Happy New Year to you all! I hope your Holiday season was wonderful and festive, even though holidays tend to be stressful!  I’m checking in to see how you’ve started off the New Year and to see if you’ve managed to find time for self-care so far—a critical consideration in order to stay healthy and to be able to continue your responsibilities as a caregiver, parent, or employee.  Did you set any resolutions? If so, I hope they included a healthy amount of self-care for the year ahead and not just the first month after the start of the year!

Are you satisfied with your self-care so far? Have you scheduled a physical with your doctor to make sure your medical tests are up to date, and have you scheduled your dental checkups for the year? Are you watching your diet and making time for daily exercise—or do you exercise at least three times a week?  Have you done yoga or danced in your living room to your favorite music or taken a long walk outdoors? Have you gone to a quiet place to meditate or read a book? To do whatever takes your mind off of things?

I hope you can answer “YES” to at least one of those things today. Personally, I will admit that I started off strong in 2017 determined to include self-care in my schedule. I planned to:

  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Exercise at least three times each week
  • Get proper sleep
  • Do yoga once a week – I had dedicated Sundays as my Yoga Day
  • Connect with Give an Hour, a nonprofit that offers free counseling to wounded service members and veterans and their families, to find a counselor to fine tune my mental health
  • Connect with Give an Hour to find a marriage counselor and work on the relationship with my husband
  • Get in touch with a medical professional and work with them as often as needed to get myself healthy again
  • Treat myself to an affordable massage every three to four months

    Precious & Lenny self_care

    Here I am feeling disappointed … with my husband Lenny consoling me:)

BUT, by the end of 2017, when re-assessing my life and self-care efforts for the year, I found myself both proud of my efforts and strong determination during the early months, yet disappointed to see that most of these had dissipated not too long afterwards. I mean …. About three months after setting these goals for myself, LIFE happened … and the goals didn’t! My goal to lose 30 pounds, for example, fell short significantly. My husband’s medical treatments and care took precedent over my self-care, and as a result, I came face to face with a reality. The popular saying “If you don’t take care of yourself, who will take care of your care recipient?” finally stared me in the face and I realized … “If I don’t take care of myself and something happens to me…then how can I help him?”  So… after much reflection, I finally came up with a few practical ways to implement self-care in 2018 that I’d like to follow and that you might also want to consider:

  1. Concentrate on physical wellness: Exercise!
  2. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals
  3. Continue mental-health counseling
  4. Continue relationship counseling
  5. Get proper rest
  6. Meditate
  7. Plug into community support and not be isolated!

In this blog, I will deal with the first four suggestions of self-care actions and in the next blog, I will deal with the last three suggested self-care items:

1.Concentrate on Physical Wellness. Exercise!

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Set a goal to exercise at least 30 minutes every day — I am still working on this one! Sometimes my body needs rest, or I just don’t feel like exercising, which is a challenge. I almost always find, however, that even if I’m really tired, once I force myself to start exercising, I actually get energized! I am also finding that changing up the type of exercise helps a bit, like maybe instead of cycling every day, I’ll only cycle 3 times per week and maybe do Yoga once, and strength training once per week or a variety of similar combinations. Or maybe just walk with my dog instead of the cycling. I am still trying to get this part, right?! But, what is most important is putting forth the effort every day to do SOMETHING, because doing so helps keep one both mentally and physically fit. There will always be days that I just don’t get moving at all, and I need to be kind to myself by giving myself a “pass card” for the day (all the time ensuring I don’t give myself a “stack” of these pass cards)!

2. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.

nutrition_self-care
So, is low carbs really the way to go? Not sure. There are as may diets to choose from as there are people who want to write about them, it seems. Every person needs to find what works best for them in order to stay healthy, fit, and comfortable. Each person has a different body type with different nutritional needs; generally speaking, most diets that one tries in order to lose weight simply don’t work, and if they do, they don’t work for very long. People go off these diets, often gaining weight back immediately. Before making any serious changes in your diet, make sure you speak with a nutritionist or a family physician about your ideal weight range for your body type and frame, as your particular health needs are unique! Most people who aren’t diabetic or who don’t have other specific health issues requiring special diets, in fact, should just cut back on portions and be aware of the dangers of eating too much sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. Moderation in all things is a good motto!

3. Continue mental-health counseling.

vision

I think a realistic goal for me is an appointment once per month…perhaps Fridays…? If I schedule this valuable service only this often, I will probably be able to keep my appointments. Mental health counseling is a way for me to get an objective opinion as I talk through my challenges, concerns, fears, plans, and dreams; it also provides me with the kind of outside support I need beyond friends and family, whom I don’t want to burden with my issues all the time. Therapists are trained to be objective and to help you help yourself; they ask relevant and helpful questions and guide patients appropriately. In addition to helping me sort through my sometimes complicated emotional issues related to caregiving, therapy helps me clarify goals I want to achieve and create the kind of life I want to live. For caregivers, counseling also provides a way to de-stress and unwind when things start to feel as if they’re becoming overwhelming. I generally tend to keep appointments for my husband, but never seem to manage to keep up with my wellness and counseling sessions—another sign that I’m ignoring my own best interests and needs —and health!

Like many caregivers, I sometimes find that keeping up with counseling appointments outside the home interferes with my caregiving responsibilities.  My husband’s TBI, along with other multiple service-related injuries, for example, often prevents me from leaving the house, and I have to reschedule appointments as a result. Given these conditions, I often simply give up on my therapy sessions, which is NOT a reasonable or healthy solution! If you’re like me in this regard and aren’t able to schedule appointments in person, you might ask your counselor if it’s possible to have sessions over the phone or through a virtual platform.

Happily, there is also help for those who find it hard to get mental health therapy on a regular basis. Give an Hour (GAH) is a non-profit organization that encourages military caregivers to “Change Direction” and to pay attention to mental health, and encourages them to seek FREE professional services online from a mental health counselor within the GAH network. The founder of Give an Hour, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, stresses on GAH’s website that “taking care of one’s emotional well-being is just as important as taking care of one’s physical well-being.”  So, consider this option to get counseling for YOURself!

4. Continue relationship counseling.

relationships_self-care

The Give an Hour network also includes marriage counselors for FREE to the military caregiver and wounded warrior communities, which can be an invaluable service. Many studies report that a large number of military caregivers are also spouses – for instance the RAND Report notes 33% of Post 9-11 military caregivers are also the injured, wounded, or ill service member’s spouse. The strain on relationships when a soldier returns home wounded is always a serious matter and impacts everyone’s emotional and physical well-being.

Military caregivers, our lives depend on these activities. We must make a conscious effort to take care of ourselves in order to be able to stay healthy, motivated, and competent when facing responsibilities as caregivers. Doing so will benefit both you and your care recipient!

So, my challenge to all for 2018 is … continue a conscious, well-conceived program of SELF-CARE!

 

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