The following therapeutic lifestyle changes (from Caregiving Our Loved Ones) can help keep you out of the darkness of depression and obsessive concern over your loved one...
Take 1,000 milligrams of Omega-3s, the fatty acid EPA each day. Andrew Weil says this is the most studied dose for combating depression, plus a multivitamin. Restoring your energy levels is a basic start for addressing the challenges of caregiving.
The next most basic thing after meeting your nutritional deficits is aerobic exercise. Weil emphasizes 30 minutes a day three times a week as a minimum. I recommend walking, biking, swimming, jogging or other vigorous exercise daily.
For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, where rain and clouds dominate the landscape for months on end, we know the advantages for getting our sunshine when we can. Sunshine helps regulate the circadian rhythms that govern sleep,energy and hormone levels. Alternatively, sit in front of a special light box that simulates natural sunlight. Whatever you do, remember that sunshine is a must. Take your chores outside, if necessary, but let yourself soak in sunshine for a good 30 minutes. Avoid getting sunburn, though. Sunscreen helps here.
Social support is crucial for the caregiver to overcome the isolation of caregiving. It’s usually a good idea to schedule at least two social activities a week (even if you don’t feel like it when you do the scheduling). Leave behind or limit time with the people who bring you down. You have taken on enough responsibility with caregiving. Enjoy your free time with people who make you feel good.
Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk for depression and for falling into the pattern of caring too much. Aim for seven or eight hours of rest a night. Weil recommends dimming lights about an hour before your bedtime, and go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This lifestyle change will probably be the hardest to achieve if you have night duty. If sleep shortages are unavoidable, take regular naps to refresh your energies.
Rumination is a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts in a non-productive way. This is most likely to happen when you spend time alone, so avoid extended periods by yourself. If you find yourself ruminating, Weil reminds us to pick up the phone and call a friend or do something enjoyable.
I also suggest two more lifestyle changes...
Seek Professional Help
Consult a holistic physician or naturopath to work with you on any physical changes you may be experiencing. Menopause results in sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels, which can create mood changes. Thyroid depletion often occurs after menopause, and can contribute to a host of symptoms, including exhaustion. Blood sugar irregularities can signal more serious medical problems, such as diabetes.
Locate Respite Care
When you need a break—and you surely will—locate a nearby nursing home or assisted living facility that has respite care openings for your loved one. A few days or weeks may be all you need to recharge your batteries. Working with your medical provider and local nursing facilities makes complete sense, because you certainly cannot sustain long-term caregiving without maintaining your health and well-being.
The life you save may be your own!