For those of you who are not familiar with my story, I am a board-certified adult geriatric nurse practitioner and have been in practice for 7 years. I was a registered nurse for 10 years before that. On May 7, 2015, my husband of 18 months had a subarachnoid hemorrhage or bleeding stroke and has since been disabled with physical and cognitive disabilities, making me a full-time caregiver as well.
My professional experience has been caring for people in their homes, mostly in hospice and palliative care. During this time, I have seen the devastation that caring for another adult can have on an individual. It is physically and emotionally exhausting. There is little support out there and the rate of illness and premature death among caregivers is astonishing.
This become even more crystal clear for me when the tables turned and I found myself becoming that caregiver. Trying to manage work, the responsibilities of running a home, transporting Mark to and from therapies, multiple appointments, it was all so much.
During the last 7 years of being Mark’s primary caregiver, I have experienced several episodes of caregiver burnout. So what does that look like? What exactly is caregiver burnout?
- Decreased energy.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Sleep problems (too much or too little)
- Changes in appetite; including unexplained weight loss or gain.
- Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed.
- Ignoring your physical and emotional needs of yourself.
The ongoing struggle to keep my head above water and manage all of my responsibilities was often too much. I did my very best to maintain my health, both mentally and physically, but at times it just was too much. I wanted to throw in the towel. I just wasn’t sure I could continue doing it all.
Over the last year, however, I have found something that has allowed me to get back to my own physical and emotional health. Access is FREE in most cases and it has scientific evidence to prove that it is valuable to the caregiver. For the unpaid family caregiver or the professional caregiver, it is beneficial.
What is this magical tool you ask? Mindfulness. I know! I thought the same thing. How will this ever help me feel better? I barely have time to use the restroom. Hear me out though.
Those who were studied in the practice of mindfulness who had the responsibility of caring for another were found to have the following benefits:
- Decreased psychological stress.
- Improved emotional health.
- Decreased exhaustion.
- Increased self-compassion.
- Improved feeling of personal accomplishment.
What exactly is “practicing mindfulness”?
It is paying attention at the moment, purposefully to what is happening around you, without adding your own “story” to the narrative. So no judgment, no comparing, and no input from your brain. You just experience the moment for what it is.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you wake up in the morning, the weather is bad, you have multiple things to get done before 10 am, the dog threw up on the carpet and you just want to go back to bed.
Instead of thinking about how this is going to impact your day. How you will be late. How you shouldn’t have fed the dog table scraps, you will take a step back and just see things for what they are.
Observe, don’t label.
“It’s raining.” “The dog was sick.” “I have 3 things to complete by 10 am.”
Being the control freak that I am, this was difficult for me initially. Let’s face it, just observing things the way they are doesn’t seem helpful. Do you know what else is not helpful?
Being stressed about something that is already here! So you being upset with events, things that are out of your control, or things that have already happened is not going to change anything. These things are ALREADY HERE! So trying to wish they were not or being upset about them will only add to your stress and not resolve anything.
Spending the last year practicing these mindfulness exercises has helped me to live in the moment, understand that not everything is some event to get excited about, and probably lowered my blood pressure a few points!
Because I understand that you are a busy caregiver and likely do not have time to read about all of the types and benefits of different mindfulness exercises, I’m going to link FREE YouTube videos below to help you just give it a try! Give it 90 days. I promise you will not regret it.
Body scan mindfulness meditation:
Walking mindfulness meditation:
Releasing tension meditation:
Here are a few other tips I have.
Stop multitasking when you can. Doing multiple things halfway is not as efficient as we think it is.
Put electronics away. Try to give yourself time at the end of the day to TRULY relax and enjoy quiet time, a book, a puzzle, or something that is not making your attention go in 100 different directions.
Think about taking 3 deep breaths, in and out, at least 3 times per day. Set an alarm on your phone. Recenter and reground your mind. I know it sounds too simple, but trust me. You will not regret it!