“Me” Time

How maintaining a hobby can make you a better caregiver.
When you’re caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, you make a lot of sacrifices. And all too often, you—the caregiver—neglect taking care of yourself.

But taking some time for yourself not only benefits your own health and well-being, it also benefits the person for whom you’re caring.

“Providing care for a person with a memory disorder over time involves adapting to the patient’s loss of independence and the caregiver’s loss of companionship,” says Daniel Kaufer, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Neurology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine; Division Chief, Cognitive Neurology and Memory Disorders; and Director, UNC Memory Disorders Program, Chapel Hill, N.C. “Being a caregiver is associated with a higher risk of depression and medical illness, so encouraging a caregiver to attend to their own health is important for both the caregiver and the care recipient.”

Hobbies for Health
A hobby may be the answer. It needn’t be time consuming; just something you enjoy and that fits into your schedule. Whether it’s woodcarving, knitting, baking, yoga or even just meditating, a hobby is a great way to take some time for yourself. It can help keep you focused, sharpen your thinking and improve your self-confidence. In turn, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to take care of your loved one.

“Maintaining personal hobbies and other social activities provides the ‘me’ time that helps the caregiver maintain a balance between their own psychological well-being and the care recipient’s growing care needs,” says Dr. Kaufer.

If you think that maintaining a hobby while being a caregiver is selfish or a waste of time, you shouldn’t. Studies have shown that caregivers who are happy provide higher levels of care.

“A well-rested, fit and relaxed caregiver will be more able to meet the challenges of providing care and maintain a better personal relationship with a person who has a memory disorder than a stressed-out, fatigued one,” says Dr. Kaufer. “It is important for the caregiver to take stock of their own physical and emotional health, and find ways to decompress from the stresses of caregiving.”

Take time away from caregiving, when possible, to pursue your favorite hobbies.
Take time away from caregiving, when possible, to pursue your favorite hobbies.

Getting Connected to Your Needs
In addition to helping you feel more relaxed (and less stressed), a hobby helps you focus on yourself for a while. As a caregiver, your main focus is on the person you’re caring for; by participating in a hobby or a group activity, you focus on yourself and what you can accomplish.

“Participating in community support groups, volunteer neighborhood or church activities, or exercise classes are a few ways to help combat the stresses and isolation of caregiving,” Dr. Kaufer says. “Caregivers are often reluctant to ask family, friends or neighbors for help or to take some time to pursue their own interests.

“These are common sources of guilt that should be discouraged for both the caregiver’s benefit and because they can also lead to resentment.” ■

The Healing Power of Hobbies

Looking to tap into the healing power of hobbies? Here are a few suggestions from health coach Nancy Monson, author of Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting and Other Pastimes:

• Match your hobby to your personality. If you’re a detail-oriented person, you might like hobbies that require precision, such as quilting or decorative painting. If you’re more spontaneous and like to make a mess, activities that make you do a lot of measuring will cause frustration rather than relaxation. You might prefer ceramics, gardening or photography.

• Try rhythmic and repetitive activities such as knitting or sewing. The act of doing a task over and over again breaks the train of everyday thought and relieves stress by evoking the relaxation response, a feeling of bodily and mental calm that’s been scientifically proven to enhance health and reduce the risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression.

• Make time for your hobby every week, and ideally every day. Experts advise meditating for at least 20 minutes a day, so try to do the same with your hobby to get continuing benefits.

• Create a space just for your hobby. Set up a dedicated hobby area in your home, so you can play whenever you have a few moments to spare. If you don’t have a whole room or office to putter in, put your supplies in a basket or the car for easy access.

• Take a class or join a club to meet other people. Human beings are social animals, and research shows that socializing with others helps release stress. Plus: Lifelong learning and having a strong social network are two keys to healthy, happy aging.

• Enjoy the process. Many people rush to finish a project, but the fun and the healing benefits are in the process. That’s when you push worry, anger, anxiety and everyday worries out of the way.

• Don’t be a perfectionist. Give yourself permission to enjoy your hobby without expecting you projects to be masterpieces. If you make your hobby another chore that you have to accomplish perfectly, you’ll lose the therapeutic benefits and the fun.

• Don’t compare yourself to others. If you’re a beginner, let yourself be a beginner. Persevere with your hobby because you love it, and whether you ever become a master at it or not, it will bring you joy. You don’t even have to finish your projects if you don’t want to. The point isn’t to make a ton of stuff. The point is to find what makes you happy, and what helps to relieve your stress.

• Be bold! Pursue your hobby for yourself and yourself alone, and to express yourself. Don’t worry what other people think of your projects. As Mary Tyler Moore was once quoted as saying, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”

For more information or to order one of Monson’s books, including Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting and Other Pastimes, please visit www.nancymonson.com.