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Caregivers: Help Yourselves with the MOVE Method

Apr 07, 2021

The irony for most caregivers is that we don’t give enough care to ourselves. Our focus is ensuring we’re meeting the needs of our parent or loved one. In fact the very thought of doing something for ourselves feels somehow... selfish.

Here’s the fact though: not taking care of yourself is more selfish!

Being a caregiver requires a lot of our time and energy. Most of us also have other priorities – our own families, work, and other obligations. We are stretched so thinly that any little tear threatens to drop the whole load like an over-stretched trampoline.

When it gets to that point, we are literally not as effective as we could be – or should be – for our parent or loved one we are taking care of.

That’s why taking care of ourselves is so important. It’s better for our mental health. It’s better for those around us. And, it ultimately makes us a better caregiver. One note: although we talk about family caregivers here, all the tips here can also apply to professional caregivers including Personal Support Workers. It’s just as important that you keep your physical, mental, and emotional energy up too!

If you feel like you’re not able to give your best, I have four words for you: it’s time to MOVE.

MOVE These 5 Parts of Your Life

At first I developed what I call the MOVE Method to keep my own sanity. It’s all part of the Balanced Success concept that I use with my coaching clients who feel overwhelmed with their role as caregiver. You have to keep five areas of your life active and in balance to keep yourself fresh and effective. These five areas are:

  1. MOVE Your Body
  2. MOVE Your Brain
  3. MOVE Your Food
  4. MOVE Your Spirit
  5. MOVE Your Emotions

The thing is, if you let any of these five areas down, your whole self can fall down with it. Let’s think of that trampoline again. This time, focus on the five legs holding up the metal ring. If one or two legs fall apart, everything will be thrown off balance and you’ll come crashing down with it.

By following the MOVE Method, you’ll strengthen all five legs of trampoline, create more balance in your life, and ultimately continue to be a great caregiver.

1. MOVE Your Body

Make it a personal priority to MOVE your body every day.I make it a personal priority to take some time every day to move my body. However, it can be a struggle to find the time, energy, or motivation. That’s why I find it’s better for me to shake it up a bit. Some days, I’ll go for a walk. Other days – the days when I’m particularly short on time – I do three key exercises throughout the day. This hourly routine keeps me active and my energy up:

  • 25 squats
  • 25 knee-ups
  • 5 long inhalations and exhalations while I hold my arms over my head

The reason these exercises are so effective is that they are short – it only takes a couple of minutes to complete. I set my phone alarm at one-hour intervals throughout my waking day. That way, if I’m caught up in something else, the alarm lets me know it’s time to stop and take an exercise break.

And it is a break in every way! You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel. When we move our body, something magical happens. Our body releases hormones during exercise that can perk up our mood. In the long run, you’ll notice:

  • Better stamina
  • Better strength
  • Fewer periods of exhaustion
  • Less stress

You’ll find a huge difference usually within a few days of starting this routine – and definitely within a week!

2. MOVE Your Brain

Your brain is a muscle that you need to MOVE too.Another thing I do every day is MOVE my brain. Your brain is like a muscle that needs to be used – and used in different ways – to stay in shape. Here are a few things I do to keep my brain stimulated:

  • Read 10 pages minimum of a book
  • Research an interesting topic
  • Learn five new words then use them in sentences
  • Play a board game, either online or with another person (I scored a 157-point word in Scrabble!)

Other people like to do puzzles, crosswords, online brain games, and other brain exercises. Really, it doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you are doing something to keep your brain active and interested.

3. MOVE Your Food

When you're a caregiver, eating well is more important.Here’s the Italian chef in me coming out...

When you’re a caregiver, giving careful consideration to the foods you eat is more important than ever. Food is energy, and wasted food is wasted energy. Chances are, we are getting a little older ourselves, which means we can’t live on tacos and chips and chicken wings like we used to!

Here are a few tips for eating to stay in tip-top health and give you more energy:

  • Eat fresh, non-processed foods like vegetables and home-cooked meals made from fresh ingredients
  • Avoid fast foods, even though they are convenient
  • If you are snacking, make healthy choices like fruit
  • Listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel sluggish after eating any particular foods like bread, meat, or cheese, avoid eating them or eat them in smaller quantities.
  • Drink lots of water

Canada’s Food Guide is a good source for nutritional information. Consulting your own primary care provider is always a good idea, too!

4. MOVE Your Spirit

Podcasts can help you reconnect with your spirituality if you cannot make it out to services.Spirituality is an important part of who we are. And, like other areas of our lives, this too can be pushed aside while we are taking care of the needs of someone else.

Here’s the thing. Often, when we think of spirituality, we think of going to a religious service like at a church, mosque, or synagogue. That takes a lot of time in itself – time we may feel we do not have. Not only is there the service, but it takes time to get dressed up and travel to and from the service.

But I’ve found that I can connect more to my life in a spiritual way without a structure service. One way I can actively grow my spiritual side is through inspiring podcasts. For example, Rich Roll continually challenges me by asking me this: Am I a spiritual being having a human experience, or am I a human having a spiritual experience? I find listening to his podcast and pondering this question is enough to MOVE my spirit.

The other great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing something else like preparing meals, doing laundry, or driving to the grocery store. Just download to your phone and take it on the go.

I’m not saying you should stop going to services. But if you find you haven’t had the time to go to services lately, podcasts are one outlet that can help you connect with your spiritual side.

One caveat though: there are many fraudsters out there in the world of podcasting, so do your research!

5. MOVE Your Emotions

Routines help you get emotionally prepared for the day ahead.I hate to admit it: when I’m in caregiver mode, just getting out of bed to face the day can be a challenge. It’s a common emotion among caregivers – and one that’s easier to address, once we recognize it.

One thing I’ve done is develop a morning routine. This helps you maintain a positive attitude as you move from your sleeping state to awake. Routines work for several reasons:

  • Humans naturally take comfort in routines – they are reliable and familiar
  • Routines tend to be something you’re doing just for yourself
  • They allow your mind to slowly wake up since they are familiar and don’t take much concentration
  • When completed, routines are a series of small successes that start your day on a positive note

We are going to feel a range of emotions throughout the day. As a caregiver, that’s unavoidable. Our emotions tend to be on a sliding scale, up and down, up and down. The goal with setting up these routines is to start the day as far up the scale as possible, making it easier to face any challenges as the day progresses.

Some Final Thoughts of the MOVE Method and How You Can Reach Balanced Success

I developed the MOVE Method over a long period of time, tweaking it here and there in my own personal journey to become a better caregiver. It’s been instrumental in changing my (at times) pessimistic outlook. That’s especially true during the pandemic. I’m sure many caregivers were exponentially affected by living through COVID times.

The point of the MOVE Method for me was to help me reach Balanced Success. Today, all five legs of my trampoline are strong, and the trampoline itself does not feel over-stretched. I’m bouncing along through my day happier and healthier than ever.

And, most importantly, so are the people that I care for!

Developing the MOVE Method helps me thrive, not just survive. I’ve heard from my coaching clients that it’s done wonders for them too, so clearly it’s something that everyone can try!

The MOVE Method is just one tool at your disposal. If you need help coping with your caregiver role, contact me, Liz Comuzzi, for a free, 15-minute phone call. Think Aging offers a range of courses and coaching programs to support you as you go.

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