If life is stressful due to health or disability needs, or supporting someone else, self-care is vital, says Louise Inglis.
My days are busy and often stressful, and usually I enjoy exercise alone as an opportunity to think or clear my mind.
While caring for my disabled son has many rewarding moments, it can also be physically demanding, emotionally
Draining, and time-consuming. This is true for many family carers supporting others, as well as for those who are self-managing their own health or disability needs. We get tired. We get sick. We have to carry on.
Logically we know it is important to take time out to nurture ourselves, but it can be extremely difficult to get that time... and when we do, we often feel guilty! It can be a vicious circle.
Let’s consider for a few moments why caring for ourselves should be a guilt-free, essential aspect of life for us all.
Those in caring roles can only give from what we have to give. If we are tired and run down, negative and discouraged, then our caring will, despite our best efforts, reflect the state of our own wellbeing. When we are rested
and healthy, we are more able to enjoy caring for our loved ones, and it is a more pleasant experience for them on the receiving end (not to mention the rest of the family around us). By regularly taking small chunks of time for ourselves, we will be able to continue in our role far longer and enjoy the process. How do we get that time, though, and what do we do when we have it? I’d like to share with you one aspect of self-care that is very important to me personally. Without it I very quickly become grumpy and irritable. With it I feel much more positive and energetic. I hope my tips help you in your role as a carer, and those who are self-caring.
Regular exercise is a very important part of my life, but I haven’t always enjoyed it. As a child I tried to avoid physical activity, but in my teen years I had a Physical Education teacher who helped us to establish regular exercise habits.
I began to look forward to exercise and its benefits and now cannot imagine how I would function without it. Immediately following vigorous exercise I feel well and happy. I am refreshed, my brain is oxygenated, and I’m able to think and work much more efficiently. I accomplish more when I exercise regularly; I feel more relaxed and able to manage life’s pressures. I sleep better. It’s not just me that notices the benefits. When I’m irritable, my husband occasionally suggests that I go for a run. He knows I’ll return in a positive frame of mind. My days are busy and often stressful, and usually I enjoy exercise alone as an opportunity to think or to clear my mind. Sometimes I like to exercise with a friend and the time doubles as a social catch-up. Of course there are all the physical benefits of exercise as well: improved cardiovascular health, increased bone density*, and better muscle tone. My aim is overall physical and mental health, not maximum athletic performance. Finding time for exercise is the hardest aspect for me and, I imagine, for many others. But I have found the benefits of exercise to be so immense that I am highly motivated to do so (see my suggestions).
What would you enjoy?
This is a very personal choice. Of utmost importance is to find an activity you like, can afford, and that you can fit into your schedule on an ongoing basis. Personally, I love the outdoors. Tramping used to be my passion, but with Kevin’s high needs I only manage to get out about once a year. I can still get short bursts of exercise outdoors, though. I like to walk, cycle, jog and swim. I like to swim in the sea when the tides and temperatures are right. It’s refreshing and free. I tend to cycle early on Sunday mornings when the traffic is minimal. I joined a gym for a while and thoroughly enjoyed it, but our budget was too tight to continue that option.
I’ve discovered that women’s short triathlons are wonderful. They’re very achievable, and provide a strong sense of camaraderie and success. The variety of exercise is helpful for preventing injuries, and the exercise schedule never feels boring while you're training. These events can be costly to enter, but about once a year provide a satisfying goal. When possible I like to exercise with our family.
Kevin will have an enormous amount of leisure time in his life, and I hope it isn't all spent in front of the TV. It is important for his own health that he exercises. My son struggles with activities that require high levels of physical coordination, but most days we walk around our local block together. It brings me much satisfaction to watch him on his good days not just walking but running in short bursts. Cycling is one of the few activities our family can enjoy together. Kevin is unable to cycle himself, but when he was younger I had a seat on the back of my bike for him. As he grew I bought a trailer to tow behind the bike. When he grew too big for it, my clever cousin engineered a tricycle we could tow behind my bike. Now we are looking at importing a specialised tandem bike for disabled children; see www.buddybike.com
Do your thing!
If Exercise is not something you currently do but want to incorporate into your life here are some things to consider
- Remind yourself why you want to establish an exercise programme.
- Have a good reason that motivates you and write it down. When it’s cold and bleak and you’re wondering if you really want to exercise, it’s helpful to remind yourself why you’ve chosen to make exercise part of your life.
- Do you have any health concerns of your own to consider before embarking on regular exercise?
- If it’s a long time since you’ve exercised, you’d be well advised to get a physical clearance first.
- What exercise can you financially afford?
- There is little merit joining up for exercise that you can’t afford to continue. The benefits come in long-term regular exercise.
- Do you think you’d prefer to exercise alone, with a friend, or at set times with a group?
- Do you think you’d enjoy an individual sport or a team sport? Would you enjoy something competitive or social?
- Could you be self-disciplined to exercise frequently on your own,
- Or are you more likely to succeed by joining a group activity such as a walking group, Zumba class, or exercise boot camp, for example?
- Do you think you’d enjoy exercising indoors or outdoors? Remember, winter will be wet. During winter I tend not to cycle. I walk with a raincoat. I swim indoors. If exercising in the rain holds no appeal, consider your indoor options.
- Would you enjoy dancing to your favourite music at home? Or either alone or with the kids?
- Do you think you’d enjoy a gym? Helpful staff and friendly members can make visits very enjoyable. Community gyms are less expensive than private gyms.
Write down your exercise Plan!
And be proactive about scheduling your time out. Tell someone. Ask a friend to encourage you in your new regime. Be accountable.
These planning tips work for me!
I schedule time in my diary as I do for any other important appointment. I usually find it best to schedule exercise alongside other regular activities; for example, when dropping our eldest son at Martial Arts, I can walk briskly for 30 minutes during his lesson.
On the way home from teaching one day a week I arrange to be home one hour later so I have time for a swim and shower first.
I do my best to guard exercise time. In the evenings I get my exercise gear ready so it is as easy as possible the next day. This might involve putting an exercise bag in the car, ready for a swim straight after work. In the bag I keep shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, and a spare set of clothing. On other days it means laying out gear ready for an early morning burst of exercise. 20-30 minutes is enough for me to feel the benefits. I would like more time but I seldom have it!
On the days I’m home caring for our children it can be very difficult to get exercise. For me, having a large buggy has been essential, enabling me to walk and push Kevin, our son who has autism and an intellectual disability. I love walking with him and he enjoys it too.
When care workers come to relieve me, I sometimes have exercise time just for me.
Sometimes there is just too much on: Kevin is sick, he has a cluster of seizures, I have extra work. This is life, it happens; I skip the exercise, and start again when I can. Sometimes I’m simply too tired for exercise. Nights may have been disturbed, work creeps into the late hours and early mornings; on these days, during my scheduled exercise time, I have a sleep instead!
Do you struggle to exercise because of your own health issues?
Chronic conditions such as arthritis can make exercise challenging. Water classes or water walking can prevent straining the joints. From what I’ve observed while swimming at our local pool, those in the aqua class have a lot of fun as well as working hard physically. An exercycle may also be better for those affected by joint conditions. Ask your physiotherapist for an exercise programme tailored to suit your abilities and needs. For those with Parkinson’s disease, exercise classes led by a physiotherapist are available.
The never2old exercise programme run by YMCA offers a variety of activities including yoga, group exercise classes, aquatic exercise, and walking groups for individuas over 60.
If there’s not a class near you, ask for one!
It can be well worth asking your GP for a Green Prescription. This is a note stating that you need to exercise as part of your ongoing health management. Personally I think everyone should qualify based on those criteria! Gyms sometimes provide discounts for those with green prescriptions.
It may take professional advice and a bit of experimentation to discover what exercise suits you. Whatever exercise you choose, it will probably require a financial investment. It will take creative thinking, discipline and determination to find the time. Then, I promise you, the benefits are there. Enjoy!
*Note, excessive exercise in women is detrimental for bone health. Read more.
Read Louise’sbook, Happiness In His Eyes, about her experiences raising Kevin. It's available from Whitcoulls stores, bookstores, and as an e-book through Amazon and Smashwords. It can also be ordered directly at www.louiseinglis.com