All content, music, videos, photos © 2018 by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
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".
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
This story was published in Jessamine Journal August 2, 2018.
Listen to this as an audio podcast by clicking here.
My newly acquired caregiver role includes being chauffeur for Mom’s health appointments and evening social functions. Last night, I drove Mom to her 60th Nicholasville High School reunion (Jessamine County, Kentucky). Despite torrential thunderstorms, a tornado watch, flash flood warnings, power outages around the city, and having an odd, eye-oriented headache for the two days prior, Mom would not be deterred from attending.
I drove us past dead traffic lights, waited through bumper-to-bumper, stilled traffic, and passed half a dozen felled trees and debris along the way. My cranky, neurotic complaints about the weather’s potential for disaster were ignored. Her optimism sprang eternal, as she proclaimed the weather ‘is moving away from us.’
We arrived at the community clubhouse event to see that fifty-four of the last class from the original Nicholasville High School had been distilled to the attendance of thirteen. Thirteen highly determined seniors at the ripe age of 78, some with oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and one with an arm in a sling from a recent fall. I took iPhone photos of Mom happily greeting, hugging and laughing with her classmates from 1958 (and a commemorative group photo at the end of the evening).
Listening to stories of who they had lost, husbands, wives, brothers, each gone ahead to the after-life, knocked me over the head with the reason Mom would not miss this event even for a tornado. Mortality loomed over the heart of everyone in the room, including mine. The current chapter of aging, sickness and death was written on the faces of every senior there, as their stories of health issues and loss were shared over dinner.
Yet, there was a palpable strength and humorous tone in the atmosphere, too. Jokes were made about the phase of life “when getting up to go to work has changed to getting up to go to the doctor.” Boisterous laughter abounded from tables of grey or balding folks recounting days of their high school adventures.
I put on my cheerful, brave face to absorb the scene, though internally my heart was struck by the grim truth of death’s inevitability. I ached to see the physical pain of some of the attendees, those in wheelchairs, struggling to chew food, those who had to sit down to save energy to speak. The sorrow was visible of those who, like my mother, had lost their beloved spouse after 50 years together. What these aging citizens were facing, some completely alone, others merely waiting to be the next to lose their loved one, was the elephant in the room that stomped on my heart.
As a new caregiver, my emotions sometimes get overwhelmed with things I hadn’t anticipated; seeing the plight of the aging so closely, handling Mom’s unexpected, urgent health issues, viewing the reality of dwindling comrades from her youthful days. I’m torn between my relief that I’m here for my mother, and the fact that my own destiny as a single woman without children may lead to my being alone in that golden, final chapter of life.
I’ve begun to think about things that never entered my mind before I hit fifty. My youth was filled with so much to do that I never considered how life slows down for those past retirement. Though I’m not retired—in fact, I’m plunging head-first into launching a second career I always wanted—the tempo of my life has begun to move in a dramatic rubato in sync with my mother’s life issues.
This awakens me to appreciate things on a deeper level; the fortune of having a family member to live with, friends to talk to, health that is reasonably managed or at least attended to when not, the few remaining relatives around to share life stories and short luncheons. These are small, yet profound moments of joy for my mother and her peers.
I get it; the tenacity and inner strength of my mother’s generation comes from surviving everything. As one of Mom’s 1958 classmates said, quoting a poem, “Love like you’ve never loved before.” They all know firsthand that the opportunity is fleeting.
I got Mom in the car and pulled away just before the horrendous rainstorm pelted violently against my car. I fought to see the road ahead and drive carefully until we made our way safely back home. Sometimes fighting through the storm is worth it.
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CENTER BOTTOM PHOTO:
Back left to right: Ann Thompson Nicholson, Martin Lowery, Charles Burton, John V. Carpenter, Hugh Logan Scott III, Ashley Moss,
Front left to right: Linda Cobb Downing, Brenda Carter, Phyllis Miller Preston, Joann Cobb Giles, Judy Royse Cooper, Minva Gayle Morgan Hodgins, Marion Williams
Not pictured: Ursula Land Lamb
In my Caregiver blogs, you'll find I understand the internal struggles and daily stress as a caregiver juggling entrepreneurial life.