We All Need a Mental Vacation Destination, Caregivers. What’s Yours?

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When Hillary Clinton was asked how she’ll spend her free time once she steps down as America’s Secretary of State, she told the media she plans to curl up in front of the flat screen and watch plenty of HGTV, the channel dedicated to home decorating.

She said she finds looking at houses “calming.” I can totally relate.

I may not be jetting off to foreign countries negotiating peace treaties and conducting face-to-face diplomacy with world leaders, but like most caregivers I feel pushed and pulled in all directions, utterly worn-out at the end of the day.

One minute I’m sitting at my desk, trying to concentrate on the novel I’m supposed to be writing. The next, I’m bolting up out of my chair, racing to get my husband Michael to the emergency room.

Afflicted with Crohn’s disease since he was 11, Michael’s been hospitalized nearly 100 times for intestinal obstructions and complications from surgeries and is, in hospital parlance, a “frequent flier.

Easing him into the passenger seat of my car, which I’ve dubbed “the ambulette,” and zipping off to various ERs around the country is my version of Secretary Clinton’s far-flung travels on her Air Force Boeing 757.

In other words, it’s numbingly exhausting to be a caregiver. In addition to maintaining a career and/or raising a family, we’re on high alert for medical disasters 24/7, and there are times when we simply have to detach, zone out, escape into something “calming.”

What we need to do is to seek out a Mental Vacation Destination or “MVD,” as I call it –- especially during the holiday season when it’s impractical for us to pack up and take a real vacation.

“Any time you can get to escape will refresh you,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina. “It really helps you keep your mental and emotional balance.”

When I was researching my new book, I asked several caregivers for their MVDs of choice. Their answers?

  • Reading
  • Gardening
  • Knitting
  • Watching a favorite sports team
  • Going to the movies
  • Meditating
  • Doing yoga
  • Jogging
  • Soaking in the bathtub
  • Cleaning out the closets or doing laundry
  • Having a manicure or pedicure
  • Listening to music

“Mozart really does do something to your brainwaves,” asserts certified health coach Nancy Kalish. “It evens them out, reduces stress, and initiates the relaxation response. If you don’t like classical music, listen to anything that gives you pleasure. Also, dancing is helpful, even if it’s while you’re doing housework or it’s only for five minutes. I encourage people to try things even if they don’t think they’re going to work.”

What’s my MVD? I’m in the Hillary Clinton camp because I reach for the remote and go cable –- not to HGTV but to the Food Network.

Watching professional chefs create dishes I don’t have the time or energy or skill to cook completely transports me out of my reality.

I adore Iron Chef, Chopped and Giada at Home, but my hands-down favorite show on the Food Network is Barefoot Contessa. Is Ina Garten not the most calming person who ever stepped in front of the camera?

She dresses like a normal person as opposed to a Housewife of Beverly Hills, speaks slowly and softly instead of rushing around trying to beat the clock, and seems to genuinely like her husband whenever he puts in an appearance.

Stretching out on the couch while she makes comfort foods like strawberry scones and lentil vegetable soup and brownie pudding in the beautifully appointed kitchen of her house in the Hamptons is more effective than any tranquilizer.

Whatever your MVD of choice, the important thing is to have an MVD if you’re a caregiver – something that will take your mind off the fact that you’ve got a child, spouse or parent who’s depending on you.

Nobody expects you to spend every waking moment focused on your loved one’s health. We know how committed you are to his or her well-being.

We applaud your devotion, your service, and your selflessness. We understand that you’d leap tall buildings in a single bound if it meant that he or she would suddenly recover.

But how about your well-being?

It matters.

No, scratch that. It’s essential.

About the Author

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  Jane Heller is the bestselling author of 13 novels of romantic comedy, 9 of which have been optioned for movies and television. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA with her husband, Michael Forester, where she’s at work on her next novel. Visit her at www.janeheller.com. “Like” her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. And check out YOU’D BETTER NOT DIE OR I’LL KILL YOU: A Caregiver’s Survival Guide to Keeping You in Good Health and Good Spirits at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie bookstores everywhere.

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