Caregiver stress is well documented and extracts a heavy toll on both caregivers and their families. In the heat of trying to keep everything together, it is hard for caregivers to find effective strategies that offer some respite from the natural tendency to obsess and feel overwhelmed. Caregivers need a way to take their brains “offline,” to momentarily disengage for anxious, closed-loop thinking, catch their emotional breath, and come back renewed. But how?
Here is my solution: Inspirational Walking. This is a simple, effective strategy that combines walking with a personalized soundtrack. It combines two powerful strategies that change thought patterns: exercise and music.
Exercise clears the mind. Even when we start out feeling overwhelmed, a simple thirty minute walk makes our thoughts clearer, gives us new ideas that help us cope, and leaves us feeling physically and mentally energized.
Music inspires the heart. Music has been a part of lives from early childhood, and we all have personal sound tracks of our lives. We mark people, events and the passing of time with certain songs. In the end, music helps us give meaning to our experiences and, as important, helps us cope.
Inspirational Walking integrates both of these strategies into one simple strategy. Here’s how it works:
1. Using iTunes, create a playlist that is thirty minutes long. Begin with a song that captures the reality, mood, or irony of being in a difficult caregiver situation. I personally like Van Morrison’s song “Stranded” with the lyrics “everyday is puzzle time again.” I can’t explain it, but hearing these kinds of songs makes me feel better. Then add songs that that offer courage, inspiration, and motivation. I personally like Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down,” Indigo Girls’ “Love of Our Lives, and Coldplay’s “Yellow.” The key is to find songs that speak to your heart, that pick up your mood and step, and that remind you that you are not alone with your life struggles. Don’t obsess about the order or the exact length of the first playlist. As they say at Nike, just create it.
2. Give your playlist a test run. Put on your most comfortable walking clothes and shoes and take an thirty minute Inspirational Walk. This is your thirty minutes off line. If you can, walk outside; it will have the deepest impact on your thoughts and mood. If not, use a treadmill or an indoor mall. Put the world on pause; it will have to make due without you for thirty minutes. Find your own starting pace and just go with the music.
Everyone is stiff and tight the first ten minutes and wonders if this is a good idea.
Everyone feels remarkably better at twenty minutes and are glad they took a walk.
Everyone feels better as they bring it home at end of thirty minutes and are sure it was good for their body, brain, and heart.
3. Modify your playlist and build new ones. Maybe you want to change the order of songs, or delete some songs and add new ones. Maybe you thought of a theme for another Inspirational Walk playlist. Create playlists for those days when nothing goes right. Create playlists for those days you are grateful for the lessons. Create playlists for those days you are on point and things are falling into place.
Our minds don’t do well sitting and stewing. We need movement and music to break us out of our mental quicksand. Try Inspirational Walking for thirty days, three to four times a week. See where the music takes you. See how your body feels with some new, consistent motion. See how your brain reacts to new input. Lastly, share your success and playlists with other caregivers who, like you, need a little time off line to regain their balance.