Do you think New Year’s resolutions are useful tools?
I have mixed feelings, and in general I don’t look at January differently than any other month, but this year I have chosen to reconsider. Rather than ‘resolutions’, I have decided to use this that as an opportunity to refocus my priorities.
These days are busy; many of us are in the sandwich generation, caring for younger and older individuals while balancing personal and work commitments. It is no secret that we have many responsibilities and competing priorities and it can make it difficult to focus on the ‘big stuff’ as we get far too caught up in the ‘little stuff’ that creates busyness and takes time. It is the ‘stuff’ that we put on To Do Lists and dutifully check off in order to feel that we have accomplished something in our day. I am not saying that many of these things are NOT important. We have to be realistic – bills need to be paid, emails answered, fridges cleaned... But this year I have chosen to TAKE the time to focus on 3 priorities. These priorities are often the same ones that I recommend to patients who are overwhelmed and stressed.
Firstly, I need to note, that I have purposefully used the word ‘take’ rather than ‘make’ time. For many of us, we use the phrase ‘make time’ when we are trying to add something into an already overloaded, busy schedule. It implies that it is not an already essential part of our schedule and that we need to free up time to make space for it. This year, I have decided that I will ‘take time’, that is to say, that these are going to be priorities that are placed at the top of the list. This is a subtle, but important shift in my mindset this year.
What am I going to ‘take time’ for?
Sleep: How often have I told others that you can NOT focus on reaching goals related to fitness, weight loss, diet, stress reduction, or life balance if you are consistently tired and rundown. For me, 30 years of shift work has taken its toll. Studies have consistently shown that shift work leads to chronic fatigue, sleep deprivation. Changes in circadian body rhythms impact both physical and mental health. This is compounded by the consistently horrible sleep hygiene that I have developed. I do all the things that I know are wrong and I have made them a habit: skipping exercise, drinking large amounts of caffeine, drinking caffeine later in the day, eating and drinking late at night or just prior to sleep, spending screen time prior to my bed, and chronically interrupting my anchor sleep. This combined with pain from an old shoulder injury often means that I have restless and non-refreshing sleep. For many caregivers, demanding work and home schedules, time and stress associated with competing demands, nighttime vigilance required when caring for a senior, chronic stress can lead to sleep deprivation and poor sleep hygiene. While it may be necessary in the short-term, caregivers must also recognize that longer term sleep deprivation is not only a health risk but also significantly impairs their ability to cope with daily interactions and may contribute to stress and burnout.
For more information on sleep, we have useful information at Caregiver.tips .
This year, my number 1 priority is to TAKE TIME TO SLEEP.
Simplify: Over time, so many of us have simply added more layers of responsibility and complexity in our lives without seeing what we can scale down, eliminate, or reassign. I always smile when I listen to people who don’t have children talk about how busy they are...until they get a pet…and perhaps start a family…then deal with family members who require support. For many caregivers there is a constant juggle of responsibilities that come with living in the ‘sandwich generation’ – raising a family and keeping an eye out for or caring for an elderly parent, relative or friend. All this is done while continuing to maintain personal responsibilities and obligations. Yet, many of us continue to think it is OK to continue to do it all – the big meals, the big family celebrations, the upkeep of a family home, the financial responsibilities, the work obligations. It is so easy for it to become too much, even without realizing it.
This year, perhaps it is time to simplify – and oddly – many people either won’t notice or will appreciate that there is more time to spend interacting with someone who has more energy. I just read an interesting NYT article, How to Eat in 2019, on simplifying get togethers – ‘food’ for thought. It is time to learn that the social media worthy meals are often an illusion. I now have downsized meals when possible and batched my prep work. For now, when I have time constraints, I turn to tried and true recipes for family celebrations – those that I can make and freeze in advance (when I have the time and the desire to spend some time in the kitchen). These are the recipes that I can (and probably have) made in my sleep. When looking at family traditions and customs it is always an interesting exercise to ask others what is most important to them and to be mindful of their thoughts and memories. It may be surprising what they reveal – often it is the simple and smallest things that seem to be most important, not the elaborate and ‘sophisticated’ time-consuming efforts.
This year, my number 2 priority is to TAKE TIME TO SIMPLIFY.
Time: Finally, I choose to prioritize taking time. After making time to sleep and clearing time with simplification, I am going to take time to be more present in the moment and to avoid ‘multitasking’. So often when at work or spending time with family we can focus more on the task, the ‘to do list’ or our next deadline, than on the moment. Absolutely, there are going to be times when we are distracted or need to divide our attention and focus. But there are many times in our personal, family and work lives that we can strive to better focus on the what is happening in the moment, and to try to be more present, to find a connection, to make a new memory, to revisit an old memory and to experience the interaction that is so important in relationships. As caregivers it can be all too easy to get caught up in the tasks of life and to miss out the moments in life. It can be easy to blunt our emotions – good and bad – by filling ourselves with busyness – that we often using as a short-term coping skill but may contribute to stress, or eventually to burnout if we do not allow ourselves to feel, breathe, connect and heal as we journey.
This year, my number 3 priority is to TAKE TIME.
Happy New Year!
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