Even under normal circumstances caring can be a stressful profession. But with the pressures of Covid-19 placing additional strain on work loads, it’s never been more important to look after yourself outside of your working hours. Taking the time to relax and unwind after a long shift is not only beneficial to your physical and mental well-being, it’s ultimately beneficial to the people you care for as well.
Eat well and exercise
It’s probably counterintuitive to think about exercising after a long and tiring day, but research has shown that exercising is better for boosting energy levels than taking a nap.
"Contrary to popular belief, exercising doesn't make you tired -- it literally creates energy in your body. Your body rises up to meet the challenge for more energy by becoming stronger," says nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD.
The exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be vigorous or make you sweat to be helpful. Even a simple walk could boost mitochondria, which in turn creates more energy in your body. Exercise will also give you those precious endorphins to help you combat mental stress and boost your mood, making you better able to deal with work pressures and challenges.
You can increase this effect even more by eating healthy, well-balanced and nutritious meals. The caring profession is one that often requires you to alter your natural eating times, so it’s very important to counteract this by making sure everything you eat benefits you and boosts your energy levels and natural immune system. Mediterranean diets have often been recommended, but really anything that incorporates fresh fruit and veg alongside unprocessed food will put you on a healthy path to more energy.
Some recent research from West Virginia University School of Nursing has shown that aromatherapy can “improve our nurses' emotional reserves and give them more resiliency.”
So what exactly is aromatherapy? Put simply, aromatherapy is the use of natural plant extracts to promote health. For some this could mean investing in diffusers and essential oils to create an atmosphere of calm and relaxation, or wearing certain scents on different pressure points around your body throughout the day. But really it doesn’t even need to involve expensive ingredients, aromatherapy can be as simple as cutting up an orange or even baking. Essentially, aromatherapy is taking the time to stop and smell the roses.
It seems like mindfulness and meditation are being promoted everywhere you look now - there are even apps and specially designed gratitude journals to help you do it. But science has found time and time again that taking the time to focus on the present and calm your mind ultimately reaps huge rewards when it comes to mental and overall well-being.
Studies have shown that meditation can increase your concentration, empathy, and help you with emotional regulation - all highly important skills for carers. It can also increase your self esteem. Crucially, however, it has been shown time and time again to reduce cortisol levels, thereby making you better able to manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
Spend time with people you love
Few things help a person wind-down more than spending time with the people they love most. Not only are there all kinds of scientifically proven benefits to having good relationships, but loved ones can act as a sounding board for you to discuss the stresses of work life without judgement. Having a good old-fashioned rant can be hugely beneficial to coping with stress-loads.
If ranting isn’t your style, then a hug, a cuddle, or simply spending time in the presence of others has been shown to promote production of ‘happy hormones’ such as oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin.
At the end of the day, you know how best to pamper yourself, so the best thing to do to look after you is to partake in the activities which make you the happiest. This could be snuggling with a pet, taking a nice long bath, baking, buying something nice, or even just binge-watching a TV series. Taking the time to indulge in pleasures and pamper yourself will undoubtedly benefit your work life and your overall happiness and wellbeing.
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