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Self Care for People Who Care for Others

susan-abbottIt is not easy to support the well-being and progress of others. In fact, the pressures of doing so can adversely impact our own health and wellness. There is a lot of evidence to support the strain that comes with caring for a loved one or working in the helping professions – the mental tasks and emotional skills needed to do this important work can seem endless. This coupled with sedentary lifestyles and work environments (sitting in meetings, working at the computer, etc.) can combine to create anxiety, stress, and even burnout.

So here are some simple strategies you can try to acknowledge and reduce stress and increase your happiness, both at home and at work.

Prioritize sleep.  New guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation suggest adults, age 18-64, need 7-9 hours sleep a night; never less than 6 hours.  Many of us have difficulty getting enough sleep. If you do check out this guide on good sleep hygiene for practical steps to improve your sleep.

Exercise daily.  Our bodies are made for motion. It doesn’t need to be going to the gym, but the America Heart Association says adults should do at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least 5 days each week and muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days each week. Taking a 30 minute brisk walk mid-day works for me, or try having meetings “on the walk” with your co-workers if you have trouble fitting exercise in at home. Technology can help too. I’ve seen lots of folks at Vinfen using activity trackers to track their 10,000 steps a day.

Choose to be happy.  It’s true. You can choose, and you’ll live longer and get more accomplished if you do. The field of positive psychology is burgeoning as we begin to understand more about what we need to do to be psychologically healthy and the positive impact of psychological health on physical health.  For example:  In 2007, Laura Kurzansky of Harvard followed more than 6,000 men and women, age 25-74, and found that “emotional vitality,” a sense of hopefulness, enthusiasm, curiosity, and positive outlook when facing life challenges, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease – even when taking into account good physical health practices like not smoking and regular exercise. Here are some of my favorites from the long list of simple techniques to try.

  • Smile on purpose.  I’m not kidding. They’ve researched it. You’ll feel happier just by smiling.
  • Get it touch with gratitude Try the 3 Breaths exercise:
  1. Inhale deeply and hold the breath for a few seconds. Exhale slowly and remind yourself to be calm and peaceful.
  2. Inhale deeply and hold breath for a few seconds. Exhale slowly and think of something for which you are grateful. 
  3. Inhale deeply a third time and hold breath briefly. Exhale slowly, give yourself permission to be human.
  • Let go of things you really cannot change
  • Perceive hardship as temporary
  • Approach instead of avoid problems and work toward win-win solutions
  • Commend and compliment others
  • Bring positive energy wherever you go – do an emotional self-check and re-set as needed
  • Practice forgiving others – and yourself

Finally, as Colleen Byrnes, our sage Clinical Director in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Division says, “Life is persistent in teaching us lessons.”  Life will keep presenting us with the same stressful problems until we learn what we need to learn to resolve them.  So when problems show up in our lives repeatedly, accept that there’s more to learn, and go about learning it, without beating ourselves up about it.

I encourage you to take time to try a few of these techniques and practices and keep using those that work best for you.


2 Responses

  1. Dan Righter
    Dan Righter March 30, 2016 at 9:49 pm |

    Thank for this Susan! Everyone can benefit from these suggestions. Even me- especially the sleeping part!

    1. Dan Righter
      Dan Righter March 30, 2016 at 9:50 pm |

      Thank you*

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