Caring for a spouse or senior loved one is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be very draining. Over time, caregiver stress can build and become chronic, increasing the likelihood of depression, sleep difficulties and a weakened immune system. Yet amazingly simple and short meditation and mindfulness practices — performed regularly — can have a powerful impact to reduce some of the adverse physical and mental health effects of caregiving. If you’d like to feel calmer and sleep better, try the three fast mindfulness exercises for senior caregivers below.
“Caregivers are often so worried about their loved one’s decline that they’re not even aware of their own health,” says Fahad Awil, Director of Wellness at Amica Bayview Gardens. “Mindfulness exercises can help them decrease stress and anxiety, focus less on the negative and even feel more empathetic and compassionate.”
What is caregiver burnout?
Senior caregivers can carry an increasingly heavy load of tasks, from taking their spouse or loved one to appointments to feeding, bathing, medication management and much more. Caregiver stress can build into burnout over time, especially if you’re caring for multiple parents or children as well. As a caregiver, you can become isolated and exhausted and begin to neglect your own well-being. The Canadian Psychological Association notes that caregivers often skip health appointments, eat and sleep poorly, smoke or abuse substances and ignore their own distress. Read “How to prevent caregiver burnout and get the support you need” to learn the signs of caregiver stress and how to alleviate them, including self-care and meditation.
What are mindfulness exercises?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation — including breathing techniques, guided imagery or focus exercises —which allow you to tune into your senses and calm your mind. (Noticing and letting go of thoughts without judgment as they arise.) Benefits of mindfulness meditation include reduced stress and anxiety, pain relief and lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, among others. To discover additional benefits and different types of meditation, such as a daily gratitude practice or visualization, read 6 meditation and mindfulness tips for seniors.
An easy mindful breathing exercise for senior caregivers
Even a few minutes of focused breathing can help you relax and release worry, so schedule it each day or take a moment when you notice that you’re feeling particularly tense.
Awil recommends sitting or lying down with your eyes closed and gently breathing in through your nose for a count of six seconds, before softly exhaling from your mouth for six seconds. Then repeat for up to five to 10 minutes. Notice how you feel before you open your eyes and resume your day.
You can do this exercise with your senior loved one, as well. As Awil says, “Mindfulness and deep breathing helps our residents feel more at ease. It boosts oxygen levels and improves cognitive flexibility, as well.”
To try another breathing exercise, read mindful breathing to manage stress or anxiety.
A mindful body scan exercise for senior caregivers
Do this mindfulness exercise while seated or lying down, bringing attention to your body.
- Close your eyes or cast your eyes downward, feel the weight of your body and take deep breaths.
- Imagine oxygen entering your body as you inhale, and your body relaxing as you exhale.
- Begin the body scan by noticing any sensation at the top of your head as you inhale and relaxing it as you exhale.
- Then notice your face and your jaw as you inhale and soften your facial muscles and jaw as you exhale.
- Repeat for your neck and throat, your arms and hands, your stomach area, your back, your legs and your feet.
- Finally, become aware of your entire body before taking a final inhale and exhale and opening your eyes.
You may find it easier to do this and other mindfulness exercises via guided audio or video, so bookmark “The best meditation videos, podcasts and apps” for links to helpful resources such as YouTube, Calm, Headspace, Healthy Minds and more.
Mindful walking for senior caregivers
Walking is a natural stress-buster, but even more so when you add focus to it. The goal is to break out of the autopilot loop of your thoughts and become conscious to what’s happening in the moment. Here’s how:
- When walking, start by focusing on the physical sensations of your legs and feet moving.
- After a few minutes, turn your attention to the sounds around you, noticing them without judging them. If you find yourself thinking, return your mind to the sounds.
- Next, focus on your sense of smell and the scents around you.
- Once several more minutes have passed, pay attention to everything you see. Try to be aware without thinking.
- Finally, return your focus to your legs and feet for a few moments before stopping and ending the exercise.
Awil notes that mindful walking and exercise is a great way to improve your sleep. He’s also a fan of listening to relaxing music. “Music therapy really puts people at ease,” he says. “When we get residents to close their eyes and listen to soothing music late in the day, their quality of sleep improves substantially.”
How senior caregivers can get more support
Mindfulness exercises are highly effective, but only one part of a self-care regime that a caregiver may need. Counselling, connecting with others through a support group or organization, asking for help and taking the time to nourish your body and soul can all help to offset the long-term impacts of caregiving.
Taking a break is also an important option. At Amica, we offer respite and short stays for seniors when their family or caregiver needs a rest or goes out of town. While you recharge, your loved one will enjoy all-inclusive accommodation including a furnished private suite, three daily meals and snacks, a daily suite tidy, weekly housekeeping and linen laundry, plus a range of optional and enriching activities and events, from fitness classes to art workshops, wine tastings and concerts. It’s all about offering wellness, social connections and empowerment for your loved one, while you experience peace of mind thanks to Amica’s 24/7 support, on-site nurses, emergency monitoring and attentive staff. You’ve earned it!
Book a virtual or in-person tour to find out what it’s like to enjoy living on your own terms in an elegant Amica residence with outstanding dining, amenities, activities, senior care and safety measures.