4 Ways to Find Rest When It Seems Impossible

Rest is a vital part of resilience. Here are four ways to sneak some rest into any day.

As anyone who is a caregiver will tell you, one of the hardest needs to meet when taking care of another person is the need for rest. Sometimes it can seem like we are barely making it through the day, only to find the rest we so desperately need is also elusive at night, whether due to our loved one’s night wakings, or our own struggle to stop (physically or mentally) and sleep.

From boosting our immunity to improving memory, there are a multitude of reasons why rest is a necessity, but as caregivers it can seem impossible to get all we need. Here are four tools to help you squeeze a little rest into almost any impossible situation.

Black and white cat asleep on a table with a vase of small white flowers

Mindful moment

Simply put, mindfulness is any act of being entirely present in this moment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve immune function, and enhance relationships, among other things. The great news for caregivers is that anything can be done with mindfulness.

Breathe in deeply through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Continue breathing this way as you engage your five senses.

What do you see?

What do you hear?

What are you touching?

What do you smell?

What do you taste?

Allow yourself to be fully present where you are… let thoughts about what you need to do, or what you wish you had done, float away. Take as long as you can… just a few moments, five minutes, even 20 minutes, if you are able.

Incorporating mindfulness into caregiving might look something like this: while making a smoothie for your loved one, you allow yourself to totally engage your five senses in the task, breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth as you notice the smell of the blender as you take off the lid, the feeling of cold on your hands from adding frozen fruit, the sound of the bag, the appearance of the ice on each piece of fruit, the sound of them hitting the blender cup, the swirl of the blender mixing each element, the rattle settling into a loud whir as the ingredients become smooth, and the taste of the smoothie you’ve just created. Add in an element of gratitude for each of those sensory experiences, and you’ll raise the benefit of the entire experience tenfold.

Energy medicine

Donna Eden offers a quick afternoon pick-me-up exercise: stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your left shoulder firmly with your right hand, then run it across your body down to your right hip (think about following the line of a cross-body bag) and let your right hand rest. Take your left hand and hold your right shoulder firmly. Then run it across your body down to your left hip. Let your left hand rest. Repeat the whole process a few times and notice how you feel rejuvenated. For Donna’s daily energy routine, check out this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Di5Ua44iuXc

15 minute nap

Let me just be clear: I hate naps. Always have. Not because I don’t need them, but most often because they are either interrupted, insufficient, or (rarely) I sleep too long and wake feeling worse. But when they’re done correctly, naps give us an energy boost and enhance our ability to think clearly.

Make sure you set a timer for this, because oversleeping (anything longer than 20-25 minutes) will have you feeling worse when you wake.

It’s also important to note that if you suffer from insomnia or depression, naps might make things worse instead of better… perhaps choose one of the other options instead.

Sometimes we can have so much going on that we find it hard to fall asleep (we are thinking of all the things that need to be done while we have 15 quiet minutes, or wondering if we even have 15 quiet minutes). Don’t get upset about this. Close your eyes and try to let go of those thoughts. Remind yourself that everything that needs to be done will be done better if you have a little rest first. Breathe deeply. Rest your body and your mind. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this 15 minutes can be rejuvenating.

Stretching and breathing

Here is another restful break that can be done almost any time. Choose any stretches you enjoy, or try any combination of these: side stretches (one arm over your head while leaning to the opposite side, then switch), lunges, standing toe touches, or any number of yoga poses. While stretching, focus on breathing deeply and notice how your body feels. Focus on stretches that meet your body’s needs for opening and loosening. Ending with some jumping jacks or running in place will help you feel energized.

Close up of black and brown hound dog sleeping curled in a willow basket

Rest is a vital part of resilience. While a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still important, these activities will help you make it through when ideal sleep is out of reach. What do you do to rest?

So much love,

April

The Human Garbage Disposal

Caregiving is complex, both in the reward it offers and in the toll it exacts

Plate of spaghetti Alfredo with Parmesan sprinkled on top

Several years ago I called myself the human garbage disposal… it was sort of in jest, but like all jokes, had a pretty solid thread of truth.

Two of my kids were quite little and not only did I rarely have a moment to myself, I frequently didn’t have time to sit down and eat. I was busy preparing and serving food, cutting it up, and helping my kids eat, only to become the referee, or the bath-giver, or the naptime rocker almost immediately after they were done. When I had a chance to eat, it was what I could grab easily, and since I hate wasting food, it was most often the things my kids hadn’t eaten.

The result was a pretty sad food existence… Not only was I not eating the things I wanted, I had diversely picky eaters dictating the food I prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed a good homemade mac’n’cheese in my day, but we all know that a steady diet of refined carbs and dairy does not a happy body make.

Through the years I have frequently resolved to treat my body better by eating more veggies, less sugar, and only whole grains, but my resolutions have consistently failed in the face of uneaten food that I can’t bear to throw out (hello, awful-day-old-cookies-sitting-out-in-the-open-on-the-cooling-rack-getting-stale). But with the birth of my youngest son a couple years ago, my body decided to stage a sit-in and get my attention.

It started in my hands as I was driving long distances for work: sharp pain around my thumbs. Then numbness and tingling in my hands and up my arms. Then in my feet and legs. My body needed my attention.

“A whole-foods plant-based diet is great,” my doctor said, “try to reduce your stress and get some exercise as well. Yoga would be good.”

So while my doctor is running tests, I am trying to eat better. I cook oil-free vegan food every chance I get and research kid-friendly options for my picky eaters. I throw away more things that they aren’t finishing, and have just about eliminated added sugars and caffeine.

The food part of taking care of my body is going a whole lot better. But the exercise? Not so much.

When does one fit such a thing in? 4am seemed like my best bet. By 5am my middle son is almost always awake. My youngest is a natural night owl, so by the time we outlast him with the bedtime routine I am a virtual zombie, unable to walk up stairs let alone get into some at-home exercise routine from YouTube.

Getting up ridiculously early didn’t work. My body was also telling me it needed sleep, the rarest gem in my life for over a decade. My next idea was to exercise during my toddler’s naps on the days I was home. That went well for about two weeks.

Last Saturday I sat on the couch with my husband and started to cry. “What is the balance?” I asked, tears streaming down my face. “How do I balance taking care of everyone else and taking care of myself?”

Like the good man he is, he listened. He heard the whole thing… all the reasons why cooking is so hard and exercising is even harder… all the struggles to take care of our family and not slowly kill myself in the process.

You know there’s some octopus (maybe all octopuses??) who lays her eggs and spends all she has left nurturing them into being. Then she dies.

Melodramatic me feels like that octopus sometimes… like raising these kids is going to take everything I’ve got. They’ll grow up, move out, and I’ll be dead.

Totally over the top. Untrue.

Maybe.

The honest truth is raising kids is hard. Special needs ups the ante. How do we, as parents, do this well and not die trying? Even better, how do we truly, deeply enjoy the life we are living? I want to thrive!!

But there are many times when taking care of ourselves is in direct opposition to taking care of another. How do we manage that? Is there such a thing as balance?

Caregiving is complex, both in the rewards it offers and in the toll it exacts.

So I come back to breath. I come back to this moment. Today I ate wonderful, healthy vegetables. Today I fit in exercise by playing with my toddler. Today my kids enjoyed their food and, most importantly, they enjoyed being with their mama.

It is not as simple as putting the oxygen mask on my own face first, nor is it as sad as being a human garbage disposal. It is a dance… a moving, flowing creativity of caring for myself as I care for my babies, constantly changing and growing with each other. Rough patches and false starts interwoven with deep connection and overflowing hearts.

We may not be able to make a fixed plan that works like a charm, but we can be attentive to ourselves and our loved ones in each moment and discover new ways for everyone to have all that they need.

So much love,

~A

Spinach and Self-Care

True self-care begins with kindness and compassion for ourselves

My toddler LOVES candy.  Not just a little bit.  Like, if I would let him, he would eat candy exclusively.  I’m not even sure he would get sick.  He would be the one child who can eat mounds of sugar in every form and feel the best.  And even if he wasn’t that child, he would sure like me to let him try.

Sadly enough for him, I set limits to his inhalation of all things sweet.  We talk about healthy food, and what foods are actually healthy.  We talk about how our bodies need healthy food to grow and be strong.  We talk about how delicious healthy food is at meals and snacks all day long.  Every day.

And this has gotten me thinking… healthy eating is really an act of self-care.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear people talking about self-care, it usually goes something like this, “Wine and Netflix in my pjs!  Self-care night!”  And just like my son with candy, if given the opportunity, I would not turn down a night of wine and Netflix in pjs (though I might modify the wine part to some decadent chocolate dessert… the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, my friends).

And while this sounds like a great night, the unfortunate news is that’s not actually self-care.

I know. Bummer.

Wine (or chocolate truffle cheesecake, if you will) and Netflix are like our adult version of all the candy.  We like it, we might even crave it, it might be difficult to stop, but it’s not helping us.  It’s not self-care.  In fact, if we allowed ourselves to have wine (or chocolate lava cake) and Netflix every night, we would not be healthier.  We would not feel better.  Ultimately, we would feel a great deal worse.  With time, our bodies would feel the effects of our sedentary consumption and not work as well.  Our souls would be uncomfortable, our emotions low.

Self-care isn’t about what feels good in the moment (like fudgy mocha brownies) and eventually makes us sick.  True self-care is about doing things for ourselves that promote our emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health.

True self-care begins with kindness and compassion for ourselves.

When we are kind to our bodies by feeding ourselves nourishing food, we are practicing self-care.

Think about that for a moment…  How much easier does self-care become when it is embedded in the very food we eat?  Have some berry-banana oatmeal for breakfast and practice self-care!  Have some carrots and hummus as a mid-morning snack.  Self-care!  Have a roasted fall vegetable salad with maple-tahini dressing for lunch.  Self-care!  An apple.  Self-care!  Spinach.  Self-care!

Kindness allows me to pay attention to my body, noticing the foods that make me feel good (even long after they are consumed), and choosing those over the foods that make me feel sick, sluggish, or give me headaches.  Kindness also offers me grace when I do choose chocolate peanut butter pie, and it allows me to smile at myself instead of berate myself for my choice.

Kindness extends to others as well, helping my toddler enjoy delicious healthy food, and also allowing him to have some candy sometimes, because he is human, just like me.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it certainly shouldn’t be about deprivation, but when we shift our perspective and think about being kind to ourselves with our food choices, we open up a whole world of small things that add up to big time self-care, nourishing our whole selves for long-term wellness.

In what ways can you offer yourself kindness through nourishment today?

So much love,

~A

Spinach and Self-Care

My toddler LOVES candy.  Not just a little bit.  Like, if I would let him, he would eat candy exclusively.  I’m not even sure he would get sick.  He would be the one child who can eat mounds of sugar in every form and feel the best.  And even if he wasn’t that child, he would sure like me to let him try.

Sadly enough for him, I set limits to his inhalation of all things sweet.  We talk about healthy food, and what foods are actually healthy.  We talk about how our bodies need healthy food to grow and be strong.  We talk about how delicious healthy food is at meals and snacks all day long.  Every day.

And this has gotten me thinking… healthy eating is really an act of self-care.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear people talking about self-care, it usually goes something like this, “Wine and Netflix in my pjs!  Self-care night!”  And just like my son with candy, if given the opportunity, I would not turn down a night of wine and Netflix in pjs (though I might modify the wine part to some decadent chocolate dessert… the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, my friends).

And while this sounds like a great night, the unfortunate news is that’s not actually self-care.

I know. Bummer.

Wine (or chocolate truffle cheesecake, if you will) and Netflix are like our adult version of all the candy.  We like it, we might even crave it, it might be difficult to stop, but it’s not helping us.  It’s not self-care.  In fact, if we allowed ourselves to have wine (or chocolate lava cake) and Netflix every night, we would not be healthier.  We would not feel better.  Ultimately, we would feel a great deal worse.  With time, our bodies would feel the effects of our sedentary consumption and not work as well.  Our souls would be uncomfortable, our emotions low.

Self-care isn’t about what feels good in the moment (like fudgy mocha brownies) and eventually makes us sick.  True self-care is about doing things for ourselves that promote our emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health.

True self-care begins with kindness and compassion for ourselves.

When we are kind to our bodies by feeding ourselves nourishing food, we are practicing self-care.

Think about that for a moment…  How much easier does self-care become when it is embedded in the very food we eat?  Have some berry-banana oatmeal for breakfast and practice self-care!  Have some carrots and hummus as a mid-morning snack.  Self-care!  Have a roasted fall vegetable salad with maple-tahini dressing for lunch.  Self-care!  An apple.  Self-care!  Spinach.  Self-care!

Kindness allows me to pay attention to my body, noticing the foods that make me feel good (even long after they are consumed), and choosing those over the foods that make me feel sick, sluggish, or give me headaches.  Kindness also offers me grace when I do choose chocolate peanut butter pie, and it allows me to smile at myself instead of berate myself for my choice.

Kindness extends to others as well, helping my toddler enjoy delicious healthy food, and also allowing him to have some candy sometimes, because he is human, just like me.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it certainly shouldn’t be about deprivation, but when we shift our perspective and think about being kind to ourselves with our food choices, we open up a whole world of small things that add up to big time self-care, nourishing our whole selves for long-term wellness.

In what ways can you offer yourself kindness through nourishment today?

So much love,

April