Helping someone who faces significant limitations with their daily routines can be very rewarding, but it can also pose challenges. It can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting! When you have a moment for yourself, you may want to focus on "self care."
This page provides a sampling of techniques and exercises that can help you relax, reflect, cope, or enjoy.
- Time to Relax: Audio Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
- Writing Exercises
- Appreciation and Laughter
- Visual Expression: Using Art to Understand Your Emotions
- More Resources
If you only have a few minutes, take some time to relax right now. Click on the play button below for either a breathing exercise or a guided imagery relaxation exercise.
Many caregivers feel that writing helps them to focus and gain clarity as they deal with the loss and stress related to caregiving. It is not necessary to write every day, but you may wish to establish an on-going writing program to help you with new caregiving challenges, as well as with difficult situations that arise or old memories that persist.
Writing about Difficult Experiences
It is common for us to experience difficult events in our lives. Caring for a loved one, loss of health, living with a physical disability, and loss of a dream - such as traveling in retirement or living independently, and the death of loved ones or even our pets are all difficult events with which we must cope. Some positive benefits of writing will appear almost immediately after completing the writing process, while others may take up to four months to become apparent.
It does not matter if you have never been a writer before. This is only for you. No one is going to grade you on your writing. It is just a chance to get your thoughts and feelings on paper.
The key elements of University of Texas researcher Dr. James Pennebaker method of writing to heal are outlined below:
- Select any event – recent or in the past. You may choose to write about the most difficult experience of your life, but it may be more helpful to write about the issues that are of concern to you right now. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about a particular issue? Writing can help you resolve that issue. Is there something that you cannot tell others because you are ashamed or embarrassed about it? Then write about that. It is most important to take action – to begin to write about something.
- Write whenever you want to, about whatever you wish.
- However, do not use writing as a substitute for actions which you should take, such as apologizing to someone you have wronged.
- Once you have selected a topic, just begin to write. If you find it difficult to begin, just write "I am finding it very difficult to write about this experience," and keep writing whatever comes into your mind. The important thing is to just start writing!
- Tell the story of your experience, with plenty of details. Don't make it a "newspaper account" with "just the facts."
- Be sure to include your feelings about the event. Write what you feel and explore why you feel that way. Linking your feelings with the troubling event will help provide you the health benefits of writing.
- If you run out of things to say, just repeat what you have already written.
To gain the most benefit try to write continuously for fifteen to twenty minutes, or longer. Write about the same topic for four sessions – on four consecutive days or within a week or so.
Types of Writing
Below you will find information that may help you identify a style of writing that helps you:
Writing in a diary or journal that discusses thoughts and feelings evoked by the events of your life can help reduce stress and help you to discover things about yourself and your life. To be most helpful, you should write in detail about feelings and comprehension related to stressful events.
Appreciation, compassion, caring, and joy are powerful emotions that can positively affect your health. In her book Journal to the Self, author Kathleen Adams describes the writing technique called Captured Moments. A Captured Moment is a very specific event or experience, as you remember it.
Much like a camera shutter captures an instant on film, so does a Captured Moment preserve an instant of feeling and sensation. When writing about Captured Moments you focus on the senses, using sights, sounds, textures, smells, and feelings to creatively and vividly capture a special time.
Below is a brief guide for how to get started:
- Begin by closing your eyes and slowly breathing in and out, allowing yourself to relax.
- Invite an image from a wonderful time to come into your mind—perhaps a wedding, reuniting with an old friend, holding a newborn baby.
- Bring yourself into that scene—letting yourself see, smell, hear, feel, and touch all that is in that memory. Fully immerse yourself in that experience, and relive it.
Then, open your eyes, and begin to write, letting the words flow, bringing the experience to life on your paper.
We have the power to change our attitudes, thinking, and perceptions. Positive thinking does not mean that we cover up other difficult emotions but that we acknowledge them and choose to put our attention elsewhere.
Negative feelings can have negative consequences. For example, when we experience the fear of anticipating pain, the part of the brain that deals with pain becomes active even before the pain is experienced. Interrupting the experience of dread through laughter or pleasure can help distract us and decrease its negative effects.
Laughter itself can stimulate our body to release endorphins and dopamine. These natural substances support feelings of pleasure and wellness, and they can also help relieve pain. However, laughter is "healing" only when it includes others and when it comes from positive feelings.
Research demonstrates that acting "as if" you are happy can have significant effects on our physiology. Smiling, even when we do not feel happy, can help move us in a more positive emotional direction. Living "as if" we are happy, joyous, and appreciative increases the likelihood that we will experience those feelings.
Making Appreciation and Laughter Part of Your Daily Life
- Enjoy jokes and humorous cartoons-share jokes with others
- Watch silly movies or comedy shows on television.
- Read uplifting or humorous books, positive essays, religious texts, or inspiring quotes-reflect and come up with new ideas for positive approaches to living.
- Spend time with funny or upbeat people- laughter is usually contagious.
- Think about a stressful situation, but find something good or comical about it.
- Make a list of things in your life to appreciate-or even keep a "gratitude journal." Change your daily routine in some way-look for something new and pause to appreciate it.
- Stand or sit in front of a mirror and make as many funny faces as you can.
- Be creative and don't let your inhibitions get in your way!
- One way to start with is the "Lion Pose" from the practice of yoga. Simply open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out!
- Practice by yourself or invite someone to join in the fun.
- Begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths to relax yourself-we tend to breathe shallowly when we are stressed.
- As you breathe out, make a HA-HA-HA sound, or use HE or HO, if that is the sound of your natural laugh.
- Keep repeating until your diaphragm muscles are contracting rhythmically and your automatic laugh response kicks in.
- Try to build up to laughing for twenty minutes.
- Have someone laugh with you-it is more fun and effective if you do with someone.
Visual Expression: Using Art to Understand Your Emotions
To participate in this exercise, it is not necessary to have artistic ability, just a willingness to explore a creative process in order to express yourself through various art making materials. This form of art making directs your focus toward a personal process of creating and less on the product itself. This means being aware of your whole self: mind, body, and spirit during your time of creating. Discover various mediums, finding one with which you feel comfortable: paint, pen and ink, photos, fabric, wire, magazine images, words, etc.
As you start to create and explore materials, think about a particular issue or experience and let an image begin to develop in your mind. If you are drawing or painting, start with a simple mark on the paper and move from there. Let yourself work freely, without criticism. Continue until the image "says it is finished."
Tips as You Prepare to Create
- Collect your supplies. Use whatever you have at hand-pens or pencils, paper, crayons, paints, magazine pictures, etc.
- Give yourself a choice of colors-from black and white to pastels and bright colors.
- Choose materials that fit your state of mind-for instance, if you feel like ripping something, choose colored paper, or magazines.
- Experiment with obtaining and using different materials. Decide what allows you to most comfortably express yourself visually.
- Find a spot to work. Provide yourself privacy; you may not feel comfortable with letting other people see your work.
- Prepare your work area so you don't have to worry about making a mess or damaging anything. You may want to select a work area where you can leave your project out.
- Make some random marks on the paper with the pen, marker or brush just to get a feel for the materials you have chosen to use. What can you do with them? How do they make you feel?
Partial material was adapted from Art is a Way of Knowing: A Guide to Self-Knowledge and Spiritual Fulfillment Through Creativity by Pat B. Allen. (Boston: Shambala Publications, 1995)