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‘Time Out’ for Caregivers


The average woman spends 17 years of her life caring for her children and 18 years caring for her aging parents. The family with a special needs child has additional challenges on top of that. Parents who are caregivers may need to put themselves in “time out” once in a while. Even when faced with the demands of constant caregiving, taking the time to care for yourself helps you to be a better parent.

This “time out” isn’t to correct wayward behavior, because caregivers are often hard enough on themselves. Knowing that no one is perfect, parents should instead cut themselves a little slack.

Taking short breaks is essential when caring for others—an evening walk or a relaxing bath. Simply slowing down and savoring the moment will pay dividends. When one person in the household has special needs, other family members also should enjoy quality time and have their desires met.

Alison Baxter Speller of Central Square admits that she is not the best at taking care of herself. “I am a work-in-progress,” admits the mother of two young daughters. “I try not to put undue pressure on myself but I find it difficult to hand things off. But I do receive a lot of wonderful support from many areas.” Baxter Speller and her husband alternate taking care of their 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra, who has special needs.

When friends, family or neighbors offer to help, learn to say, “yes, please!” Having a short list of little chores or helpful tasks will allow you to accept support graciously. Don’t be afraid to delegate important tasks to reliable people. Even if they aren’t able to do things to your high standards, widening the circle of support will give you time to recharge.

Support groups help remove the loneliness and isolation caregivers sometimes feel and can be great for information-sharing. Find out what’s available in your area or consider simply meeting with people in similar situations over a cup of tea.

About a year and a half ago, Baxter Speller turned to a different outlet for self-rejuvenation. She took a part-time job outside the home.

“I work about eight to 10 hours a week; it gets me out of the house,” she says. “I enjoy doing the work, work with some wonderful people, and when I go to work, I can leave home behind for a few hours.”

Caring for a family member with special needs or health concerns can wear out even the strongest person. Keeping yourself physically, mentally and emotionally well takes effort. Aim to eat nutritious foods and get enough exercise. Stay healthy in mind by maintaining your own interests, friendships and hobbies. Keep spirits up by taking time for yourself and starting a therapeutic activity like keeping a journal. Strike a balance between caring for others and caring for yourself.

Baxter Speller has, of late, become a Facebook junkie. She created an online profile where she can post what’s going on in her day and reconnect with old and new friends. She checks in every evening to see who’s visited her profile.

“I receive some great support and kind words from my Facebook friends,” she says.


Simple Ways to De-Stress

1. Walk to exercise.
Start out with a simple stride and work your way up to at least 15 minutes of brisk walking. If you feel that you are “wasting time,” take your cell phone along and catch up on phone calls. Stay on the sidewalk, or walk facing traffic and watch out for cars!

2. Just breathe.
Five minutes is all it takes for a big yawn, a stretch for your limbs and torso, then a few really deep breaths. Many people go through the day without taking a series of full, deep, rejuvenating breaths. (No, heavy sighs don’t count!) To breathe deeply, go to a place where you can have a few minutes of time alone, then sit or stand still for one minute. Inhale, filling the lungs until your diaphragm is far down in the abdomen, for four counts. Hold the breath for two counts, and exhale for four counts, feeling the diaphragm move up again. Repeat.

3. Deep relaxation.
Yoga and meditation, once learned, can be done anywhere without special equipment. Consult experts in your area for training and classes to get started.

This easy yoga position, the Sukhasana, helps focus awareness on breathing and the body. It helps strengthen the lower back and open the groin and hips. Sit cross-legged with hands on knees. Focus on your breath. Keep your spine straight and push the sit bones down into the floor. Allow the knees to gently lower. If the knees rise above your hips, sit on a cushion or block. This will help support your back and hips. Take five to 10 slow, deep breaths. On the next inhale, raise your arms over your head. Exhale and bring your arms down slowly. Repeat five to seven times. (from yogasite.com)

4. Nourish yourself.
Give up the caffeine and stay away from sugary drinks as they amp up your system with adrenaline, suppressing your body’s natural stress-management abilities. Try herbal teas for a soothing hot cup of comfort or a glass of vegetable juice for a filling and tasty cold drink. For snacking, try almonds, which are packed with stress-fighting B vitamins, and fortified breakfast cereals. Eating more fish, especially tuna, salmon and mackerel, and broccoli and asparagus will nourish you with vitamins and folic acid to keep the stress at bay.

5. Beauty treatment.
Taking time to recharge by enjoying something beautiful is a natural way to eliminate stress. An afternoon with a book and a picnic at the park can be as rejuvenating as a tour through an art museum. Listen to or make music, write or read poetry, or do a craft to unwind and appreciate the beauty in every day.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York