Preventing Caregiver Burnout

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Relaxation Techniques for Caregivers

Leah Smith, Certified Snoezelen Trainer, Reiki Master, Craniosacral Practitioner

While providing and promoting quality of life to others, many caregivers operate on the brink of burnout. A few minutes of self care can go a long way in renewing one’s sense of well being. In this article I will elaborate about the practice of various relaxation techniques of mindfulness, movement, and hands-on care. I will also take a common sense approach to how we can incorporate these techniques into our daily life. These easy-to-follow approaches to relaxation can be practiced within a few minutes during a break at work, during everyday life situations as they occur, or in the privacy of our own home.

This article is written with the goal of providing caregivers, whether parents or staff, with some tools that will enable them not to get to the point of burnout. The techniques presented here can be practiced alone, shared with family and friends, or extended to the people that are cared for and served. Even if one chooses not to practice these techniques with others; engaging in relaxation techniques by oneself will assist any person in general and caregivers in particular to be more focused, grounded, and energized. Relaxation techniques are great prevention for burnout, especially when used daily. They can refresh care givers vital life energy and renew their sense of purpose, which will in turn have a positive impact on the people they care for.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness consists of being present and paying attention in the moment. The practice of mindfulness is about allowing oneself to be totally absorbed in an activity without thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future or opinions about one’s performance. Practicing mindfulness can help us manage daily stress, increase our capacity for enjoyment, and improve physical and emotional health. (Gunaratana, 1993)
A variety of straightforward focusing techniques such as letting go of worry, affirmations, watching the breath, giving thanks, and guided imagery are techniques of mindfulness that are designed to relax the mind, promote mental discipline, stimulate mental clarity, and restore a positive outlook.

A straightforward approach to managing worry is to let go of the content or subject of our worrying. When we become aware that we are worrying, we need to switch our focus and affirm what it is that we want to happen rather than worrying about what it is that we don’t want to happen. It takes a commitment on our part, a willingness to let go of the content and switch our focus to what we want. With a little bit of practice, our mind will get the message that we are no longer willing to worry and start to give us thoughts that are aligned with achieving our goals.

Meditation is a simple and effective way to practice mindfulness. One very simple breathing technique that can be used to relieve stress is called the Cleansing Breath. Find a comfortable position either standing, sitting, or lying down. Take a deep breath and on the exhalation let out a sound. The Cleansing Breath process can be done once or repeated several times in a row to let go of stress from the mind, body and emotions.
Watching The Breath is an ancient practice of mindfulness. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and put your hands in your lap or by your side – whatever is most comfortable. Bring your attention to your breath, feel the inhalation, feel the exhalation, feel the flow of air in the space between your nose and your upper lip. This technique keeps the mind busy with a very specific task which can have a powerful effect on the mental static that is often created by extraneous thoughts. Relaxing the mind can have a domino effect on the body: while watching the breath it is common to move into deep relaxation.

Giving thanks is another effective approach to well being. It is natural to want to strive and often we are so focused on achieving goals and reaching for what we want, or need, that we forget to give thanks for what we have. Gratitude brings a joyous attitude and allows us to access a source of wisdom beyond what we think may be possible. Often in counting your blessings you are able to get a better perspective on your life and recognize hidden resources that are available to help you to manage seemingly insurmountable tasks and challenges.

Guided Imagery can be an effective way of clearing the mind, releasing tension in the body, or creating the perfect image of what you want for yourself. Guided meditations can also help to relieve pain, tension, and anxiety. You can use this technique for yourself, for another, or with a group. Starting at your feet, tense your feet as much as you can for a few seconds then let your feet relax. Allow yourself to linger in the relaxation phase before moving up to the knees. Repeat the same process, tense your knees for a few seconds and then let your knees relax. You can use this technique to go through your whole body, or you can do a shortened version and focus specifically on the areas where you commonly hold tension. It is natural for a gentle softening to come over your entire body; you may even find yourself drifting away into a state of stillness – a state of “no mind.”

The Skeleton Dance

Movement is essential to good health and well being. It can renew the vital life energy in the body and stimulate the neurotransmitters in the brain that send messages to the various systems responsible for respiration, digestion, circulation, immunity and motor control. Movement stimulates brain chemistry, facilitates healthy functioning, and encourages the body to perform as a whole unit rather than individual parts.

In our most natural state we are relaxed, and in harmony with our true nature. When there is an accumulation of stress our body is held in an unnatural way. This lack of fluid relationship within our body can result in numerous imbalances which if not addressed can lead to serious health concerns.

This light-hearted approach to movement uses principles of perpetual motion and relaxation to free up the skeleton. Particular attention is given to lubricating the joints, shaking out the limbs, and laying down the bones. All of these techniques help release tension, increase flexibility, encourage free self-expression and renew the vital life energy in the body.

The Skeleton Dance initially focuses on paying attention to the following areas in the body: the four limbs, the three pivot points throughout the spine, and the joints. First we establish the four quadrants in the body which consist of the left arm and left upper torso, the right arm and right upper torso, the left leg and left lower torso, and the right leg and right lower torso.

Consideration is also given to the three pivot points throughout the spine located in the neck, behind the heart, and behind the belly button. The cervical spine in the neck is just below the first and second vertebrae connected to the brainstem and covers the area from the base of the skull to the upper back. The cervical spine allows the neck to move in multiple directions. The thoracic spine is behind the heart between the shoulder blades and allows the upper body to twist, turn and tilt in multiple directions. The lumbar spine, which is behind the belly button, allows the lower body to twist, turn and bend in multiple directions. These three pivot points in the spine also allow for independent and interdependent movement between the upper, mid and lower body.

The four quadrants in conjunction with the three pivot points throughout the spine hold the keys to movement and flexibility in the body. When the four quadrants and three points are lubricated, we experience an increase of freedom in the skeleton which allows the limbs to move and swing with ease. When we practice the Skeleton Dance, there is a natural lightness of being that comes over the body.

The Skeleton Dance is a free-flowing, non-directive, light-hearted approach to movement and fitness. We can do it standing up, sitting, or lying down. We can totally mobilize our joints or totally immobilize our joints depending on what we feel our body needs in the moment. The purpose of The Skeleton Dance is to limber up the skeleton and our vital life energy through moment.

Put your favourite music on and simply let your body move playfully. There are no specific patterns, sequences or movements to follow. Let your skeleton dance. Let your limbs hang like a rag doll, bend forward and allow your upper torso to hang and sway back and forth and from side to side. Explore the full range of motion in the pivot points, allow your torso to twist, turn, bend, and flop. Shake your joints; allow them to swing, move, slide and flow in as many directions and angles as possible. Each time you do the Skeleton Dance allow yourself to explore the full range of motion in your joints. Allow yourself to experiment with the speed and the force behind the movement switching from fast to slow, from gentle to robust. Allow yourself to explore cycles of perpetual movement balanced with letting your body become totally relaxed and still. (Smith, 1993)

It is important that physical activity be enjoyable and tailored to each individual’s needs and abilities. The Skeleton Dance is self-adjusting and therefore can match the fitness and flexibility levels of everyone, thereby fostering success and increasing self-esteem.

The Skeleton Dance can be practiced within a few minutes to loosen up your bones or, when time permits as a total fitness and relaxation session lasting thirty minutes to an hour. A regular practice of The Skeleton Dance will increase your awareness of the free flowing nature of the skeleton and encourage you to move from your skeleton during ordinary daily activities like walking, standing up, sitting down, bending over, or reaching for something. With this increased awareness in the way that you move, watching the skeleton can become another way to practice mindfulness.

Hands-On Care

Focusing energy through the hands is an innate ability common to all people. We instinctively use our hands to comfort ourselves or others in pain or distress. Receiving and / or giving hands-on care promotes relaxation for the giver and the receiver. States of deep relaxation trigger the para-sympathetic nervous system, which awakens the body’s natural ability to restore balance on all levels. (Hammond, 1973)

Approach the body with your hands flat and you fingers together but relaxed. Use a firm but gentle touch as if you are hugging the body with your hands. There are no specific hand positions that you need to focus on, as healing energy has its own wisdom and will flow where it is needed in the body.

A general guideline would be to stay in each area for a minimum of 3-5 minutes. As you practice hands-on care you will become familiar with energy flows and cycles. You might begin to feel heat, then it will get stronger and eventually it will dissipate and the cycle will be complete. It is good practice to wait until you feel the completion of a cycle of energy before moving to another area of the body.

There is no concern with moving your hands too soon or staying too long. The energy will continue to work in an area even after you have moved your hands. As well, when an area of the body has received what it needs, the energy will automatically flow to another area of need in the body. At times you may feel that you want to stay longer in a certain area, trust your instincts and move from one place to another when it feels right to you.

The most common sensation is heat, yet an absence of heat doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. At times the energy may feel cool or have no temperature associated with it. Other common sensations include tingling, pulsing, rocking, or waves of energy. Some individuals may feel little or nothing in their hands yet will report an overall calming effect.

Generally speaking relaxation can occur within just a few moments of placing your hands on yourself or another person. Acute symptoms can often be soothed within 10 or 15 minutes. With conditions that are more chronic in nature it is common to feel some relief within a few moments; however; for lasting results with chronic conditions, care may be needed over a longer period of time.

For the purposes of what we are learning here, energy flows in two directions: from Universal Intelligence into you, or into another, if you are giving care to someone else. The other direction would be energy flowing out of yourself or the person that you are caring for. This is not necessarily negative or bad energy and will not affect you adversely. There is nothing you need to do to assist or help to move the energy. The body is wise and knows how to heal; sometimes energy is being released from the body that is no longer needed. Sometimes excess energy builds up in the body in the form of stress in the muscles, or tissue. Sometimes there is excess mental or emotional energy in the body and when hands-on care is applied, the individual begins to relax and the excess energy automatically starts to flow out of the body.

Even when you only have a few minutes, remember a little bit of hands-on care can go a long way in helping you to relax, clear the mind, soothe the emotions and rejuvenate the body. A daily practice of hands-on care is a wonderful way to prevent burnout. The positive effects are ongoing and will accumulate over time.

Practical Applications for Daily Life

Taking a few wellness breaks throughout the day is a great way to prevent burnout.

  • Mindfulness techniques can help you stay focused and grounded.
  • When you become aware that you are worrying, you can switch your focus.
  • Affirming what you want helps you trust that what you need is on its way.
  • Breathing techniques can quickly refocus and re-energize you.
  • A few minutes of The Skeleton Dance can help you let go of tension in the body.
  • Taking a movement break can revitalize your energy and your ideas.
  • Placing your hands on your thighs can help you focus while listening to others.
  • A few minutes of hands-on care can gently calm yourself or others.
  • A few minutes of hands-on care can resolve minor aches and pains.
  • Relaxations techniques can increase your overall sense of well being.

Summary

Relaxation techniques are an effective way to manage daily stress and re-balance your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. Whatever your chosen lifestyles, all of these relaxation techniques are easy to learn, simple to practice, and can be applied in everyday situations.

It all starts in the mind. Mindfulness is a huge component to accessing well being. A practice of mindfulness can help us switch the focus of our thinking and increase our enjoyment with ourselves and others.
Our thoughts have an enormous effect on our body. When we are free flowing and expressive, the joints move with ease accompanied by a lightness of being. When we are tense and held back, the joints contract and press too closely to one another thus creating stiffness and heaviness in the body.

Staying active is great preventative care; it leads to increased heart health and keeps the immune system in top shape. Through regular movement the body becomes agile, and the vital life energy is constantly renewed. Other benefits include an increase in endorphins which boost the metabolism and allow for a decrease in stress and an increase in health.

Hands-on care is a quick and effective way to regroup and come back to your senses. Even within a few minutes your breathing slows down, your thinking slows down, your body naturally relaxes and you are able to begin anew. Hands-on care can be applied anywhere on the body, in any situation, when time is limited to a few minutes or few moments hands-on care can still have a positive effect.

These relaxation techniques are very practical and can be incorporated into your daily life. In addition to helping you prevent burnout, you can also use relaxation techniques one on one or in a group with the people you care for.

Gunaratana, V. B. (1993). Mindfulness in Plain English. Sommerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Hammond, S. (1973). We Are All Healers. New York: Harper & Row.
Smith, L. (1993, December). Bone Medicine Workshop. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
University, Duke. (2004). Ergonomics Division. Retrieved from Duke University
School of Medicine:
www.safety.duke.edu

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