All content, music, videos, photos © 2018 by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
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Self-care is a catch-phrase often used to address caregiver support. As a new caregiver for my mother, I struggle with keeping my balance between my responsibilities for her and my entrepreneurial and creative tasks. I get so busy with things that I forget to take care of myself.
Pay Attention To Your Self-Care Signs
Fortunately, there are signs that help me pay attention. When I start to get negative, complain, feel overwhelmed or doubt, I know it's an indicator that I need to carve out some time for self-care.
As a creator, when I feel empty of ideas, I take that as a signal that it is time to take a break from work. I'm still practicing self-care habits. Honestly, it's one of the hardest things for me to grasp. I'm used to running full-speed ahead, stopping for nothing until the tasks at hand are complete.
They're never complete, either. I run around like a hamster in circles, tending to one thing after another until I start to feel the signs. Does this sound familiar? I'm learning to start paying attention to these and...stop.
Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Just For You
There are plenty of stressors on the caregiving path, making it crucial to be in good shape for myself and others. As I've quickly discovered, being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart. Being a caregiver requires stamina. (The same can be said for being an entrepreneur and creative professional!)
Taking care of my heart keeps me in good condition to be there for my mother. This is the best possible 'why' to justify self-care. If you're like me, you struggle with having yourself be the reason for self-care. It may seem indulgent or selfish.
But the reality is that your loved one depends on you, so as caregiver you want to be in the best shape to do your best. So start thinking that everything you do for yourself, for your balance, for your health and wellness, is directly fueling the best care for your loved one.
Doing Nothing Is A BIG Something
One of the most encouraging things I've learned from devouring online caregiver and entrepreneur blogs recently, is that doing nothing is actually really something.
Research has proven that when people take breaks, they refuel creativity and are more productive at work. In Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time, Entrepreneur magazine writer Joe Robinson wrote, "People who engage in respite activities during workday recovery breaks have higher levels of positive affect (observable expression of emotion) after the breaks, a study led by John Trougakos at the University of Toronto found."
The Tesla innovator, Elon Musk's Chief Automotive Designer, Franz von Holzhausen followed the premise that "all work with no downtime does not equal more productivity. Your body needs rest and time away from work to recharge and attack each day anew."
Having Fun Opens Your Creativity
Historian, Teacher, Curator, Sarah Elizabeth Lewis' book, The Rise: Creativity The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, suggests that downtime and fun are "the improbable foundations of a creative human endeavor."
The book looks closely at creativity, sharing "narratives about" current and past creatives; writers, inventors, artists, choreographers, entrepreneurs. Lewis observes that there is so much value in 'play' that it's considered "essential for innovation."
Avoiding Burnout Protects Your Loved One
This is monumental for caregivers like you and me. We often think we can't stop helping or doing, for fear of consequences. But the reality is that caregiver burnout happens faster to those of us who don't take time off for ourselves.
You and I are no good to our loved ones if we've burned out. Like an airplane emergency, it is imperative we place the oxygen mask on ourselves first, so we can better help those around us.
Balance For Yourself And Others
As an SGI-USA Buddhist for 32+ years, I'm aware of the Buddhist concept, 'practice for oneself and others,' or 'jigyo keta' in Japanese. For years, I interpreted that to mean that I should contribute to others in order to overcome my selfishness or ego.
Sometimes that may be true. Like how volunteering for a soup kitchen can get me out of my funk during holidays when I'm alone or after a loss.
But I now realize that the balance of practice for self and others is not about sacrificing myself for others. It is not about being a martyr. Rather, it is about the equality of self and others. I cannot help others if I'm neglecting myself.
I have to remind myself that taking time off doesn't mean I'm falling behind. It means I'm filling up my tank again, so I can move forward refreshed, full of energy and a renewed spirit.
4 Ways To Manage Stress
Although the following Entrepreneur magazine excerpt refers to business owners, the idea to find ways to vent your stress is equally applicable to caregivers;
"Some successful people exercise to blow off steam. Others unplug for a night to reset their minds. Writing works wonders for many people. Journaling your daily experiences is a way to express your dreams and your frustrations without the anxiety of wondering what others might think. Many people draft cathartic emails without clicking the "Send" button. It allows them to vent and air the words they'd really like to say."
6 Best Ways To Refresh Your Wellness
1. REST. Caregivers are no good to loved ones if depleted. So, the first way to soothe your soul, is to take a break. Taking time off helps you maintain balance.
2. NATURE. For me, getting my nature fix helps me just breathe and relax again. Getting out in nature is great therapy. There's something about the vibrations in nature, the fresh air, the beauty of a landscape, the authenticity of wild animals, that calms the mind.
3. EXERCISE. Taking a short walk outdoors can boost your productivity and your mood. It doesn't take a huge workout. Just a chance to move your body a bit, and take in the sights around you will do wonders for your energy level. Not to mention your heart health.
4. CUTE ANIMALS. Speaking of the heart, wellness coach, Elizabeth Scott states that just watching photos or videos online of cute animals has been scientifically proven to relax and rejuvenate people. Taking care of your pet has an even more positive impact on your wellness, raising endorphins, lowering blood pressure, and relieving stress.
5. MUSIC. Listening to relaxing music is calming. Listening to upbeat music is energizing. Studying or playing music has health and wellness benefits that are well-documented. Get your music groove on to boost your mind, body and spirit.
6. MEDITATE OR CHANT. The health and wellness benefits of meditation are well-documented and scientifically proven. Taking a few minutes to an hour daily to meditate lowers your stress, improves your emotional state, helps you sleep, lowers your blood pressure, improves your memory and more.
There are plenty of options on how to meditate, including chanting, nature walks, being silent with your thoughts, reading, and so on. My regular daily Buddhist practice gives me positive energy, focus, hope and a wider range of compassion for others.
My mother never hesitates to say, "Go chant!" if I exhibit signs of stress or negativity. We laugh at that together, but in honesty, it proves how powerful meditation can be toward keeping one's cup full and balanced.
Take A Moment Just For You
I'd like to offer you the gift of music, nature and creativity with my homemade music video below. It has all the elements research has proven to soothe your soul. The beauty of nature scenes, the sound of birds, the wind blowing gently, my classical-based piano music, all in a short video.
It is my sincere hope that watching this video brings you a moment of stress relief, calmness, and a refreshed spirit. I hope it inspires you to stop your carousel, and take some time off to care for your spiritual wellness.
This may function as a kind of musical meditation for you. Or, it may motivate your creative energy to start something new. Maybe it encourages you to take a walk today in the great outdoors.
But doing something for yourself, making time for self-care, is ultimately what will fuel your best self. Self-care is a proven way to manage stress and recharge to put your best foot forward.
Share your self-care determinations, tips, or questions in the comments below!
Click on the play button below to
watch my winter scene nature video
and hear my original piano music, "Karmic Thread".
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This article was published first on LivingWell60Plus magazine
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Bringing music to a retirement home is one of the most gratifying ways to be of service during the holiday season. Performing music for seniors has been a rewarding experience for me. Retirement residents were wonderfully appreciative audiences when I performed as a solo vocalist and pianist. Singing original compositions, the standards from the 1930 to the 1960s and familiar holiday songs evoked equal measures of joy, animation and tears from aging audiences.
During my years as a music teacher and chorus director, I led my students in holiday performances at local retirement centers. I wanted to impress on them the idea that musical performance is about communication and making a positive impact on others, not just being in the spotlight.
It was a multi-point learning experience for all. It served as a community service event for young singers. It met the national music teaching standards for providing students practice with musical skills, repertoire and ensemble performance.
Most significantly, it brought holiday joy to the audience of residents and family members. Students received positive emotional responses as they saw how their music affected retirement home residents.
The holidays are a perfect time to reap the benefits of providing musical community service for retirement home residents.
Gather your children and invite their friends and parents. Pull participants from your kids’ soccer, dance or softball teams or talk to your religious or community youth leaders. They may step up to help you organize and chaperone the fun. If you’re not accustomed to being surrounded by a large number of children, have a few adult chaperones by your side. Children need a measure of structure and discipline to balance all the excitement.
Ask the participants for their favorite holiday songs. Depending on your religious background and/or preference, songs may be traditional or secular, incorporating various faiths and cultures and/or blend a bit of each. A quick Google, Yahoo or YouTube search or a look through a music application such as Amazon Music or iTunes or radio sites such as Pandora or Spotify will yield plenty of song ideas. Above all, select songs everyone enjoys.
A fairly new holiday, Kwanzaa, invites the use of African American music, using rhythm instruments such as rain sticks, shakers, djembe and gathering drums. An easy way to incorporate these instruments is to have a few chorus members or even the audience tap the beat during the singing. Jingle bells are another fun instrument to add, but do so sparingly, as a few can overpower voices.
One of my favorite personal holiday music memories was when my parents, brother, sisters and niece were singing and I pushed the drum beat button on my portable keyboard to create a steady loop of rhythm. We started rapping the words to the songs.
This spontaneous idea can be incorporated into any holiday song – just speak the lyrics in the same rhythmic pattern as the singable version. This takes pressure off those who have difficulty matching pitch.
Organize the order of the songs for your performance. Choose enough songs for a 30- to 60-minute concert. Arrange them by tempo, mood, style and familiarity. Once you’ve selected your songs, use a smart phone music app to create accompaniment. Use a portable Bluetooth speaker for added volume. Your group may want to sing a cappella like traditional carolers – without accompaniment. Practice a few run-throughs before your performance. This will reveal pacing issues that may warrant a few tweaks with song order.
Find Your Most Appreciative Audience
If you know someone living in a retirement home, start there or do an online search for local facilities. Call the activity director at each facility and tell them you’d like to bring a group out for a bit of holiday singing fun. Most activity directors are thrilled to have guests visit residents. Encourage the audience to sing along and mingle with them afterwards. The joyful holiday spirit will last long after the last note fades away.
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I took my mother with me yesterday to a wonderful concert by Lexington Chamber Orchestra. Their concerts are always a delight. I recommend attending and supporting these fine artists.
I know the value of listening to excellent quality music. You may find my article about music's positive effects on health and cognitive function in LivingWell 60+ magazine.
I noticed an older couple sitting in front of us. The man was in a motorized wheelchair in the aisle, with his wife sitting at the end of the aisle. After the concert I offered to help get him up the steep aisle. My mother sat patiently waiting in the lobby.
This caregiver stranger and I steered the spastic vehicle up the aisle, through the lobby, out the door, across the road and into her van. If I hadn’t been monitoring the wheelchair, it could have tipped over as we led her husband up the bumpy, steep sidewalk. Though he was strapped in, both the woman and myself wrestled to keep her six-foot-plus husband from falling out of the wheelchair.
When she lowered the van ramp, it accidentally landed on the man’s feet. I lifted it while his wife pulled him backwards. Getting the chair into the vehicle was a swerving struggle. We barely managed to keep the man’s arm from getting smashed on the van door as the wheelchair lodged its left wheel into the doorway. After more struggle, we got him into the van. I helped her get the four floor-installed seatbelts hooked onto the wheelchair to keep him from rolling while she drove.
I share this story as it moved my heart that this caregiver regularly does this without my help. Her devotion and love for her husband was undeniable. It was an agonizing ordeal with both of us. Yet this woman daily takes care of her husband alone, without any help from strangers like me.
I said it was wonderful that she brought her husband to experience culture's therapeutic and healing power. She shared they had listened to the concert's music during their courtship and it brought back wonderful memories. We quoted lyrics from the songs to each other and laughed.
I shared that her husband‘s face energetically lit up at a particular point in the concert, when the first violins attacked a new melodic theme with dynamic gusto.
I said she must love her husband to go through such physical difficulty to bring him to a concert. She said when most people lose mobility, they stop going out. She was determined to bring her husband and herself to activities as long as possible.
It was a short moment looking through the window of this caregiver’s experience. I’m also a new caregiver for my mother, so I’m aware of a multitude of issues that come with being an adult caregiver. But this woman’s effort for her husband, and his response to the music concert was a beautiful drama. It was a poignant statement of humanity, love, music's healing power, and the bittersweet plight of caregivers.
But mostly it was inspiring and humbling. I want to be as generous, compassionate, determined, and loving as this woman is to her husband. I want to be able to do that kind of good for my mother when it’s necessary while I’m in the caregiving role.
I want to take the lesson of self-care from this experience. This woman enjoyed the therapy of live music for her own wellness as well as for her partner. I want to appreciate the sincerity of care this woman is giving her husband. She is a testament to the universal nobility of caregivers.
Help me show appreciation for caregivers. Like, comment and share this blog with others.
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In my Caregiver blogs, you'll find I understand the internal struggles and daily stress as a caregiver juggling entrepreneurial life.