By Leigh-Ann Larson, LMHC
The acronym “R.I.C.E.” stands for “Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.” I learned of this acronym years ago, firsthand, as the survivor of numerous sprained ankles. It has become one of my favorite mantras as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. It applies well in the area of hurt feelings (sprained emotions) and self care (for burned out clients).
As a caregiver for an aging or elderly parent, spouse, or relative, you are at high risk for getting your feelings hurt by ill and aging loved ones (no fault of your own, of course) as well as from the sheer exhaustion that comes from caregiving in addition to tending to the other responsibilities in your life. I believe “Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation” offer wisdom to the weary and hope to the heartbroken.
For “Rest,” it’s important for you as a caregiver to schedule some “you time.” It might involve reading, watching a movie, taking a nap, taking a walk in the woods, or making a decision to order out instead of cooking. This can be tricky for caregivers, so it may require some advance planning. I encourage caregivers to write out a list of resources (human and otherwise), that they can lean on to help create rest time on a regular basis. This may include taking advantage of offers for help, resources for respite, or creative ways to automate tasks in life, such as electronic banking, or grocery delivery. If your financial situation allows for it, consider getting help with light housekeeping, meal preparation, dog walking, etc. Utilizing support will allow you to create space for rest.
Regarding “Ice,” I am thinking of “emotional ice,” meaning to take a mental break to “chill out.” The challenge here is to stay in the moment and not borrow trouble by worrying about an unseen future. When you are on high alert and stressed because of your thoughts, you lose mental strength. Mental strength is integral to your health while providing optimal care to others. Minding your thoughts is like putting your oxygen mask on first during an airplane emergency. You cannot be there for others if you don’t have your own air. If you struggle with worry and stressful thoughts, a helpful strategy is to try out a phone application for guided meditation and mindfulness strategies.
Some of my favorites include: “Head Space,” “Calm” and “Slumber.” YouTube also offers free guided meditations. If you are struggling with thoughts that make you anxious or irritable, try journaling or getting a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) workbook to work on during your rest time as well. Neuroscientists have discovered that prayer, meditation, yoga, and creativity can all improve our cognitive function by improving brain function and decreasing stress hormones released into the body. Any of these activities during rest time or compression time will lend itself to quality care for you, the caregiver. Mindfulness materials abound and I encourage you to explore this as an option for increasing your time “on ice” as you chill your thoughts.
As I write this, we are 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are feeling “hug deprived.” Hugs are definitely helpful when we need some compression. But we just can’t go around getting hugs from people right now, like perhaps we could before. Substitute options for compression include a weighted blanket. They can weigh around 15-20 lbs and feel cozy and safe. A weighted blanket, a warm cup of tea and novel by your favorite author may be a lovely substitute for some compression. Other ideas include bodywork provided by allied health professionals, who follow CDC recommendations for providing in person services, such as massage, Reiki, acupuncture or foot reflexology. Of course, you can always increase your hugs from your loved ones that are in your daily life. A nice goal to aim for is four hugs per day.
When it comes to caregiver self care, “Elevation” encourages us to look at the big picture of this moment in time. Are you able to take a step back, look at the current relationship dynamic you are in with your loved one through the lens of the length and development of your life together? What was your relationship like at the beginning of this journey, the middle of it and now? How have you changed, grown and evolved? What have you learned about yourself, love and being loved?
You know a lot about life right now. Your wisdom adds so much value to the world and to all the people around you. Is now the time to scrapbook pictures of your loved one and your relationship? Perhaps a bullet journal can help you organize your thoughts for a memoir that you may want to write. There is much value in your life and this journey as a loved, loving and beloved caregiver.
Elevate yourself and you will find a higher perspective that can invigorate, give hope to and refresh your soul in the midst of the daily challenges and struggles. I thank you for all that you do, all that you are, and all that you give. R.I.C.E. shows ways that you can also thank yourself for this beautiful life that you are building.
About the Author: Leigh-Ann Larson is founder and CEO of Elevate Counseling (http://elevate-counseling.com, a private practice with locations in Middleboro, South Easton, and Bellingham.