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4 things caregivers can do for themselves in under 15 minutes

Psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma shared some self-care advice for caregivers on TODAY.
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/ Source: TODAY

When Lizzie Skurnick gave birth to her son, Javier, her mother was right there to help her. Just eight months later, Skurnick realized that her mother was starting to act strangely, and soon after she was diagnosed with frontal temporal lobe dementia, which affected her language.

Soon, she and her family realized that her mother's condition was further along than they had initially suspected. Skurnick, a single mother, started to grapple with taking care of her young son and mother at the same time.

"We were both on the couch, and they had each fallen asleep on me, and they had both peed their pants," Skurnick told TODAY. "I couldn't figure out how to take care of my mom, and that's when I realized things had really changed."

On Wednesday morning, Skurnick sat down on the 3rd hour of TODAY with Craig Melvin, Al Roker, Maria Shriver and psychiatrist Sue Varma to talk about the toll caregiving can take on one's mental health — and to discuss what can be done to make sure you stay healthy while taking care of those around you.

"It's very hard to find a way to care for yourself," said Skurnick. "Everybody says do yoga, get a message, but it doesn't — you're just thinking about your mother and your kid. It's like a Band-Aid."

Varma walked through four simple habits that can be done in just a few minutes that can help caregivers stay focused and energized. The habits include mindfulness, meaningful engagement, a "sense of mastery" and movement.

"There is nothing selfish about taking care of your own mental health and your own physical health and prioritizing it," Varma said. "For me, the investment on these four simple habits can regenerate you, rejuvenate you, recuperate you, and it's restorative."

Real woman at home in kitchen doing yoga and meditation
Varma said that even a short meditation can help relax and rejuvenate caregivers. Getty Images stock

1. Mindfulness

Varma recommends using a meditation app, to take a short break before coming back to family. Craig chimed in to recommend the app Headspace, a meditation app that takes just a few minutes out of your day. He said that he's used the app for many years, and "swears by it."

2. Meaningful engagement

Varma recommended having someone who you can connect with and speak to for just a few minutes a day.

3. Sense of mastery

She also recommends having something outside of the family and outside of caregiving duties that can give a "sense of mastery" when done well, meaning you feel like you did a decent job at something and have some sort of external validation.

4. Movement

Anything that gets you up and moving works. Many routines can be done from home, and taking just a few minutes to step away and relax can help people come back to their families refreshed and prepared.

Caregiver holding hand
Taking a few minutes for self-care can keep caregivers from burning out. Getty Images

Skurnick said that one of the most important things she's had to learn is "to fail" for short periods of time.

"I've had to learn to let things go, learn to fail, learn to be a failure for an hour or two," she said. "Not watching my son well, not being a particularly good friend. Sometimes you have to say 'You know, I'm not going to do this perfectly.'"