Caregivers’ Corner: Take Time to Breathe

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2008 09:39

Caregiving is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining. The loved one you care for can be agitated and angry one moment, confused and helpless the next, and loving and appreciative a few moments later. Your work is often 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Joan Jackson

The National Alliance of Caregivers in a 2006 study noted that the demands of caregiving can put your health at risk: The more hours you spend taking care of your loved one, the more likely it is that your own health will decline. So here’s a critical reminder – you need to take care of you if you want to be able to take care of your loved one.

As you know, good food, exercise, and regular rest all help keep you physically healthy. Regular contact with outside people, whether it’s family, friends, your spiritual community or a nurturing support group, can shore you up emotionally and spiritually. Engaging in hobbies, games, reading or puzzles – any activity that makes your mind stretch – supports you mentally.

In addition, practicing a conscious, structured breathing technique, either by itself or in conjunction with meditation or prayer, supports you at every level. Actively using conscious breathing is one of the easiest things you can do to relax your body, clear your mind, decrease your blood pressure, release anxiety, and refresh your spirit.

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Here’s a technique for conscious breathing that’s amazingly simple, but has been a life-enhancer for thousands of folks. There are three steps:

  1. Inhale – Draw your breath in through your nose the way you do normally, but focus on noticing how the air flows into your nose.
  2. Exhale – Slowly and very gently blow the breath out through your mouth with your lips pursed a little, as if you’re blowing bubbles. Make your exhale a bit longer than your inhale.
  3. Soft Pause – Allow a brief pause or rest at the end of your exhale. At first this may feel strange, but as the breathing becomes more comfortable for you, the pause will feel natural and restful.

Practice by taking three conscious breaths, making each breath a little fuller and a little longer than the one before. (Don’t make the inhale too big or you’ll end up coughing!)

In the beginning, you’ll probably want to stretch out somewhere or sit comfortably in a chair. Let your body relax and your eyes drift shut.

After three conscious breaths, stay quiet for one to five minutes. Let your breath remain slow and steady. Set a kitchen timer if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep. Once you’re comfortable with the breath technique you can do one or more conscious breaths anywhere, anytime – eyes open or closed. Just be sure to keep your eyes open if you’re driving a car!

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835), providing clinical health education and other services, including caregiver support groups sponsored by the Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2008 09:39
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