Caregivers must be prepared for and overcome many unpredictable challenges every day. These challenges can cause immediate stress but also a hidden ripple effect of stress. The emotional, physical, and financial stress your caregiving duty may inflict has to be managed properly to preserve your own well-being.
Noted theologian Charles Swindoll once said, “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”. His words seem impossible incorporate into your duty. One way for caregivers to manage the 90% and overcome their stress is practicing daily mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a frequently used word, but it is rarely fully defined. The Mayo Clinic defines Mindfulness as “the act of being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling at every moment without interpretation or judgment”. And the magazine Psychology Today describes it as “a state of active, open attention to the present”.
Both definitions highlight the individual’s awareness to the present, avoiding any additional second thought or the added weight of what tomorrow, this afternoon, or next week may bring you or your patient. There are many tools and techniques available to help caregivers practice and implement mindfulness daily.
Nancy Kriseman LCSW, the author of The Mindful Caregiver, hopes caregivers can recognize their limitations and avoid becoming a victim of unrealistic expectations. Your loved one’s care does not have to be 110% your responsibility. Mindfulness can help you to take a step back and evaluate the areas where you honestly could use some extra assistance.
Kriseman recommends a simple 3 part practice to start including mindfulness in your daily routine:
1. Pause for 1 minute and really pay close attention to your breathing. Take three deep breaths, breathing in and out and letting it go. “I see a shift in energy and people become calmer as they do this,” Kriseman says.
Find a calming, reassuring mantra that you can read, have in front of you, or have on your computer screen.
During this exercise and throughout the day focus on being kind to yourself as the caregiver. Simply reminding yourself, “I’m a great caregiver, I’m a great listener, I am trustworthy, I’m courageous, I value what I do”.
Joan Griffiths Vega, a teacher, and practitioner of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, runs a workshop specifically for caregivers at Mt Sinai Hospital. The workshops focus on reinforcing the caregiver’s focus on the present and realizing what may beyond their control. These techniques aim to promote a healthy response when facing long-term stress. Griffiths Vega points out that there is a choice, do you want to react to stress or do you want to respond to stress?
One way that Griffiths Vega has her students practice answer this question is through her S.T.O.P. Exercise:
S: Stop what you are doing for a moment
T: Take a deep breath. Focus on the flow of your breath in and out.
O: Observe your thoughts, feelings, and physical state. Notice these thoughts and let them be or pass. Are you hungry? Do you have any pains? Feel your posture.
P: Proceed with something that will be helpful to you, whether that is finding a friend to talk to, eat a healthy snack, or stretch to relieve body tension.
Another simple yet effective exercise to strengthen your daily mindfulness is the “Raisin Exercise”. The University of California Berkeley's Greater Good in Action Science Center developed this 5-minute meditation that only requires a few Raisins.
Holding - start by taking the raisin and holding it in your hand
Seeing- take the time to really focus in on the raisin. Examine all of its colors and textures closely.
Touching- turn the raisin around between your fingers exploring its texture, sometimes doing this with your eyes closed to increase your sense of touch.
Smelling- hold the raisin under your nose. With each inhalation, take in the raisins unique smell. During this feel if anything is happening in your stomach or mouth.
Placing- now very slowly bring the raisin up to your mouth, noticing every part of this surprisingly complex process. How your arm, hand, and head work together to bring this small raisin to your lips. Softly place it into your mouth without any chewing. Spend a few seconds focusing on the feeling of having the raisin in your mouth. Explore the raisin’s texture and consistency with your tongue.
Tasting - when you are ready, prepare to chew your raisin. Pay attention to how your mouth, tongue, and jaw work together to prepare for chewing. Then take 1 or 2 bites into the raisin. Notice any waves of taste that come from the raisin during those first 2 bites and any afterward.
Swallowing- when you are ready to swallow the raisin. See if you can detect the intention to swallow as it comes up so that even this step can be experienced consciously.
Following - See if you are able to feel the raisin as it moves down towards your stomach. Also, sense how your body overall feels after you have completed this exercise.
These are just 3 ways to help practice mindfulness in your daily life. There are countless apps, workshops, books, and videos that can provide you with a technique to fit your specific need.
The Raisin Meditation, S.T.O.P. exercise, and Kriseman’s mantra based exercise all involve less than 5 minutes of your undivided attention. But through regular practice, you can quickly unlock many of daily life’s ordinary wonders and protect your overall healthy well being.