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Caregiver Self Care with Complementary Therapies

May 20, 2012

Once again we have a guest post from Florence Ditlow as we continue our May theme of Caring for the Caregiver. She graced this blog for the first time last Sunday, on Mother’s Day, and once again shares her experience as an RN as well as a family caregiver.

Part ll Caring for the Caregiver

Complementary Therapies

Hello Caregivers and friends of Caregivers. In my previous post I suggested that caregiving family members as well as those in caring professions, need care for themselves in order to build endurance. I draw this from my nursing career and as a caregiver to my own relative. I suggest here a few tactics from my experience.

Complementary therapies are activities that generally blend well with what we know as modern medicine. Exercise has been shown overwhelmingly as one of the best ways to tone your body while getting the mind to a desired balance. Aerobics such as swimming or dancing will oxygenate your system, but here I’ll focus on forms of exercise that you could do with a homebound family member, if you choose. It may also be an opportunity to get yourself out of the home. If one of these ideas appeals to you these activities are often available at local community centers for adult education.

Yoga or other muscle stretch routines

Yoga involves deep breathing, stretching and focusing your mind. I began doing yoga to keep my sanity when I was a busy young nurse. I was calmed by it partly because it increased my lung capacity and later, many of my patients practiced this with me.

Later in life, when I struggled with knee pain, yogic sitting exercises such as “Child’s Pose” loosened up tight knee muscles and helped me go through that phase of healing.

Tai Chi or Chi Gong

There are a whole menu of choices for these Chinese forms, often done in groups outdoors. Some feel to me like a dance through water and are mesmerizing to watch. Breathing is employed to energize the body and focus the mind. In some Chinese classes  you’ll be taught to focus on the pelvis, a large structure from which you’ll pull lots of energy or “chi.” I found I was able to stand for the exercise a half hour and feel excellent chi throughout my body. Best of all – I forgot my worries.

Shim Shin Key

I received a lovely 1994 videotape by a Japanese master Jhoon Rhee, a blackbelt in Karate. He appears small but wiry, wearing a silk kimono shirt. Breathing out certain sounds begins the feel good exercise. One such sound “Shoo Eee,” helps me shoo away pesky annoyances. Next are some arm exercises for ten minutes, then self massage with a flexible wooden roller or by hand.

The tape ends with a nice guided meditation by the master in order to let go of negative emotion and bring in love. I really got into this when I had to be indoors in winter.

Humor Therapy

Let’s end with a laugh! Have you ever said after a belly laugh, “Wow, I really need that!”

But how can you laugh? What gets giggles going is as different as our fingerprints. The important message here is to use your own humor as a tool.

Be with fun people, tune in funny movies, sing in the shower, but strengthen your humor. As my mother said “Look at yourself closely and you’ll never run out of joke material.”

Laughter Clubs are meetings where people laugh without jokes, releasing sound and frustration into thin air! A leader demonstrates an easy arm movement such as the “Hearty Laugh,” with arms to the sky, followed by laughing any old way. Once in your life, I recommend a visit to a laughter club.

Though numerous options may be found, these are those that helped me the most. Think about how you could apply self care to effectively empower yourself with more stamina, endurance, and a better future.

There are many other options available for complementary therapies. A Google search of the internet will turn up many more than are mentioned here. Remember, the ultimate goal is for you to build in some time and expend some energy on your own well being as a caregiver in order to enhance the lives of your family member or the client you are caring for.


Florence Ditlow R.N. is caring for a family member in her home and is the author of “Long in the Tooth, surviving chronic illness with a sense of humor.”

Do you have a favorite method to relax and rejuvenate to keep yourself in peak condition to care for your family member or patient? Share your story or suggestions in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

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