Spring always brings growth and new beginnings in the world around us, but inside a caregiver’s world, there may be decline or an ending on the horizon. My dad died in early May several years ago. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my mom still had years of dementia ahead.
The daffodils may have been blooming, but it didn’t feel like spring to me. Those were difficult days when I struggled with grief, guilt, anger and exhaustion. I wondered how I could go on, but I had no choice. I wouldn’t let myself quit. I dug deep and somehow found the energy to continue caring.
How about you? Are you overwhelmed or exhausted by being a caregiver? Are you distraught by being unable to stop suffering or death? If you wonder, “How can I go on,” think about resilience, your power to persevere and prevail. The capacity to adapt and cope with adversity always lies deep within you, no matter how tumultuous external events or your inner feelings may be. To connect with your resilient energy, recall other tough times when you bounced back and even became stronger. What did you do then? Could it be helpful to do something similar now?
Resilience helps transform the daunting into do-able; it converts dreadful experiences into learning experiences. Present to varying degrees in every human being, resilience can be strengthened with attention and practice. Building resilience helps sustain your health, well-being and capacity to care; it helps you cope and reduces your vulnerability to stress. Here are some ideas for building the resilience you’ll need to cope with caregiving challenges:
- Care for yourself as you care for others: Remember the well-known airplane advice to: “Put your oxygen mask on first, before you try to help others.” This applies to you as a caregiver. You can’t help if you can’t function.
- Self-care isn’t expensive and doesn’t take a lot of time; but it should be done daily. Like regular dental care, the little things you do every day pay long-term health benefits. Care for yourself by nurturing any of the six aspects of your life: physical, emotional, mental, social, occupational, and spiritual. Do anything self-soothing, that helps you relax, have fun or feel pampered. Do whatever works for you, but do it daily.
- Also, practice self-discipline, like dieting or exercise. Though much less pleasurable, these are important contributions to your good health. Finally, avoid stress-numbing, things such as drinking, drugs, over-eating or eating junk food, or zoning out in front of the TV or computer. These yield momentary relief, but in the long run can cause more problems than they solve.
Cultivate a caring community.Connecting with others builds resilience by decreasing stress, raising your spirits, and boosting your health. Join with others in activities that are fun or pleasurable, pastimes that bring you joy or relaxation. Participate in social events with family or friends; when you’re together tell them about your caregiving experiences. In sharing your story, you’ll receive support and understanding that can calm or re-energize you for what lies ahead.
- Don’t always try to do things yourself. Ask for help from reliable, concerned people, and graciously accept what’s offered. Avoid seeking help from those who make you feel guilty for needing help, or from those who are so overextended that they can’t or won’t deliver.
- When you’re feeling lonely or overwhelmed, don’t stay secluded in your own world. Even if it’s hard, reach out to others in phone calls, emails, notes or friendly visits. Be inspired by this video in which a Vietnam vet shares a remarkable story of how he and other POWs handled three years in solitary confinement. As a caregiver, develop your own “tap code” for reaching out and communicating when you feel alone.
If your caregiving journey is difficult this spring, remember resilience. It’s the power that always lies deep within you and that helps you persevere and prevail in the face of adversity. Whatever you do to build resilience will be good for both you and your loved ones. As you do so much for others, remember to take good care of yourself, too…Jane
About the Author
Jane Meier Hamilton MSN, RN, has been a nurse for 35 years and family caregiver for 20 years. She founded Partners on the Path to help professional and family caregivers preserve their health, well-being, and capacity to care. Her book, The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care (Infinity, 2011) will help you learn sensible, effective ways to cope with caregiver stress.