my favorite part of school was when the teacher read aloud to us after lunch. I put my head on my desk, closed my eyes, and let her voice carry me into story land. Now, as an adult, I can enter that story land through the magic of audiobooks. I load stories onto my phone for free using The Bridges service available through our public library. Sometimes, I get audio CDs from the library, also for free. And there are plenty of other audiobook services available for a monthly subscription fee. I listen to books while cleaning and cooking and doing so is great motivation to complete tasks I try to avoid otherwise.
- Take an exercise break. Even if it’s only 5 minutes, find a way to exercise every day. Get up a few minutes before the rest of the family to exercise. Park on the far side of the parking lot to walk a little more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Buy a kids’ yoga video and do it with your kids. Be creative and stay active. Research shows that exercise, the best way to keep your body strong, is also the most effective way to maintain your brain as you get older.
The importance of rest for caregivers can’t be overstated. With a little planning, you can add rest to your day through these 3 practices without adding more items on your to do list.
How Do You Add Rest to Your Day?
Have you discovered the importance of rest for caregivers? If so, leave a comment about how you add rest to your day in the comment box. Thanks!
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