“Every time you give to your loved ones, you are pouring out of your cup, so it is always important to fill your cup back up.”
Those words from guest speaker Courtney Long of Caring for Your Spirit, LLC in Phoenix, hit home for many who attended the annual Family Caregiver Conference, held on March 9 held at the Salt River Community Building.
The event started with a light breakfast, followed by a welcome from Tamara Luckett, director of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Senior Services Department, and a prayer by SRPMIC Tribal Council Member Lorna Ray.
Ray, who is a caregiver to her grandchildren, explained how this year’s conference theme was meaningful to her because “Caregivers are ‘Caring Warriors’ for their loved ones.” She read a passage to the audience about Warriors who are on a journey of self-discovery.
During a brief break, everyone visited the information tables that were set up with pamphlets, promotional items and other information on caregiving and Community resources.
One of the guest speakers for the conference was Jan Dougherty, director of Family and Community Services at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. In her presentation, “Self-Care for Caregivers,” she explained how almost everyone at some point in their life becomes a caregiver, often in many different ways.
Dougherty outlined some of the negative aspects of caregiving, including time spent on caregiving and out-of-pocket expenses. On average, she said, “Caregivers will spend 450 hours of their time caregiving and $2,600 a year.”
The health of many caregivers is also affected because many experience a high rate of stress caring for their loved ones. “They don’t tend to their own needs first,” she said. “Because they’re always on the go, many caregivers eat junk foods and sometimes eat only once or twice a day, and they are either underweight or overweight.” (See sidebar for some wellness tips.)
Dougherty handed out recipes for healthy meals and snacks and discussed what to look for when reading the nutritional information on food labels.
This was the second year that Long, of Caring for Your Spirit, spoke at the Community’s annual caregiver conference. This year her topic was “Had Enough Stress? Time to Rejuvenate.” She talked about how caregivers struggle to find time for themselves, noting that “A little bit [of personal time] can make you go a long way.”
Long asked how many people have had enough stress, and everyone raised their hands. She went over a couple of techniques caregivers can use in those moments when they are experiencing stress, saying that by the time she was done with her talk she would have everyone rejuvenated.
“Did you know that when you experience stress, the first thing stress hits is your breathing?” Long asked the audience. She explained that stress is a natural response of the body, related to the “fight-or-flight” reaction that occurs when we are presented with an immediately dangerous situation. “Your breath becomes shorter, your heartbeat becomes faster and your limbs tense up,” she said. Over time, constant stress affects your health, she said.
“One thought in the mind affects the whole body, and if you are not healthy, then your loved one also suffers. That is why it is important to rejuvenate; it’s a gift to you and your loved ones,” Long continued. She compared the caregiver’s capacity to a cup of water.
Long led the audience through a self-care technique that takes about two to five minutes. “Close your eyes, take a couple of really deep breaths, then speak this affirmation: ‘All is well in my world and everyone is safe around me.’ While you’re doing that, imagine a place in your mind where you find peace, whether it’s in the desert, in the mountains or at the beach.
“When breathing deeply, inhale air and expand your lungs and stomach, and when you exhale visualize all the stress, worries and tension leaving your body. Be aware that your body is relaxing and give yourself permission to let go of the negative.”
Long recommended that caregivers ask the person they are caring for to join them in practicing this technique, either daily or a couple times a week. Maybe schedule a regular time to do this and create a routine. The audience practiced it for about five minutes, and some even fell asleep.
After Long’s presentation, there was another break, and then lunch catered by Famous Dave’s and entertainment by the Salt River Dancers.
The SRPMIC Health and Human Services staff outlined the services available to Community caregivers, and then the conference ended with closing remarks by Caregiver Coordinator Mary Weston.