Dr. Susan Lehmann
Summer and the Value of Relaxation
by Susan Lehmann
In my work as a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently encounter family caregivers who are experiencing high levels of stress because they are providing help to loved ones with debilitating cognitive or physical disorders.
Caregiving can be a 24/7 job and is often physically and emotionally draining. I counsel caregivers about the importance of scheduling regular time for relaxation for themselves. Without time away from the demands of providing care, the stress of caregiving can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Yet many caregivers are reluctant to take time for themselves, and may even feel guilty for considering it. I tell them that caregiving is like running a marathon, and finding personal time for relaxation pays dividends for them and their loved ones by preventing emotional burnout.
For those of us who aren't caregivers, managing the demands of our fast-paced, contemporary lives can be stressful, too. When everyday life involves juggling family and work, we are often left with little "downtime." Without relaxation, stress (whether from caregiving or hectic life schedule) can intensify and negatively impact sleep, energy, mood, and outlook. When stressed, we are more likely to feel overwhelmed, even by small concerns, and to feel less satisfied in our work and relationships.
Summer is a natural time to re-charge one's batteries. Activities that are good for countering stress don't have to be exotic or expensive. With longer days and better weather, more opportunities present themselves to enjoy the outdoors by taking walks, going on picnics, swimming, biking, going to farmer's markets, and visiting local and state parks. Reconnecting with friends or exploring a place that is unfamiliar to you can both provide welcome breaks from the regular routine. Taking time for relaxation helps sustain emotional well-being and enables us to function better in all our life roles.