Three Health and Wellness Strategies for a Traveling Caregiver

If you are a caregiver and have been told a million times to carve out time for yourself, get some respite and seek help, send me a virtual fist bump and try not to bang your head on a very hard surface.  For me, just that I can schedule in a daily shower is a victory and fulfills my health and wellness quota for the day.

However, on the serious side, I have a an earnest desire to prevent this horrific disease called “Alzheimers”, and frankly, all other chronic diseases that plague our world.  If I can just push myself outside the comfortable, while in the present, I will reap in the future, by enjoying my aging disease-free, pain-free and medication-free.

Part of my push includes intense planning and preparation, which is a huge added task to a caregiver, who is consumed with their loved ones’ responsibilities.  We plan their doctor appointments, their routine tests, their medication management, their bedtime schedule, their finances, etc.  We, as caregivers, are the last of the long list of planning that usually fades away into the abyss.

Recently, I attended a Caregiving Conference in Chicago, IL.  In order to attend this conference, I had to arrange months ahead of time.  I had to negotiate the caregiver hours, arrange the time I would be gone with my husband, who works, ensure all my moms medications were filled, and doctor appointments kept.  This list goes along with the negotiation of my paid full-time job, as I needed to carve out time to develop the presentation with my partner, edit slides, draft handouts and meet the dates of the conference coordinator.  I had to find the funds to go to the conference, budget the trip around my other financial responsibilities and plan what I could do and not do while in Chicago.  So exactly where did that leave the time to incorporate the Health and Wellness piece into my travel plans?

Below are three simple tips I am trying to make a habit as a traveling caregiver, so I don’t end up eating cheesecake every night from the hotel restaurant.

  1. Pick up some budget-friendly healthful snacks from the grocery store before you leave that fit right into a carry-on bag.  I stuff a clear zip-lock bag full of nuts, jerky, and plantain chips; enough to carry me through the number of days I will be gone from home.  Your hotel may not be in the ideal location with access to a grocery store, so packing what you need for those airplane and late night munchies will help and reduce vending machine temptation.
  2. Pack a pair of sneakers, at least one set gym clothes and download some body-weight only exercises.  Most hotels have small gyms, but you really do not need to leave your room to get your heart rate up.  I always tend to overpack for the gym, as my goal is to go everyday while I am on travel. However, travel lethergy is real, especially when you have left one busy life behind and have a compromised immune system.  Keep it realistic and simple.  One outfit will suffice for a couple of days.
  3. Ask for what you don’t see, but need.  Finding something healthy to eat at the airport or in a restaurant can be the very last fight you want to battle in the arena.  My partner and I walked around the food court in Chicago for 20 minutes examining the menus for the “gluten-free, dairy-free, everything-free” options.  It just did not exist. As my stomach began to yell at me, I passed Dunkin Donuts and saw those chocolate glazed donut holes.  Oh yes, they were inviting me in like a warm cozy sweater on a cold Chicago night.  My stomach wanted them. I was so hungry.  But I walked back around to the Latino restaurant and told them what I needed.  They made it for me, right on the spot, with no hesitation at all. And….it only cost me a few dollars, $5.90 to be exact.  In some airports where the cities are more progressive and eco-friendly, like Chicago, they have installed Farm Friendly Fridges that include healthy options. These also can be found on local colleges and University campuses.  These are a great option when trying to stay on track.  Check the locations of these fridges before you leave to plan for access and cost.

No matter what role you hold, these are some simple and economical ideas to incorporate into your travel planning.  As a caregiver, I am seeking to stay consistent in my healthful routine, in order to live a life of freedom, rather than in chains to doctors, medicine and illness.  I am making these habits apart of my every travel itinerary.  If you have additional ideas, please feel free to send in comments and I will post.

“Those who think they have no time for healthy eating…will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” ~Edward Stanley

 

 

The Blooming Caregiver

Many times when we think of caregiving and the brutal battle fought everyday, we don’t think of beautiful words to describe it, like delightful, serene, full of potential, thrilling, and fulfilling.  Most adjectives used to describe the duties and role could spin you into a therapist office contemplating different diagnoses.  However, as I develop in this process, I am noticing more and more how there is a huge impact on myself as a human being, similar to a blossoming flower.

Have you ever watched a flower bloom and its reactions to environmental influences?  I have these beautiful Startgazer Lillies on my deck that I watch respond to the extreme sunlight, the rain, the humidity and the chilly nights.  I watch what makes them bloom and what makes them shrivel up.  The strain of too much sun, or the collision with a heavy downpour of rain can wither a blossom unto death.  As too, the caregiver, with an overabundance of environmental extrinsic stress can diminish the very essence, the intrinsic nature of being human.  If we are not careful, our blossoms will whither, our soil will dry up and our bright colors darken.   So how do we blossom as caregivers?

  1. Stay balanced with enough rain and sun to thrive, not just survive.  How do you ever think about doing this?  Well, I can tell you, being a financially restricted, young, married, working caregiver, this took a determination, a mindset and a love for myself.  It is true, no one is going to do this for you, not a system, not the government and definitely not friends and family.  Many will desert you and disappoint you.  You can look around and see the abyss of services and support.  Therefore, mentally, what is your option? Are you going to whither up and die, or seek the rain and sunshine?  What do you need to bloom during this time of great trial? What is your rain and sunshine? Define it for yourself and find a way to access it!
  2. Turn your trials and tribulations into hope and support for others.  Whether you   believe in God or not, your spiritual being provides a sense of purpose in humanity in that we are here to support and help someone along the way. We are all tied to one another, living on this earth together, sharing some set of meaning and purpose.  You are not traveling this road solo and are interconnected to your fellow man/woman.  As you learn more about caregiving and what has assisted you, share it with others.  If there is not a support group, start it.  If legislatures and the federal government aren’t supportive, tell them what you need, over and over and over again.  If there isn’t enough exposure to the needs and issues that surround caregivers, expose it.  Exposure can come through many different avenues including mulit-media outlets, work policies, non-caregiving and caregiving institutions.  If there is no sunshine, bring the rays and if there is no water, bring the fresh rain!  Blossom caregiver!  Write about it, talk about it, open your mouth and share! One of my favorite leader of all times, Martin Luther King Jr. had such powerful truth-filled quotes that has changed history and man-kind:
    • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
    • “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
    • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
  1. Make your strengths your personal weapons of war! Did you know a lily (Lilium) could grow just about anywhere? They are the earliest to bloom and the easiest to grow.  They have a multitude of colors, can be fragrant or non-fragrant, and require little care.  Sound familiar?  A caregiver receives little to no care from anyone.  They come in many different races, ages, sexes and socio-economic statuses and exist all over the world.  Disease does not discriminate and wherever there is a human suffering with a debilitating disease, there is a caregiver that embodies some heavy-duty strength.  You have strengths caregiver and are the foundation of the survival of another human being.  Examine your strengths and put them to use for yourself.  We fight and advocate everyday for our loved ones and yet, we ignore ourselves like we have no value.  Take a minutes an inventory the strengths and values you apply to caregiving everyday and begin to apply them to yourself. They are the petals in your bloom, the root in the soil and the nourishment needed to continue to flourish. 

“Strength and growth come only through effort and struggle.”

The Healing Power of Silence

“Silence isn’t empty, but yet full of answers.”  How many times in your day do you hear silence?  Yes, I said “hear silence.”  Everyday we are bombarded by the texts, emails and calls pulsating through our phones.  You turn on the TV to hear the recent reality show drama, the days events full of crime, murder, poverty and hardship.  Our music pumps in our cars on the way to work with the sounds of traffic ringing in our ears.  As caregiver’s we have the additional noise as we wake to the needs of our loved ones and fall asleep to the repetitive sound of an Alzheimer’s thought.

All caregivers are given the “survivor” tips by friends, family members, organizations, colleagues and on and on.  They tell you in order to maintain your sanity on a daily basis, you should,  “take care of yourself”, “try yoga”, “see a “therapist”, “join a support group”, and my favorite, “download this tip sheet or newsletter.”  But how often do you hear, “take 10 minutes and be silent?”

After a recent visit to my Psychologist, I left her office very irritated with what she was pushing me to do.  After months and months of explaining and describing the burden I face as a caregiver, daughter, wife, and working professional, she was pushing me to prioritize something in my life.  All I kept thinking was, she wants me to do this, my colleagues want me to do that, my husband wants this and my mother needs that.  I was feeling like a ping pong ball bouncing sporadically between the expectations of others.  Caregivers are told to seek help, support and assistance, but they are rarely told, sit in silence and feed your soul.

After I left my therapists office I had realized what was bothering me; noise, constant direction, opinions, judgements and demands.  I drove around the corner to my local park and sat patiently in silence, waiting it to speak to me. There was no music, no cell phone, no texting, no instant messaging, no Facebook, only the mystical sounds of birds.   For the first time, in a long time, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me.  I could breathe in the freshness of the air and the wisdom of silence.  I heard more in the 10 minutes of silence than I had in months from humans.  What I heard was silence serenading me victorious words of strength, peace and love.

The next time your caregiver world consumes you with noise from others, those support systems, take time out to wrap yourself in the healing sound of silence. Your soul and spirit will thank you. “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

For more health benefits of silence: http://omtimes.com/2012/10/the-health-benefits-of-silence-simple-yet-profound/