As we near the end of National Family Caregiver Month, know that you, as a family caregiver, need extra tools in your toolbox to cope with the extra demands of caregiving. AND that November isn’t the only month of the year to be thinking about your health and wellness. Caregiving is stressful and truly relaxing isn’t as easy as sitting down for your favorite show, but it also doesn’t have to take a lot of time to make a BIG difference in your life.

While a little stress is good for you, too much stress causes our bodies to constantly be in the “flight or fight” mode. This can cause several stress related chronic conditions or make pre-existing chronic conditions worse. The “Relaxation Response”, coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, is the exact opposite of the “fight or flight” mode and it is when your body releases chemicals that signal your muscles and organs to slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. Benson says doing a relaxation technique 10-20 minutes once or twice a day can be enough to counteract the harmful effects of stress on the body.

With focus we can get our bodies into a relaxation mode. For example, the progressive muscle relaxation technique is one that might help you give your body a quick break from the constant stressors in your life. Essentially this relaxation technique goes as follows:

  • First, relax into a comfortable position in a room or space with the lights dimmed and away from distractions.
  • Next, focus on your breathing. Breathe deep into your abdomen and exhale fully. Release any tension in your muscles.
  • As you continue to breathe deeply, shift your focus to each group of muscles, one at a time, starting at your toes and ending at your forehead. You contract or tighten each muscle group and hold it for about 5 seconds. When you release or relax the muscles notice how they feel.
  • Ending with 5-6 deep breaths—release the rest of the tension in your body with each exhale.

If this technique isn’t for you, don’t fret!  There are many types of relaxation exercises and techniques out there. In fact, some people can elicit the relaxation response by doing active, repetitive activities like running or coloring. They get into a rhythm and that rhythm can be relaxing. What’s important is that YOU take time—even just 10 minutes a day—to give your body a break from the stress. Who doesn’t have 10 minutes?

Submitted by: Carrie Myers, Resource Specialist, ADRC of Northwest Wisconsin

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