How are you SLEEPING?

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Sleep is a seriously undervalued resource in most people’s lives. When my oldest daughter was small, she would resist naptime and dreaded having to go to bed because she thought she might miss something important. Most people recognize cranky behavior in infants and toddlers as a good indicator the child needs sleep. So what about you? While you might not have time each day for an afternoon nap, do you get enough sleep at night? If not, you might find yourself feeling tired, irritable, short-tempered or even depressed! And as a Family Caregiver, you owe it to yourself and those you care for to put your best foot forward each day when you climb out of bed.

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be at their best. This sleep time is necessary for you to function at your best as you care for others. A good night’s sleep equips you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to fulfill your obligations each day.

Your body uses sleep to store energy in cells that will carry you through the next day. While you sleep your muscles, skin, and bones get to rest and rejuvenate. Your digestive system keeps working to flush out what needs to be eliminated and send nutrients to all areas of your body, nourishing and regenerating you physically so you will be ready to go back to work the next day.

Your brain is a little computer in your skull. In order to function at its maximum capacity, your brain must process its daily input and file information where it needs to go, clearing space for the next day’s activities. This happens while you sleep. By freeing up space during sleep time, you may even find your memory improves over time!

Emotionally you will feel more balanced and not as prone to angry outbursts, feelings of depression and hopelessness, or other negative outlooks when you get enough sleep each night. By feeling more rested, you will be able to set the right tone for your day as well as those you care for.

Spiritually, l find that when I feel rested I also feel more aware of God’s presence in my life. I am more focused in my prayer life and when I study scripture I am more open to His teachings. God can work better through me when I am equipping myself for His work, and part of that process involves getting enough sleep.

So what do you need to do to get more sleep? It’s a good question, and the answer is a little different for everyone. Experiment, and try making little adjustments over a period of time. Keep a sleep journal, and make notes about what helps you settle down and get your Zzzzz’s. Here’s my magic formula for getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. My bedroom is cool at night, about 65 degrees. It’s also dark and relatively quiet.
  2. I have a warm mug of unsweetened almond milk at bedtime, with a dash of maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and ginger. It gives me a protein boost that stabilizes my blood sugar through the night. Let me know if you want the recipe!
  3. I don’t watch TV or look at my iPad or iPhone except for a brief check before I turn off the lights.
  4. I avoid caffeine after midday and usually avoid it entirely.
  5. I go to bed at about the same time each night and get up at a consistent time each morning.

I hope this information helps you to improve your sleep as well as your days. I also hope you will share with us what works for you. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of Family Caregivers everywhere, one day at a time. Join the conversation below and share your heart!

Here’s a link to find more tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, click here and here.

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Healthy Caregiver

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Caring for the Caregiver is Hard Work!

Do this: take a deep breath, inhaling for a count of 8. Hold that breath for a count of 4, then exhale slowly and see how far you can count. Really push all the air out! At the end of the exhale, inhale deeply again. Repeat this pattern at least 3 times. How do you feel?

When you’re a Family Caregiver, it’s easy to forget about your own needs. In the crush of daily life, when everyone and everything is demanding of your time and attention, things like sleep, food, exercise and prayer or meditation, or even taking a deep breath can quickly get crowded out. A Caregiver who is sleep-deprived, nutrition-starved, stressed out, and socially and spiritually disconnected cannot properly care for another person because their entire being is depleted and exhausted!

Whether the ones you care for are very young or very old, disabled physically or mentally, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or a related dementia, or another chronic disease or illness, one thing is certain. You must take care of yourself in order to be able to give those you care for the best possible care. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing tips and strategies for improving your own health and wellbeing. To start with, take this survey.

  1. How’s your sleep? Do you get fewer than 7 hours nightly on the average?
  2. Do you eat fast food more than 2 times weekly?
  3. Do you exercise fewer than 30 minutes at least 3 times weekly?
  4. Do you find yourself missing church activities or opportunities to spend time with friends like you once did?
  5. Do you frequently feel tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you could definitely benefit from spending some time on improving your health and wellness! If you answered yes to ALL of the questions, DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!! You are not alone, and a healthier you could be within reach just by making just a couple of small changes in your lifestyle. We would encourage you to choose just one of the questions above and begin there. Next week we’ll be talking about Sleep and the Healthy Caregiver, so that might be a great place to begin.

For now, start with this one small thing: just breathe deeply. Try to practice deep breathing throughout your day, and see if you don’t see a change in your attitude and outlook on life. It will make you a better Caregiver, and a better person!

Are You Stressed Out?​

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Family Caregivers are real heroes in the lives of those for whom they care! They juggle busy schedules, manage any number of challenges every day, and handle whatever comes their way. If you care for someone full-time, or if you manage the care from a distance, you are going to have stress in your life

Family Caregivers experience stress in a variety of ways; your success in managing your stress level will have a direct impact on your health and your ability to care for others. Family Caregivers report loss of sleep, poor eating habits, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, limited physical activity, and a frequent or constant sense of anxiety or failure as manifestations of the stress in their lives. These issues can lead to chronic health problems that will hinder or even prevent your ability to continue providing care to aging loved ones.

Some things I’ve learned over the years that help me manage my stress include regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, limiting caffeine, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. When I go to bed regularly, plan exercise for times when I can control my schedule, and keep a water bottle going all day long, I find I am more patient and calm when someone says or does something that might get under my skin. It’s easier to take a deep breath and remember that those words probably weren’t meant to be hurtful. I am stronger as a person and as a Family Caregiver when I am more centered and focused.

Likewise, when I’m not doing these things, I am out of balance as a person and as a caregiver. I’m more tired, less creative, and quicker to react in anger or frustration. My response time is lagging, and my productivity in all areas of my life suffers. It’s just not a pretty picture!

In order to best manage my stress levels, I also have to assess what I do during my day, to determine what I’m good at and what I really hate doing, so I can find other ways to take the things I’m not good at off my plate. For example, I love to cook, but I hate menu-planning and shopping. I can find resources that will plan my menus for me, and some will even do the grocery shopping and deliver to my home. I avoid pushing the shopping cart through the crowded aisles, and blissfully chop carrots and onions in the comfort of my own kitchen.

To succeed at managing the stress in your own life, you need to first assess how much stress you are feeling. Here’s a link to a Family Caregiver Stress Assessment Tool.

Once you’ve taken the assessment, you should have a good idea of how stressed you really feel. Then you can develop a plan to help you manage your stress and regain a sense of balance and control in your life.

Also, remember that the person you are caring for also has stress in their life. Their stress might be caused by loss of independence, loss of ability, loss of a sense of self-worth, loss of life as they once knew it, or even loss of memories. It is your job as a Family Caregiver to recognize your loved one’s losses and try to ease their sorrow or pain. You can even help them forget their losses for a time, or enable them to discover new abilities in this time of their life. But to find these new paths, to bring light to another’s darkness, you must be at your best. When you get a handle on your own stress, and develop strategies that manage and even moderate or alleviate that stress, you can feel good about putting on your Superhero cape for another day of giving great care and being a Hero for someone special in your life!

 

The Reason

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Do you ever feel like the holidays are so crazy busy that you’ll just be relieved when it’s all over? Parties, decorating, shopping, concerts, special programs at church, at schools, and in the community can feel overwhelming to all of us, but for family caregivers who are already managing a career, raising children, nurturing a marriage, caring for household chores AND assisting an aging loved one, the Christmas season can feel impossible to survive. Many family caregivers find themselves feeling like there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done; care schedules get turned upside down in all hustle and bustle of the season’s demands. If you find yourself resonating with these observations, then you must take action NOW!

You need to stop, take a deep breath, and remember the reason for the season.

When Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed his birth to shepherds out with their flocks. The shepherds came to the place where they found the babe and worshipped him, although they didn’t understand the magnitude of what they were witnessing. Then they went back to work, and as they went, they told others what they had seen. Everything mostly returned to normal and stayed that way for the next 3 decades, until Jesus began his ministry which led ultimately to his crucifixion and resurrection. You and I and people everywhere, throughout the ages, got the best gift ever…because of Jesus’ birth. This gift came at an unimaginable cost and was given without restriction. HE is the reason for the season.

This Christmas season, try to find the time to reflect on the real reason for celebration and rest in the One who loves you in spite of all your failures, shortcomings and flaws. He has called you to be a family caregiver, and He will continue to equip you to fulfill this calling. Let His light shine through you as you care for others.

Chris and I wish you a very merry Christmas, and we hope you will join us at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about who Jesus is to you in this giving season.

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December 11: Great Gift Ideas for Seniors

When fishing for ideas of what to get your loved one for Christmas, does any of this sound familiar?

“Oh, don’t get me anything,” or “I really don’t need anything, I’ve got everything I could ever want!”

How about, “Spend your money on your family, I’m okay.”?

 These were all things we heard from Betsy’s mother as she lived to a very advanced age. Each year Betsy struggled to find just the right gift for her mother, something she would be able to use and enjoy throughout the year. You see, my mother-in-law was rarely one to enjoy something that would be put on a shelf and looked at. Always a pragmatic woman, she saw little value in trinkets and the like. But give her something that she could use and enjoy, and you won her heart!

 One year, Betsy had each of our daughters make both of their grandmothers fleece lap blankets. She bought two large pieces of the fabric for each of our mothers. One piece was solid, and the other was patterned in a complimentary color array. The girls cut fringes on each edge and then knotted the two pieces together all around. That gift was treasured by our mothers for as long as they lived, and now each daughter has a blanket that belonged to their grandmothers.

 Remember, Christmas is about more than presents, or candy and sweets, or parties. There are lots of things you can do as a family caregiver to create new Christmas memories for your love one that are unique and greatly appreciated! Whether your gift comes in a box or as an experience, keep in mind your loved one’s abilities and preferences. Betsy’s mother probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a cooking class, and mine would have been game for almost anything! But the best gifts come from the heart, and Betsy and I have got ideas for what to get your aging loved one that they would never consider asking for! Consider these:

  1. Host a caroling party with family members or your mom’s friends. Sit around the living room and rattle the rafters with some favorite tunes! Tell stories about caroling years before, and see what funny tales emerge.
  2. Let the grandkids come over and bake Christmas cookies. Let Grandma or Grandpa be the taste tester, and then take some to the neighbors tied up in a pretty bow.
  3. Have a decorating party. Arthritic joints and balance problems make decorating difficult for many seniors, and it doesn’t really feel much like Christmas without the trimmings. Pull out seasonal decorations and talk about family traditions as you dress the house up a little for the holidays.
  4. Take a drive and see the lights. This used to be one of our favorite holiday traditions when I was young, and when seniors don’t see as well at night, driving may be reduced, restricted, or abandoned. Go out to dinner and drive through some well-decorated neighborhoods on the way home. “Oooh’s” and “aaah’s” will definitely be worth it!
  5. Write Christmas cards together or help her address hers for an afternoon. Talk about the people these cards will go to and catch up on little details as you do.

 For more suggestions on great experiential Christmas gifts, click here. For other ideas on ways to pump up the holidays for a senior loved one, visit this site.

 Betsy and I hope you’ll share your heart about thoughts on new perspectives for giving meaningful gifts to aging loved ones this year and the years ahead.

 

Remembering Our Heroes

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This week we will observe Pearl Harbor Day in America. For older loved ones, this day has special meaning, and it should not be lost in the chaos of the holidays.

I remember listening to my mother as she shared her memories of the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That memory was powerful for her.

On December 7, that day of remembering the attack, the sacrifices made by our service men and women, and the loss to their families and to our society, Chris and I find ourselves thinking about ways to honor our mothers’ memories.

Ask your loved one if they remember Pearl Harbor or other significant milestones that affected our country in this manner. Listen to their reflections and ask questions. They will feel valued, and you might even learn something! These memories hold powerful emotions, so be prepared if grief is one of the feelings your loved one experiences as they talk about these events.

Ask questions that are open-ended and not those that can be answered with a response of yes or no. This way you will encourage conversation and open memory doors that were long shut.

If possible, attend a special service for veterans, or write notes together to honor those who serve today to carry on the legacy of defending our freedoms. Look at pictures of service men and women today, and compare them to pictures of World War II. If you loved one resists talking about war memories, as my father always did, then don’t force this experience. My dad served in the Army during WWII; he was in North Africa and Europe, and I’m sure he saw unimaginable things, but those memories are gone forever now.

 We hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver to share your thoughts on honoring military service and sacrifice during the holidays.

Destressing the Holidays

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Let’s face it, the holidays are filled with stress! Whether it’s shopping, parties, cooking, writing Christmas cards, or decorating, there’s more than enough pressure to go around for people with “normal” lives, but for family caregivers, everyday life is anything but ordinary! Added to the caregiving challenges you face, the pressures and complications of the holidays probably make you wish you could just skip Christmas and move on into the next year of your life.

To make matters even worse, you might feel like a complete failure as you enter the end-of-year crush. Everywhere you turn, you see your best-laid plans lying in ruins all around you. Perhaps last year you promised yourself you’d get an early jumpstart on those Christmas cards next year, or you’d do your shopping early. Neither of those things happened. The closet you meant to clean out is still overflowing with unworn clothing. Those 10 (or 50) stubborn pounds are still hanging around. You planned to cook ahead and freeze holiday casseroles and desserts so they are ready to go, and you had the best of intentions when you RSVP’ed all those Christmas parties, but when the time comes you just don’t have the energy!

This year it’s time to take control of your schedule and your life! You’ve committed to being a family caregiver, and that commitment means more than baking a few cookies or decorating a tree. It may feel impossible, but you can destress your holidays by following a few simple rules, starting with this one:

Take time to breathe this holiday season!

The first rule for destressing the holidays is to take care of yourself. If you don’t do this, you can’t take care of anyone else, and without breathing, you cannot survive. Create some margin in your life that will help you focus, find your center, and renew your energy.

The next rule for destressing the holidays is to involve others in your daily plans and routines to help you balance your responsibilities and manage your schedule. When others offer to help, be ready with a list of ideas for how they can help out. They will appreciate your organizational skills and will enjoy feeling they are genuinely needed during this holiday season.

Click here or other tips and ideas for destressing your holidays so you can regain clarity on the real Reason for the Season: the birth of the Christ Child, our Savior. God’s gift of his Son was, hands down, the best gift of all, and none of us can ever top that. Embrace this truth, and let the stress just melt away as you relax into the joy of pure celebration. Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her King!

Here’s a new favorite recipe for our family that will definitely make you slow down, if only while the dough rises! It’s a Giant Cinnamon Roll that will serve lots of people or last a super long time! Here’s the recipe.

Chris and I hope you’ll share your heart about other ways to manage your stress through the holidays and beyond.