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Posted: July 13, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

How to Boost Your Caregiver Energy

Bill Andrew

If you are like me, there are times during the day when your energy just gives out. It could be in the mid-morning, at noon, or mid-afternoon. Perhaps, like me, it is after you have put your spouse to bed for the night and you feel like "crashing" from exhaustion.

Round-the-clock spousal caregiving is just plain hard, almost like putting in an 8-hour day of manual labor. But not quite. Not only is spousal caregiving physically difficult, it is also mentally and spiritually taxing! This triple whammy can take its toll on the 24/7 caregiver.

What can you do about it? While it is tempting to turn to caffeine or sugar -- sometimes even alcohol -- in hope of a quick energy burst, there are better ways to keep your physical, mental, and spiritual caregiving abilities at their highest levels. If you go to your local health food store, you will see a multitude of vitamins, herbs, and other supplements that are touted as energy boosters. Pick up any health-related publication and you will find many advertisements that proclaim they will boost your energy level. Often, you will find soft drinks and various health foods that have been enabled with these "energy boosters."

However, there is very little scientific evidence that such "energy boosters" actually work. And if they do, there may be undesirable side effects. What can you do? Thankfully, there are a number of natural things you can do to enhance your personal energy levels. A recent issue of the Harvard Health Publications free email newsletter HEALTHbeat provided a list of nine things you can do to boost your energy levels -- naturally! Let’s consider these nine ways:

1. Control stress. Stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy. Talking with a friend or relative, joining a support group, or seeing a psychotherapist can all help diffuse stress. Relaxation therapies like meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and tai chi are also effective tools for reducing stress. (Ask yourself -- How do you control your caregiver stress?)

2. Lighten your load. One of the main reasons for fatigue is overwork. Overwork can include caregiving as well as professional, family, and social obligations. Try to streamline your list of "must-do" activities. Set your priorities in terms of the most important tasks. Pare down those that are less important. Consider asking for extra help, get respite care, do whatever is necessary. (Is caregiving YOUR most important task?)

3. Exercise. Exercise almost guarantees you’ll sleep more soundly. It also gives your cells more energy to burn and circulates oxygen. And exercising causes your body to release epinephrine and norepinephrine, stress hormones that even in modest amounts can make you feel energized. Even a brisk walk is a good start. (Do you get daily exercise?)

4. Avoid smoking. You know that smoking threatens your health. But you may not know that smoking actually siphons off your energy by causing insomnia. The nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant, so it speeds the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates brain-wave activity associated with wakefulness, making it harder to fall asleep. And once you do fall asleep, its addictive power can kick in and awaken you with cravings. (Do you smoke -- and if so, does it interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep so you are rested for the next day's caregiving?)

5. Restrict your sleep. If you think you may be sleep-deprived, try getting less sleep. This advice may sound odd, but determining how much sleep you actually need can reduce the time you spend in bed not sleeping. This process makes it easier to fall asleep and promotes more restful sleep in the long run. Here’s how to do it: Avoid napping during the day. On the first night, go to bed later than normal and get just four hours of sleep. If you feel that you slept well during that four-hour period, add another 15-30 minutes of sleep the next night. As long as you’re sleeping soundly the entire time you’re in bed, slowly keep adding sleep on successive nights. (Do you consider yourself sleep-deprived because of your caregiving responsibilities?)

6. Eat for energy. It is better to eat small meals and snacks every few hours rather than three large meals a day. This approach can reduce your perception of fatigue because your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients. Eating foods with a low glycemic index -- whose sugars are absorbed slowly -- may help you avoid the lag in energy that typically occurs after eating quickly absorbed sugars or refined starches. Foods with a low glycemic index include whole grains, high-fiber vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils such as olive oil. In general, high-carbohydrate foods have the highest glycemic indexes. Proteins and fats have glycemic indexes that are close to zero. (Do you have an eating problem that restricts your energy?)

7. Use caffeine to your advantage. Caffeine does help increase alertness, so having a cup of coffee can help sharpen your mind. But to get the energizing effects of caffeine, you have to use it judiciously. It can cause insomnia, especially when consumed in large amounts or after 2 p.m. ("Leaded" coffee can be used to your advantage -- I do. I also personally avoid "unleaded" coffee because of the potential side effects caused by the processing required to decaffeinate the coffee.)

8. Limit alcohol. One of the best hedges against the midafternoon slump is to avoid drinking alcohol at lunch. The sedative effect of alcohol is especially strong at midday. Similarly, avoid a five o’clock cocktail if you want to have energy in the evening. If you’re going to drink, do so in moderation at a time when you don’t mind having your energy wind down. (Do you usually have a drink in the evening to wind down? It helps me.)

9. Drink water. What is the only nutrient that has been shown to enhance performance for all but the most demanding endurance activities? It’s not some pricey sports drink. It’s water. If your body is short of fluids, one of the first signs is a feeling of fatigue. Drink lots of water during the day. (Do you get your 6-8 glasses of pure water every day? I do, and it helps me.)

For more information on the many things that you can do to boost your natural energy, you can order a special health report Boosting Your Energy from Harvard Health Publications.

These nine tips have practical value. If you have not tried them before, you might be surprised at the results. I can personally attest to their value. However, I also boost my immune system using glyconutritional supplements. This combination works for me; perhaps it would work for you.

Your comments on the above would be appreciated. Have you had any personal experience with some or all of these energy boosting tips? If so, please email me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)

 

 

 


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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