In February our country typically celebrates a month of love, relationships and heartfelt warmth. With red hearts and heart shaped chocolate boxes in every store front window you may think I am talking about Valentine’s Day. But this month I am focusing on those who are performing a “labor of love”- Caregivers. Many challenges are tied in with the responsibility of taking care of an elder, or any loved one for that matter. There is physical strain, emotional stress and often times, financial complications. Caregivers are natural nurturers. The urge to help others will come naturally to them. And although it’s important for caregivers to focus on the cardiovascular well-being of their loved ones, there is good reason to place priority on their own hearts as well!
Great caregivers want to make the world a better place and do it with one kind act of caring at a time. There are many characteristics that make up an excellent caregiver. Ask anyone, you will get a different answer from most people. But there are a few core qualities that all caregivers must have to succeed. Empathy, compassion, patience, dependability, consistency, flexibility and strength.
Every great caregiver I have met has been empathetic to a fault. Some empathize more than others, but this is in my eyes, the #1 core characteristic of an excellent caregiver. If you can completely place yourself in the shoes of others, you can do nothing but provide wonderful care. When I was care giving for a loved one or working with a new client, I always stopped to ask myself, “How would I want to be treated and taken care of under these circumstances?” In my experiences this made for much better outcomes and relationships. Elders want to be heard and understood, and caregivers should be anxious to do so! It takes a big open heart to provide daily care to someone.
I know that taking care of someone with heart disease can be challenging at times, but taking care of your own heart does not need to be. There are many small steps you can take to make sure you can continue to be an awesome caregiver!
Start by eating better. Add some color to your diet by eating more fruits and veggies. Eat more whole grains. They are naturally low in fat and are a great source of complex carbohydrates. Eat slower. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes from the moment you started eating for your brain to send out signals of feeling full? Americans tend to eat too fast, which leads to taking in more calories.
Be more active. Incorporate manageable exercise into your life. Starting slow is key here as to not burn yourself out. Remember, small and simple steps. Go for a short walk. If it’s too cold outside for your liking, go to the mall. Try out yoga, it’s actually quite great and there are tons of people doing it. Plus, it can be enjoyed by people of all shapes, sizes and ages. Exercise can be anything that gets you moving and gets your heart rate up.
Getting more sleep is heart healthy too. Researchers have found that sleeping less than 6 hours a night due to interrupted sleep gives you’re a 48% greater chance of developing heart disease and 15% greater chance of experiencing a stroke. If that isn't enough reason to sleep more, than I don’t know what is. Besides, sleep is great.
See, that wasn't too bad. Start with baby steps. Set realistic goals so that you do not set yourself up to fail. Remember that if you have an off-day it doesn't mean all your hard work has gone to waste. Focus on how you can work extra hard to take care of your heart tomorrow. Caregivers, we need you! Not only to have a big open, loving heart, but to take the right steps to care for it as well.