Happy 2020! We made it. A new year, an entirely new decade, a seemingly clean slate. Whether you love a resolution or not, there is something appealing about starting fresh. There’s a reason webpages, magazine covers, and instagram feeds are full of “new year, new you” inspiration posts.
We all know it’s a bunch of baloney. Every day, hour, minute, and second offer us a fresh start if we choose to take it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t jump in on the new year bandwagon. Especially since we have bigger obstacles to dance around when achieving our self-improvement goals.
It makes sense. Everyone else in our lives comes first because they have to. When you’re a caregiver as well as a parent, there is rarely “me time” left over. If we can spare a few moments for ourselves, we are typically so exhausted we turn to our comforts, which are not always the best things for us.
But our caregiving role is not going to get easier. We need to realize that by putting ourselves first, we’re putting our loved ones first because we are increasing our longevity and improving our health so we can be better caregivers.
So how do we fit healthy living goals and self-care into our jam-packed lives?
Getting enough sleep is easier said than done, especially for those of us who care for someone who has sleep issues or needs cared for throughout the night. Those coveted 8 hours just are not possible. We need to sneak some Zzzzzs when we can. One option is to go into newborn mode: sleep when your loved one sleeps. That might mean going to bed right after you get your child to sleep at 7.30 p.m. It might mean taking a nap every afternoon. Turn your phone off. Put a do not disturb sign on your door. Be selfish. Most people might be out and about at noon and expect you to be available then. But most people were not up from midnight until 3am. Set firm boundaries that work for your family.
If you want to feel better or lose weight – focus on what you eat. This is the one thing we can control. The standard American diet (SAD) truly is sad – processed meats, refined grains, high sugar drinks. It’s making us sick. Swap your cookies and chips for pears and peppers and you’ll feel worlds better within a week (though you might have a few days of withdrawal before the energy surges). A doctor once told me, it’s OK to be hungry – and it is. You are better off skipping lunch than eating at McDonalds.
RETHINK FAST FOOD
Too busy to cook? Grab an apple. Microwave frozen vegetables and put a fried egg on top. Don’t get caught up in elaborate “healthy” diets and meal planning. It’s a trap. Look for fast and easy food when you’re at the store. Hummus and baby carrots. Cheese sticks. Oranges. Salads mixes. If you’re on the road, Starbucks and Panera have a decent variety of healthy options.
Government guidelines recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a week. It’s good for our body and mind. But much like the sleep component of ideal healthy living, sometimes it is nearly impossible to hit that goal every week. It’s hard to move when you’re on bedside watch while your child is in the hospital. It’s hard to move when you’re in the car for hours going to and from specialists. It’s hard to move when you use your break at work to attend your child’s IEP meeting.
Much like sleep, we can try to fit in activity whenever possible. The first key is to dress for it. Activewear is totally acceptable attire for almost anywhere. Invest in some clothes that allow you to move in between appointments. Wear shoes that you can walk comfortably in. Consider clothing that is comfortable enough for you to do chair dips, wall squats, standing push ups, and a few dashes up and down the stairs.
For some of us, exercise is a necessity in a caregiving. We have to do literal heavy lifting every day. We have loved ones whose elopement tendencies require speed and endurance. It is critical that we MAKE time every day so we can improve our strength and fitness. If you haven’t already, you might want to consult with a doctor and/or physical therapist on the best approach to build fitness as you age. Find a medical professional who truly understands your life long role as a caregiver – because our situation is unique. Create a plan that works for you. Maybe even splurge on a few personal training sessions so you can learn proper techniques that will help you build strength as your child gets bigger and you grow older.
DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH
Water is essential to living. Our bodies utilize it for almost every function they perform. It is the only thing we truly “need” to drink. Avoid soft drinks and juice, it is essentially swallowing sugar in liquid form. Any vitamins juice might offer is nullified by how much sugar it dumps into your system. If you want nutrition, eat oranges and apples, don’t drink them.
Coffee and tea offer many health benefits; but if you add sugar, you might be doing more harm than good.
BEWARE OF BOOZE
A glass of wine a couple nights a week is touted as “good for you.” But those health claims are unsubstantiated. Besides, does anyone really stick to a single 5 ounce serving of wine? If you find yourself reaching for a jumbo glass of wine after a tough day (what day isn’t tough), you might want to check yourself.
If you are questioning your alcohol consumption – try a “Dry January.” How your mind and body handle a month of sobriety might tell you a lot about your relationship with booze and whether you need to moderate or abstain completely.
Don’t fall into the commercialized self care trap. Going to get a pedicure is a costly luxury. Cutting your toenails is self care. Soaking in a tub by candlelight is a luxury. Taking a shower is self care. Getting an aromatherapy massage is a luxury. Stretching our your muscles for 10 minutes is self care. A girls weekend away is a luxury. Meeting a friend for coffee is self care.
Not everything we do for ourself needs to be worthy of a glamorous social media post. Marketing departments have jumped on the self care bandwagon and made it “treat yourself” phenomena that makes them a lot of money.
Self care is simple. It’s doing what needs to be done so you can be your best self. Our best selves do not need to be svelte, manicured, and impeccably dressed with glowing skin. Depending on the day, our best self might be someone who managed to brush their teeth and trade in their pajamas for sweat pants and that’s more than OK.