We’re always being told we should take better care of ourselves, but we rarely get the help we need to actually do that. Here’s how caregivers feel when they’re told they should put their oxygen mask on first:
Sometimes it feels like another criticism thrown at us. Yes, self-care. How dreamy that vision is. How easy that is for others to tell us that is what we need when we are already acutely aware of it. What I really think I would love to have and what I really think would be the most “self care” mindset…is having or knowing that someone ELSE is going to take care of me for a few minutes, even maybe take care of a task, or take one of my responsibilities off my hands for a little while. – Cathy S.F.
We all know we need to take care of ourselves. This is not news to us as caregivers yet everyone who offers this advice to us can’t seem to offer how to do that when the choice we have is “take care of me or take care of our loved one”. I’m going to choose my loved one every time. I think most of us are in the position that if it isn’t ME providing the necessary care, it’s NO ONE providing it and that is just not an option for our loved ones who require total care etc. We do our best to care for ourselves but it’s literally impossible to take time away from our loved one to do so…It’s not noble or martyrdom, it’s just reality, a fact of our lives. So we do our best each day, listen to the unhelpful “advice” from people who will never “get it” until they are in the same position, and continue to find moments in our busy days for our little and glorious bits of self care (while still taking the best care possible of our loved ones 24/7). – Kelly D.
Taking care of myself is looking for the best options and making sure my loved one is safe so I can sleep at night. Trusting others to help and care while looking for what other options are out there to help. The closest family is 10 hours away, so no family meetings or help. I don’t have the answers but I will continue to fight and learn. I am not trying to be noble, I just want what is best so I can sleep. – Julie D.
The suggestions are simply not doable for a lot of us – especially when you ARE the only living family member left, when you are already suffering from a debilitating illness yourself, when you can’t even take a walk around the block because there is no one to sit with your bedridden family member who cannot help themself and constantly has emergencies, etc. Way to put more unrealistic pressure on us that we must be doing it all wrong. It is what it is! – Lemia L.
Community question: My grandmother has dementia and her short term memory is almost gone. We are trying to get meals on wheels in to get her a warm cooked balanced meal. She is very stubborn and lives on her own. There is a concern from family members that the social worker the meals on wheels program sends to do the intake interview will force my grandmother to move out of her house before she decides to on her own. Is this something to be worried about? If we’re asking for help for her, does that invite them to dictate what care she needs?
The meals on wheels drivers are volunteers. They will bring the food to the door, or put it in the fridge. They may look around quick if they are asked to put the meal in the fridge, and they would report a situation of neglect and abuse, but they exist solely to help people stay in their home and do not have an agenda to force people into care outside of their home.
It has been my experience that it is pretty tough to get a person placed in a nursing home unless they have more than what they call custodial needs. Custodial care is when people do not have major medical needs for skilled nursing care and mostly need good health care maintenance.
There are a LOT of services available today to help your Mom stay in her own home these days if she is able to. My Dad was able to not go to a nursing home after some pretty major setbacks in health throughout his whole life unless it was necessary for him to go into one for rehabilitation after surgeries He was able to have home health care nurses and workers come into his home. My Step mom always had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia and from time to time she would be hospitalized. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis but had no pain because she was on powerful medications, but those powerful medications also have psychiatric effects. So what kept her degenerative arthritis in check aggravated her schizophrenia. She was a wonderful woman who raised two wonderful children, and was very involved with my Father’s seven children and many grandchildren, her family and friends, and my Dad’s fishing friends. When my Father got older and his health went downhill she took care of him. She was even good to my Mother. She cleaned house for a living and her house was always clean. She would go over to her son’s and do his laundry when she visited him every Saturday, because she loved doing things for him, and she went and did my brother’s laundry when he was sick. She was always a giving person. She had cared for her first husband when he died of cancer, and before that had to leave school early to care for her family and her own Father when he died of cancer. So she had never finished school as a young person. She had always cared for family and worked.
My Dad and she were a good pair because they accepted one another’s weaknesses, and they did everything together as they grew older. She had a hard time after my Dad died. For two years my step mom still was and she began to need more psychiatric hospitalizations. She would get very confused at night and would call the police in a panic because she believed that someone was trying to break into her house to kill her, and she really believed that people were living in the attic. Everyone thought she must not be taking her psychiatric medications. My Father and she had always had all their medications on the kitchen table in pill minders they always took them along with a few vitamins. She usually cooked low fat meals, and ate a lot of salads. The drank a lot of bottled water.
Now she was becoming confused and unstable on a daily basis, and when she got psychotic enough to go to the emergency ward, she would only get admitted to the psychiatric unit for a day or two. Then the family worked out a plan for her to go to a day program at the senior center three days a week, where she had a good time, got evaluated by a nurse, got exercise, and socialized. The other two days a week she had a home health aide come in. One day on the weekend she went with her son to his house to visit with he and his wife, and Sunday was left for other people to visit or take her out or she rested. That worked for a while but night continued to be a problem with the confusion and the wandering……So after the last breakdown time this happened, she was lucky enough to wind up transferred to a geriatric acute psychiatric hospital unit in Gardner, Mass, after her short term stay in a psychiatric hospital near her home. The Geriatric psychiatric units only care for the elderly who have psychiatric problems so they get better care there. It is in an excellent psychiatric hospital. Finally as well as getting adequate treatment, the legal aspects of her care were addressed.
Her son applied for and got guardianship and power of attorney. He was able to get her into a local assisted living center where there is a section that cares for the memory impaired. It is a locked unit so that she can not wander at night. She is not happy there yet, and hopes to come home. It costs 4,000 dollars a month for her care. They made my stepbrother sign an eighteen month contract to get her in there. Her income will pay part. The family has to come up with the rest. The plan is to rent out her house to help pay for the rest of the monthly fee if she stays. This is because if they sell the house it will not help as much in the long run. I guess the money part is tricky. There is a program paid for by Medicaid (Masshealth here in Massachusetts) that helps the person themselves hire help in their home. The doctor signs a paper saying that he thinks they need care, and then they are evaluated for the care. This program helps a lot of people stay at home if they need help with ADL’s (activities of daily living). It is certainly worth researching.
I think the lesson for us all is that we should all buy long term care insurance that pays for home health care too, and we should all do it at a young age because it really would pay off in our elder years. The other thing that can be done is if family has a family meeting and everyone decides what they can do to help your Mom. Home care requires a lot of managing and it is hard to have someone come into your home, but some elders might absolutely love it. My sister did a lot of home care and had some really lovely times helping people stay in their homes. I cared for one couple who had been in their same home since they married seventy years before! How precious that was. The bottom line is that if a person is more mentally stable and comfortable at home, they will be less confused in familiar surroundings with familiar people around them. But we do the best we can and feel good about it, because the elder’s needs come mixed into a lot of other family needs as well. I think that we just have to try to make sure they get the care that we would like to have in their situation, as much as possible.
My Mother got used to caregivers in the nursing home she went to and the caregivers loved her, but I saw a very confused woman suffer a lot in the bed next to her. I thought that her anxiety level was not addressed. Anxiety causes people to suffer. For some reason, evenings and nights can be especially terrifying for some elderly people…and although I understand that much care should be given to them not being overmedicated, I also think that they have a right to be able to rest and relax when they suffer from extreme anxiety as a result of the confused state of their mind. No one deserves to suffer. Part of being in a huge nursing home is that unless your family visits all the time, you can not get the emotional attention that you need as a person. Too many times the staff, even if they are well staffed, have enough to do giving just basic care and even important things get missed. They may be sweet and always personable and loving and comforting when they are without loved one, but they have precious little time to just sit with the elderly, and that sometimes is what elders need. They just need the comfort of someone being there. Staff may get annoyed at having to work around family visitors, but family should be present as much as possible. The happiest nursing home residents and those that are better taken care of are the residents who have family visiting.
My brother sat with my Mother in her nursing home for hours each week and saved her life three times. He was with her and noticed her crisis when no nursing staff was in the room, and alerted staff, and when staff brushed her off he insisted that she be seen by a doctor, and saved her life. That is good teamwork between staff and family. You can participate in care plan meetings for your loved one to know what is going on with medical issues and voice your care concerns, volunteer in the nursing home your loved one is in, and serve as an ombudsman for nursing home residents to help achieve better care for nursing home residents. Home care and nursing home care both can be excellent care. Sometimes you can even find a doctor that will come to your home, along with all the other home health services, but it all comes down to what insurance will pay for. You can take your loved one out for meals and even overnight for a week or two a year, you can even buy a meal in the nursing homes now and eat with or feed your relative. It is a good time to interact because they are up and more alert, and might even eat better with you there coaxing them to eat or feeding them as long as you know how.
Long story, but we are all very similar when we go through this time in our lives, and we are all looking for answers and sharing them experiences helps. The one thing that made me very angry about my Mother’s care in a nursing home was that my Mother was oxygen dependent and they made her stay in her room by giving her a short oxygen cord. She had been a walker and a swimmer all her life. Now she had COPD and she was oxygen dependent to keep thinking clearly. With a long oxygen hose she would move the wheelchair out the door and down the hall a ways, and the hose would get disconnected from the oxygen concentrator. I thought that she should have an oxygen tank and have a tank to fill that was put on her wheelchair so that she could exit her room to remain mobile. My older sister said that insurance would not pay for the oxygen canisters when she went out…so the oxygen stayed the same, and she became more unable to stand and help with transfers. Eventually they had to use a hoyer lift to move her in and out of bed. When I requested she have physical therapy bed exercises it did help strengthen her again to at least help her stand to transfer for a while. Restlessness can be used to an advantage in keeping people mobile, as long as they are not allowed to go past their limits. IF my Mom had been able to push the wheelchair around the long halls, who knows how much more able she could have stayed for how much longer? My sister took care of a man who hiked a couple of miles up and down a mountain every day and had to keep up with him…because he had alzheimer’s she had to make sure he made it home! Being as fit as we can be for as long as we can be fit is a great idea, not just for body, but for our minds as well.
We’re always singing the praises of meditation — from apps, simple exercises, and benefits. Meditation is one of the few ways you can have a major positive impact on your life, mentally and physically, in just a few minutes a day.
From a very young age I’ve valued the sacredness of being alone.
As a self-identified introvert I learned early that I function best when I’m able to steal away time for myself to recharge and gather my thoughts. I had the usual childhood stresses you could expect of any awkward middle schooler and the added instability growing up in a divorced family: constantly jostled between two homes. Amidst all the flux around me, I found solace in a practice and place that was entirely my own. At 13, I took up the game of pocket billiards (or pool in it’s more common day usage). My interest in the game wasn’t peaked by the usual connotations of seedy back room hustlers, cigarettes, whiskey and high stakes gambling, I found in the game purity, comfort and a safe place to cultivate my curious mind.
Pool was my escape and refuge from all the stresses and insecurities I wrestled with growing up.
I found beauty in the myriad of shots that lay before me every time I chalked my cue and stepped to the table. The table bed, the lay of the balls after the break, it was a place where I knew I could resolve the disarray before me, weaving my way in and out of clusters of balls with the most basic of tools: the power of my mind to conceive of the shots and my body to execute each careful and precise stroke.
As I grew through high school, I turned to the game more and more as a respite to clear my head from everything that felt hard, overwhelming or disappointing. I was lucky to have a Boys and Girls Club located right across the street from my Dad’s house. Even on my most busy days, spending 45 minutes as a study break to get on a table, was exactly what I needed to put everything that was cluttering my thoughts on hold. Somehow in the midst of shifting my gaze and mental focus to my practice drills, I was also letting my subconscious take over, mollifying all the worry and anxiety that was ready to detail me. Pool became a sort of social anxiety medicine for myself. I stepped out of my crazed environment, and took hold of something that I had a firm grasp of that I wanted to explore deeper.
I began to claim pool as an almost spiritual like practice.
My family and peers began to recognize the unique relationship I formed with the game. It was a breeding ground for deep self-investigation and a remedy or coping tool for the most difficult times in my life. I found time for competition too as I honed my skills, finding a mentor at 16 and going on to qualify and compete in the junior national 9 ball championships two years later. The benefits though of the game have always come back around to caring for my mind.
The benefits of discovering an outlet to manage overwhelming times in my life have been tremendous.
I’ve dealt with the sadness and disappointments of breakups and deaths, anxiety attacks and depression. Having learned now what it takes to be a caregiver, I’ve begun muse and reflect on the pool practice that I discovered so long ago because it’s proven to be a rock that I can continue to return to again and again.
Well it’s that time of year again, chocolates, roses and romantic dinners right?
Well, probably not, and that’s okay.
Valentine’s Day might operate on the surface level as this picture perfect poster day of cupid love but it’s more than likely that this won’t be your experience. One of the great things about national honored days like these is that while everyone else is participating, you can redefine and participate in Valentine’s Day on your own terms. Caregiving tends to pull us away from the other activities and practices that help define who we are. Keeping this idea in mind, I encourage you to use today as a day to love yourself, in appreciation for all the under recognized work that you do.
Here are 14 loving practices you can do for yourself that can help get you back in touch with you:
1. Play some old tunes that take you back in time (dancing and singing encouraged)
2. Take a little time to journal: empty out thoughts that have been hovering in your subconscious.
3. Open up your old high school year book, photo album or shoe box of photos (smile at all the cool hairdos)
4. Put your feet up a wall (inversions balance out your mood and energy)
5. Geek out and research something you’ve been curious about for a while ( )
6. Eat a snack with your eyes closed (to elevate your senses and appreciate your food)+
7. Start or resume an arts and crafts project (glitter anyone?)
8. Settle into a comfortable seat, breathe and just notice what being human feels like
9. Relieve yourself of dinner duty and order delivery (did somebody say General Tso’s?!)
10. Duck outside for a quick walk (get some fresh air in those lungs!)
11. Luxuriate in a hot shower or bath
12. Call up an old friend to reconnect
13. Curl up with a favorite book
14. Brew yourself a hot cup of joe, tea or hot chocolate
Let’s face it, caregiving doesn’t always make you feel great. Sometimes it’s amazing, rewarding, insightful and beautiful but in those other moments, it can leave you feeling down in the dumps.
Our brains get on this track of fatigue, sadness, boredom, helplessness and depression and sometimes it’s hard to get off that train. So when you feel awful, off your game, fatigued, or depressed, here are some fun, spontaneous, zany and often effective strategies to shift your energy and mood in a positive direction.
Note: resistance, disgust, disbelief and anger are natural reactions to new ideas and suggestions. So take these ideas lightly, ignore your first reactions and entertain doing them anyways,
Close your eyes and try taking 10 consecutive breaths without other thoughts filtering in, repeat until you can
Go through a shoe box of old photos
Scribble on a big piece of paper
Balance on one foot for 15 seconds, then the other foot
Fold at the waist breathing as you go down, smile and say hello to your toes
Recall a pleasant memory and force a smile (because your brain doesn’t know the difference between real happiness and simulated happiness)
Take an alternating hot and cold shower, embrace the temperature changes
Make loud noises
Read Calvin and Hobbes
Flip open a dictionary and teach yourself a new word
Take a short walk and only look up at the sky
Try cracking an egg with one hand (and reward yourself with an omelet)
Your experiences with these may vary but the hope is you’ll shift up the energy and feelings that are keeping you stuck. Practice taking time after each activity to scribble in a notebook about what came up when you tried each one and note how you felt afterward. Reflecting on the page is often a helpful reference point to measure and gauge how effective these strategies are. Happy exploring!
Treating yourself right doesn’t require excessive time or new fangled gadgetry. It’s cheesy but all the happiness tools you need come preloaded in the mainframe that is your brain.
The way we perceive our experience, the stories we tell ourselves and the chatter that is our brain—these are the big pieces that effect our happiness equation.
In my own personal studies of happiness, I’ve learned that about 50% of our happiness is defined by our biology, our DNA and so fourth. The other 50% of our happiness is effected by how we live our lives, how we think and how we show up in the world.
Pause and think about your own personal narrative. How do you think about yourself? Do you sit with a lot of contentment? Maybe you live with lots of self-criticism, doubt or guilt. When you pay attention to the tone of your self-talk, how much has a positive tone? How much has a negative tone?
As caregivers, our minds are very sensitive to the tones and narratives we live by, (however unconscious they may be). If feeling good about yourself is important, paying attention to the aspects of our thoughts that deprecate and depreciate your self worth are a good place to start focusing your energy and attention.
Here are some quick action steps to take:
1. Sit down for 1 minute and close your eyes and notice the chatter of your brain
You may hear your overwhelming to-do list whirling around
You might hear “this is stupid, you’ll never be happy”
You might hear a mix of positive and negative thoughts and feelings about who you are
2. Jot down on a scrap of paper, a sticky note, the backside of an envelope 3 main themes
Don’t edit the list, just include the first three that come up. They all may be negative, all positive, or a mix.
3. Repeat this 3 minute activity 2 or 3 times a day
Here’s what this does and why you should do it:
Our brains take time to change and noticing how they operate is the biggest way to intervene if we want to feel differently. Pausing to do this activity helps us take stock of what’s going on upstairs and helps us discern our internal experience. Practicing this over time helps us stop narratives in our head that don’t serve us. Think about it: there’s more happiness in the absence of criticism than there is when we’re being self-critical.
and other pursuits that make us feel good (think hobbies, passions, projects).
As we work to shed the personal stories of caregiver guilt, of not being good enough, of I can’t, it becomes easier to listen to the parts of ourselves that validate and appreciate all the good that you do. Self appreciation is not weird, boastful or wrong; as a private, personal practice, it’s one of the greatest gifts we can ever offer ourselves.
None of these practices are meant to negate or ignore the challenges you do endure, and the difficult dynamics that you negotiate each day.
The act of shifting your self perception and personal narrative is an effort to bolster and strengthen your best self to empower and support the great work that you do every day.
I invite you to begin this personal practice today. You have a right to a pursuit of happiness. Taking care of yourself in this way, strengthens you as a person and will support you to provide more sustainable and quality care to the loved ones in your life.
As much as our lives are beautiful, they’re also fragile. As we enter into the caregiving chapter of our lives, the experiences we go through, our feelings and sensitivities often become more fragile and it’s important to pause and recognize this.
At The Caregiver Space, we understand that caregiving asks us to navigate new and often challenging terrain. It’s common that caregiving is an experience, identity, and responsibility that we’re constantly discovering what it asks of us. There’s so much to learn and there are some deep truths that come to us over time. Caregiving gets messy. The stress, fatigue, frustration, love, anger, compassion, burnout are a lot to handle. The truth is, it’s often too much to handle alone. That’s why The Caregiver Space exists. We provide a safe space to talk about everything under the caregiving sun.
What’s a safe space?
A safe space is a container where you can feel free to share openly and without restraint. There are some things that you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing about in front of the person you’re caring for and that’s okay. Safe spaces are a healthy outlet where you can get the things off your chest that need to be released without creating drama between family members or friends. You’re just as deserving of a place to process the intensity that is caregiving as your loved is of the quality care you provide.
The Caregiver Space has built this safe space with you in mind. For the questions you need to ask, the feelings you deserve to share and the understanding and compassion you need, we’ve built a community that offers meaningful support and resources 24 hours a day.
With personal Caregiver Space accounts, community members are under no obligation to use their full name or their real name, providing a level of privacy. You can’t be identified they way you can when you share on a public network like Facebook. Once logged in, our community forums provide space to discuss both aspects of your own experience and explore the condition of the loved one you’re caring for. It’s easy to post anonymously – just log out and post. In a space that’s all about caregivers, you’ll have access to other people who may have already cared for a wife with cancer, a child with special needs, a husband with MS or maybe an older parent who’s suffered a heart attack or living with dementia, Alzheimer’s or diabetes. Don’t have an account yet? Sign up now.
We’re here for you
A safe space is one where you feel included. Our organization doesn’t exclude those caring for someone with rare diseases or other unusual circumstances, we welcome it.
Our daily live chats and forums, moderated by mental health professionals and other members of the community, provide the questions and structures so we feel comfortable enough to share.
Whether your caregiving journey has just begun, defines your life or is nearing its end, your health and well-being rely on you making time to properly cope with and address the challenging parts of your life that you handle every day.
No matter where you are, The Caregiver Space is that hub, that safe destination that is always open welcoming you to get the meaningful support you need to lift you up and strengthen your resolve to care another day.
With New Years Eve around the corner, you might be thinking about how you want to reign in the new year. While other people in your neighborhood in your community may be going out for an evening of late night heroics, there are plenty of other meaningful ways to acknowledge the passing of a year. Consider setting the intention of an evening spent at home reflecting on the previous spin around the sun to invite deeper levels of gratitude, joy and happiness into your life.
In the quiet of your own room, choose consciously to make this new year about renewal or another theme that you identify with. Think about opting to be more present in the daily flow of your life. Often the distinction between the life we live and the one we yearn for is comprised of simple, small, sacred practices.
Sometimes holding gratitude doesn’t come easy enough, and that’s okay.
With everything that’s on your plate, it’s often very difficult to pause and take stock of the good things that are happening around you.
To get started, read this beautiful and inspiring list of daily grateful living ideas. Choose three or four to practice on New Years Eve and write about them. While simple and sometimes frustrating, the act of writing connects our thoughts with our feelings and makes them more real and meaningful than only thinking them.
The act and choice to write down parts of our lives that elicit gratitude signals to the brain that what you’re doing is important, worth remembering and ultimately worth repeating.
One other way to celebrate yourself in 2015 is to begin a gratitude jar. The concept is simple: designate a jar to fill with slips of paper describing what you’re grateful for. Beginning this practice encourages you to create a treasure trove of personal and positive parts of your life you identify with. During the days and weeks when you’re feeling most depleted, you can open up this jar you’ve filled to nourish and remind yourself with these thoughtful reflections. Here’s an example of how to put together your own gratitude jar!
If you’re not someone who believes in new years resolutions, keep reading.
Resolutions are a time old tradition but too often we focus on goals that don’t serve us or aren’t specific enough to tackle. Making resolutions encourages you to discover how you can better serve yourself this coming year.
To begin, grab a piece of paper and sit down for a few minutes and think about the types of feelings you would like to experience more of this coming year. As family caregivers, our positive feelings often get trounced by the needs of those we care for. This exercise brings the focus back to you because feeling good about yourself keeps feelings of resentment towards loved ones at bay and leaves more energy to be a healthier and more present caregiver.
Steer clear of resolutions about weight loss, calorie counting, and ambitious exercise plans
Body health is important, don’t get me wrong. The Caregiver Space has their own caregiver fitness videos to prove it. Resolutions about weight loss are an all too common goal that taint how we feel about ourselves when we fail to reach our goals of dropping pounds or exercising more. Resolutions like this don’t empower the healthy start you deserve.
Focus your resolutions on maintaining mini practices that you can do everyday
When the focus of your resolutions only take a few minutes to complete, they’re a lot less daunting and much more realistic to achieve the benefits they provide than a hardcore exercise regimen. The feelings and thoughts we chose to focus on determine how we feel about ourselves. Starting practices that focus on mini appreciations is a subtle and impactful way to improve your mental health.
Notice what you feel resistance to, it’s the most telling sign of what you need to address
A helpful way to begin choosing helpful and supportive new years resolutions is to notice negative behaviors or feelings you have and then come up a different behavior you can choose to respond with when you notice yourself starting to spin a negative self-narrative.
Here are 4 suggestions for great new years resolutions that focus on self-care, lowering stress and feeling good about you:
1. Appreciate the small things in life
When you notice yourself becoming critical, take 2 minutes to write down or close your eyes and reflect on 5 things that you’ve done for yourself, witnessed, or received recently that you can feel good about. This could be taking 30 seconds to gaze out the window at the trees when you woke up, or that you made a special effort to be patient with your loved one at a tense moment. Try not to judge or diminish the thoughts that come up, simply acknowledge and savor these mini moments in time. What are you grateful for?
2. Take time to really love the person you care for
Life is sacred and daily caregiving can feel hard, exhausting, and annoying. Practice not letting the hard parts about caring get in the way of really loving being with that person. Acknowledge how special it is that you can spend close time with this person at such a vulnerable part of their life.
Practice paying attention to when you’re heading over the ledge of over-committing yourself. Letting your care team and loved one know you need a break is such an important way of honoring yourself and avoiding caregiver burnout. Calling time and stepping out, even if it’s only for a five minute walk outside around the house helps to establish a healthy relationship with your care team and the person you care for. Let people know you’re not available for an hour in the afternoon. Use that time to nap, read, explore or get out of the house. Creating time for yourself strengthens your identity and better prepares you to handle the stresses of caregiving.
4. Reflect on what makes you happy
Setting healthy boundaries creates the space for this new years resolution idea. Caregiving for a loved one often pulls us away from the activities and practices that we used to identify with. Take time to reflect on practices that bring you joy. Maybe it’s watercoloring, DIY projects, writing, gardening, or collecting. While your time probably is limited, think about setting aside a little time to nourish that part of yourself once or twice a month
Whether or not you identify with these suggested self-care practices, make this coming year about focusing on your well-being and health. Choosing to introduce thoughtful reflective moments a couple times per day supports your ability to see yourself in the most positive light. Caring for yourself in this way improves your self-esteem, reminds you who you are and can energize and support your ability to provide quality care to the loved one in your life.
May this new year bring you joy, peace and a renewed sense of self.
In the early Brooklyn morning, I slide out of bed careful not to wake my partner.
Donning a hooded sweatshirt I walk down the hall to the living room and stand by the street side window absorbing the day in wait. I take my seat. My eyes gently shut. I notice the gentle wane and wax of my belly. I experience a deep level of content witnessing my own stillness in these moments.
I wake up exhausted most days.
Late nights and early mornings mix as well as ice cream and eggplant. I get up early anyways because I cherish these moments of solitude and know it’s the only time I’ll find them. This morning routine is a small ritual but it’s about love nonetheless. The movies portray love as this grand, momentous gesture that towers over evil, conquers all and saves us from ourselves.
I hear people say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I think love is the small stuff, so I’m pretty sure it’s worth sweating over.
I can’t heal my wounds, or anyone else’s, with one momentous act. I can, and do, express my love in the rituals I gift myself each morning.When I first think about love I picture spaghetti sipping kisses in Lady and the Tramp. But love doesn’t need other people (or dogs) to be real. In my years as a perpetual people-pleaser, I missed out on a lot of love because I was closed off from receiving it at all.
I excite my taste buds some mornings by spending a few extra minutes assembling a tasty breakfast sandwich for my morning commute. Sometimes I take time at the end of the week to Google something that I’m curious about.
Self-love asks us to attend to our physical, intellectual, spiritual, creative and emotional needs.
Most weeks I don’t address to all of these aspects but I try, even if I can only focus on one for a few minutes.
For me, this month is about bringing in more love. I’m making a conscious effort to invite more love into my life with new small acts and gestures, routines and rituals. They won’t all last but I bet some will. This is a gesture I know I can gift myself.
I invite you too, to explore ways you can practice small self-love gestures this month:
If you’re waiting in line or anywhere else, close your eyes and take five deep and very slow breaths—enjoy these moments of just being you.
On your way out the door take the minute to sit down to tie your shoes nice and snug, smile and appreciate your feet for all the places they take you.
When you get home, before walking in the house, take a five minute gentle stroll down the street, breathe, look at the sky, let your thoughts go quiet, focus on your senses.
Time takes on a different shape when the waiting room becomes our residence.
It’s hardly a sanctuary. Full of anxiety and a symbol that we’re not in control, we wait. We wait because were told to, because there are no answers, because there’s nothing we can do. We’re just relegated to being there in the semi-public next to other people’s trauma and drama, cheap magazines, background television noise and not much else.
In the time that follows, we’ll resume caregiving. But now we just wait, for something, for anything to happen. As caregivers, our work is determined by what we can bring to the table: our reassuring presence, our wound care and meals, errands, consolation, physical therapy, patience and empathy. We’re not just mindless drones dispensing pills and pouring soup– our energy and calmness is essential to the shoes we fill. How sustainable are we? Only as much as our minds are ready for the task.
Waiting time is sacred time.
Visits can be seen as breaks in your own hubbub and havoc. There needn’t be guilt for claiming this time for yourself. Does worry and anxiety make you more loyal? We’re waiting because we’re dedicated to showing up. In the time that follows, that time is for you.
This time is for self-reflection and restoration. Consider these choices the next time you find yourself waiting.
It doesn’t need to be spiritual or branded with some fancy technique, just consider doing it consciously. When life get’s crazy, our stress expands and our natural breath contracts. Notice the difference and the depth you can inflate and exhale your lungs when you pay attention to it. Breathing is one of the most direct ways we can release tense muscles that contract under sustained stress. We often don’t notice the ways our body changes until we yield and take note.
2. Scribble Mindlessly
With doctor’s appointments, medications, and a hundred other tasks and responsibilities constantly on our minds, sometimes we just need to create some empty space and time where we can zone out. Grab a pad from the nurse’s station and just let your hand trace and groove over the page. This is not about art, though it certainly can be if you like. The idea here is to give you brain a task with no outcome it needs to reach. You can even close your eyes as your pen waves and wiggles across the page. The idea is to let you brain off the hook and zone out. We often need to be doing something mindless to get there and our hands can unlock that door.
3. Journal and Reflect
More often than not, creating time to share and express how we’ve been feeling lately take a backstage to our daily duties. Consider harvesting this time to lay out on the page recent thoughts, reflections, frustrations and ideas that have been floating around in your brain from the past week. It can be angry, stupid, random and uplifting. It can be poetry or prose, it can be repetitive, weird, sad– just make it honest. You can even toss it out when you’re done. We all need a release point. Journaling can serve as one. It’s what keeps us sane and healthy. And if we’re not sane and healthy, how good of a caregiver can we expect ourselves to be?
These are all activities and ways we can loosen up our minds, our hearts and our bodies from the stresses that caregiving asks us to endure. For twenty minutes or two hours, there’s a choice in how we spend the waking moments in which we wait.
These are options you can gift yourself in service of more sustainable care.
From the moment I wake up, a spell of thoughts about the day in wait begin buzzing through my mind.
Shower, dress, breakfast, shoes and I’m out the door. The subway car: packed like cattle, (and sardines) I hear hip-hop leaking out of a nearby passenger’s headphones. I see corporate suits, pink shoes, Minnesota Twins tattoos. I hear kids whining in French as I grip a stainless steel pole to steady myself against the shudder of this car on rails. This is Brooklyn. This is also my state of mind.
Pema Chodron writes:
If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.
Not everyone enjoys their commute to work. Some days I dread the claustrophobic should-to-shoulder ride into the city but being in a place that’s “endlessly interesting and alive” does sound pretty attractive. So now most days I use those 20 minutes to practice keeping my mind open. I have enough clutter upstairs worrying about who I haven’t called back and how hard it is to find a couple hours to do my laundry.
For those 20 minutes, I give myself a break.
It’s a break from judgment, worry, criticism, analysis and stress. This is time for my mind to get quiet, for my eyes to get soft, my breath to get deeper and my muscles to relax. Essentially I just sit there. Sounds a lot like meditation, but it’s on a subway and besides don’t you need a cushion and some fancy mudras for that to be the real deal? The truth is, I am meditating, I just don’t call it that anymore.
For those averse to anything too new-agey or “far out there,” don’t let vocabulary keep you from experimenting with an activity that serves you as a caregiver. Reclaim its essence on your own terms.
Quieting our thoughts makes hearing them easier.
In our go-go world, success is derived from efficiency (and many of us translate efficiency to working on something all the time). Yes, I am being “efficient” by meditating while commuting but honestly I’m not doing anything; I’m just sitting there (if I’m lucky enough to get a seat). Our minds though over time are conditioned into this frenetic pattern and it’s in the act of committing for short periods (10-20 minutes) not to encourage or follow our rapid thought feed that we’re able to drop out of that whir of cerebral chatter.
When a thought arises, opt not to follow the narrative it invites. Acknowledge the presence of the thought and then resume intentionally tracing the path of your breath. As a caregiver, these little “breaths of fresh air” can be harvested when your family member is resting or maybe on your own commute over to their house. This practice firms up our mind just like any other muscle with exercise. The practice leaves me feeling more focused, calm and confident to tackle the rest of my day. I find myself enjoying myself more when I begin looking around afterward because I’ve primed my attention to look at my life with fresh eyes and appreciate parts that I sometimes take for granted.
The small things in life do matter and the few minutes to yourself are worth it.
I invite you to step out of your ordinary routine and gift yourself a break from your harried thoughts. The opportunity to positively affecting your mind and mood require tools you already carry.
Happiness is neither constant nor predictable and there’s a lot you can do to increase its presence in your life. What follows are tips, tools, and strategies that take work. Yes, the good stuff in life takes work, but it’s work worthwhile. With a little practice, this “work” becomes fun!
So lean forward and listen up— these are five practices that increase our happiness:
1 . Do it differently
Our mind is the muscle that perceives and receives happiness. The more you stretch open your mind in new ways, the more room you make for happiness to shine into new crevices. Our minds have a tendency to revert back to our daily thought patterns and if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep feeling how we’ve been feeling. If this article had to stop here, the one practice to keep in mind, is to do things differently. Take a different route home, brush your teeth with your opposite hand, put on your left shoe before your right… Learn to be playful as you experiment completing even the smallest tasks a little differently.
2. Pay attention
To try anything differently requires us to step out of our daily unconscious thoughts and actions. Choose two or three small practices that you will try to do differently and make a note where that activity happens to remind you. I find putting reminder notes in my shoes always works because I know I’ll have to look at them before I walk out the door.
3. Mini appreciations
Even though we’ve evolved a great deal since our ancestors, we all still have a survival instinct that causes us to be more critical and negative than necessary. That’s why it’s easier to see what’s wrong with something than with what’s right. There’s so many mini-triumphs and successes that go unnoticed in our day that could make us happier. Take a moment once or twice in the morning and once or twice at night to acknowledge what’s going well for you. Fifteen seconds, might be all it takes—just noticing being in the right place at the right time to see a beautiful sky, or feeling good about getting out the door on time. None of this is to say you should sell yourself short and lower your goals. We all benefit and feed off of the buzz of tasting sweetness however momentary, it energizes us nonetheless. Pausing to acknowledge the good work you do enforces a positive outlook and primes us to see more of it in our lives.
4. Maintain constructive tension
As much as we might relate happiness to specific triumphs and successes, happiness is also spurred from the space between anticipation and fulfillment, a term I call constructive tension. It’s important to be engaged in work otherwise our minds weaken. Think about the analogy of a rubber band. Untested, the rubberband lies limp and is useless, stretched too far apart and it snaps, but pulled apart in the middle range, the band has potential to go places—this is the space we can all aim to operate it in. Instant gratification, however tempting, doesn’t serve us because it offers no lasting happiness. Happiness is derived from the act of doing— this is called the space in-between. Triumphs spread apart by even intervals give us the opportunity to do meaningful work and punctuate our success when we get there.
Because our minds adjust to any great thing, we need to continue to bolster our efforts by continuing to operate in that stretch zone.
No, not like that. Really smile. Remember a fun experience, a bad joke, an embarrassing moment. Seriously, do it.
Do you feel a little happier? If you do it’s because our minds are reflexive. We all know that when we feel happy our face shows it. But did you know our system works in both directions? Our brain is linked up with the muscles in our face and everywhere else in our body. This means that if you consciously smile, and it has to be genuine, our bodies trigger our brain to release dopamine, the feel-good-neurochemical that’s behind a lot of our happiness. If you’re ever feeling a little down, try this out.
We all may feel tired or blue throughout our day or our week.
We work hard. It often feels easier or natural to give into those feelings, and generally that’s fine—it might be your body’s signal that you need rest. But if you’re looking to feel a little more energized, happier and engaged, consider dedicating a week or two to adopting these concepts fully as your own and see how you feel. A fresh perspective is sometimes all you need to make room for a little more happiness in your life.
Well, 35 suns have risen and set since our first foray into online crowdfunding for caregivers.
Encompassed by fun, frustration, inspired brainstorming and plenty of lessons learned—I’m grateful for the experience. The campaign was a rewarding opportunity, as it asked me to look deeper at our organization and present to the public with fresh eyes, a clear message about the nature of our work.
With little experience crafting a promotional video, Allie and I took it upon ourselves to storyboard, script and sequence a piece that felt honest and appealing. After scrapping our first video the night before our planned launch date, I realized knowing something and sharing it are two entirely different balls of wax.
After a dozen more calls with our editor we produced something that felt more accurate and telling.
Our online fundraising platform, Indiegogo.com was terrific and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to raise capital for a good cause (or even a broken tooth). The user interface was incredibly straightforward and the mysterious “GoGo Factor,” (a weighted algorithm based on user participation that determines which campaigns get featured on the Indiegogo homepage) kept us motivated to think up new and creative ways to spur new donations.
Why our promotion for the seventh daily donator to select me filmed getting pied in the face, didn’t pan out, I’m still befuddled…
We put fourth our best efforts and received some generous help.
While we didn’t reach our end goal of $35,000, our $9,700 was an incredible display of the generosity from the people in your own community. From our own friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, caregivers and strangers, I was blown away by the touching personal messages we received, donations gifted and social sharing this campaign prompted.
The overall response to our appeal for support was extremely positive but we also ruffled a few feathers.
Money can be a sensitive subject for caregivers who devote a great deal of it to those they provide for and asking for a contribution understandably made some caregivers uncomfortable. I want to take this moment to publicly apologize to those caregivers: we never want our users to be indebted to our site in any way.
We’re committed to ensuring the community space we’ve created at The Caregiver Space will always be free.
As we make steps to ensure the company’s fiscal sustainability while we await IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt status (which will allow us access to outside funding, sponsorships and grants) we needed to ask our community to pitch in because we don’t want to wait to expand and deepen the scope of what this site offers.
We’re mission driven to deliver quality caregiver support because you deserve it, and we love supporting the circle of care.
My father, mother and stepmother sat me down for a number of important conversations throughout my childhood.
We covered the birds and the bees, why I shouldn’t steal or cut my sister’s phone cord, how to get out of dangerous situations, how to spot a creep… but they never told me how to care for them as they die. They’ve never felt like they needed to.
By the time I was 18, I had already watched and helped them care for and bury two grandmothers, two great uncles and a great aunt. I never remember them facilitating the same type of “sit-down” to clarify why our visits were more frequent or what they expected of me.
Most of the time they kept things light.
On a visit to my Great Aunt Shirley’s when I was about 13, my Mom gave me one piece of advice before we walked in, “don’t hold back when you play her in Scrabble,” (I was already an accomplished player) the advice didn’t matter, Shirley whooped my butt anyway. The point my Mom made was, “yes, she’s coughing up a lung, but don’t let that stop you from putting down ‘parabola’ instead of a preposition.” She didn’t want to be treated any differently at the end of life, and I should know not to test her with insincere naïveté.
As I turn to consider my last set of living grandparents as a 25-year-old man with three parents approaching their mid-sixties, I question whether I feel prepared enough to offer them the same level of no-nonsense care they’ve been dolling out for years.
Why didn’t we have the talk?
I’m not a nurse like two of my sisters, nor do I expect them to bare the burden of caregiving responsibilities on their own. I’m pretty sure my folks didn’t neglect to fill me in for any malicious reason. They also never tried to tell me how to pick my friends. Taking care of a family member is a learned, personal and wavering dynamic. My parents didn’t stop to fill me in because they were figuring it out for themselves again and again each time on their own.
The ABCs of caring for an aging parent are not clear-cut. Mine gifted me with lessons on caregiving by including me in their daily and weekly house calls before I fully understood the significance of our visits.
I was talking with a woman running a caregiving support group a couple months ago and I asked her why she does this work.
She said, “In a selfish way, I want to model to my son how I want to be treated when I get old and gray.”
I was struck by her bluntness but simultaneously touched because I knew that, under the matter-of-factness of her tone, she recognized that the lessons of caregiving need to be taught by example—she just happened to make it her life’s work.
Be compassionate and patient, show up consistently, bring a meal, and express your love.
These are the lessons I take away from my childhood exposure to the family caregiver. Is that all that’s required? No. But they’re good starting points. The doctors and my sisters will fill in the terminology gaps—I’ll ask detailed questions and listen closely. The dialogue between elder and offspring will continue. I’ll make sacrifices, they’ll kvetch. I’m not trying to make light of caregiving but I finally understand that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for this next generation of care.
We are well aware of how hard it is to ask for the support you need.
This is a commonly shared sentiment (and reality) for many in the caregiving community. With so many daily projects, tasks and responsibilities, why is it so hard to pluck even one chore from the circus of chaos you’re juggling, hand it to a friend and say:
“Here! Take care of this, won’t you?”
It sounds so simple and yet it feels impossible to let go.
We’re caregivers because despite the challenges, the fatigue, the stress and the patience the job asks of us, we feel tied to our work (for one reason or another). It’s hard to step away even when we need a need a break.
If you’ve grown reliant on yourself, you’re not alone. Single handedly you see that all the medications, appointments, physical therapy, diet and dressings are taken care of. Many of us have multiple systems and ways of doing things that we manage on the hard drives of our brains that it feels absolutely impossible to delegate, as much as we might want to.
All of this makes sense—the people we care for are people we either love and/or feel committed to. We wouldn’t easily hand over that responsibility if we weren’t certain that quality care would be provided. At the same time, we deserve the break, so begs the question: what do you do when someone wants to help out and you don’t know what to say?
There’s now a page on our website dedicated to the people who want to help. The new For Friends and Family category provides information on how folks who want to help can actually roll up their sleeves and lend a hand. It’s a helpful guide for the types of real support community members can provide that will make a difference in your life without tasking you to do any extra work describing it.
Enjoying a healthy meal might be a luxury these days you can’t afford.
At the end of the day, the last thing you probably want to do is spend another 45 minutes preparing another meal for yourself.
Now there’s a service called Sympathy Food, where someone can send you fresh, prepared, tasty meals to your doorstep that doesn’t take any extra time out you or your friend’s day (the food is professionally cooked and then flash frozen and easily reheats). This resource page include links to services like Sympathy Food to help deflect the energy you have to spend coordinating for help.
At The Caregiver Space, we want to make sure you get the most direct support you need. With this new page, the next time a friend says to you: “How can I help?”
You can say something like: “Thanks for offering. I’m feeling a little too overwhelmed to talk right now. If you want to help there’s a website I use with some great ways to offer support, could I e-mail you the link? Anything you find on there would mean so much!”
Remember, people want to help you on your terms, and for non-caregivers, anticipating what that looks like is really difficult. They need some direction and we provide that for you. Directing them to The Caregiver Space, is a reliable way to ask for the support you need.
First off, I want to thank Wisdom Publications for providing us with a copy of How to be Happy by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I love independent publishers and it’s great to be able to explore their wonderful publications. Secondly, let me say that I am not a Lama, nor Siddhartha reincarnated– if you can believe it. Buddha once said: “Believe nothing no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.” I have found some teachings in “How to be Happy” that don’t ring true for me and the stories I have heard from caregivers. I wish to dissect these teachings as they apply to caregivers and I hope that you will examine them with me.
Here are the teachings that agree with my own reasoning and common sense:
“Your mind has the potential to stop the problems that come from your mind. And yet the same mind that brings the problem doesn’t stop the problem, but another mind–another thought, another attitude– can stop all problems and bring peace and happiness (3).” Totally. I’d say 90% of my problems are in my head, with my thinking. It took a lot of work to realize that though!
“Always strive to improve your mind, improve your attitude (11).” I have a hard time living a static life. For a long time I thought that meant I had to constantly be moving around, making big changes, experiencing new, external circumstances. I understand now that I can have repetition without stasis. When I engage my mind and work on improving myself, I quell the restlessness. Big changes are usually a band-aid for the little changes I need in my thinking.
“The way to solve the problems in your life is to open your heart to others (27).” Sharing, sharing, sharing… It’s the best way I find to release myself from shame, confusion, pain, guilt, anxiety and all of those negative feelings that clutter my head. Opening your heart meaning let yourself out and others in. For me, an open heart manifests itself in reading, writing, and talking.
“In every interaction: be careful, be kind (37).” It’s impossible to know anyone’s story, the reasons behind their actions– the love that becomes pain, the pain that becomes anger. Carefulness and kindness is simply a good approach to life for me, even if others may find an easier path by being rude or hurtful.
“Practice compassion even if no one else does (38).” See above.
Okay, here’s where the trouble starts. A lot of the teaching encourage the reader to focus on others rather than the self. This is something I agree with in my own life– being of help to others. But the teachings as applied to caregivers seem… well, difficult.
“Remember that your life is for others (49).” Caregivers are usually highly aware of this. But does this take away the conflicting emotions and the physical burden of caregiving? No, that will be there whether you acknowledge your caregiver status or not. It seems caregivers need the inverse of this statement: “Remember that your life is for you.” Consider this excerpt from a post from Caregiver Support Blog:
“I got to the hospital and Mike was doing fine without me, flirting with the nurses. I knew he really didn’t need me there, but I needed me to be there. He was released and we went home, him feeling sore from the whiplash, me being angry and resentful towards my mother-in-law. Even though it all worked out, I was still angry at being put in the position that I had to choose.”
“If you want to be loved, love others first (73).” Almost every magazine and self-help book on the shelves suggest the opposite. Love yourself before you can love others and be loved. I’m still deciding my feelings on this one… Like mostly everything else, it’s not a clear-cut issue. I think we need to love ourselves before we can love someone else, but sometimes it takes someone else loving us for us to see that we are loveable. Maybe the key to this teaching is “first.” It doesn’t say “only.” Can I suggest an appendage? Perhaps, “while you are learning to love yourself?”
“Transform all undesirable conditions by voluntarily taking up all difficulties (25).” Excuse me? Haven’t caregivers already taken up all of the difficulties another faces? How can this be transformative? Aren’t the difficulties the undesirable conditions? I’m at a loss with this one.
“Transform every problem into the medicine to cure the chronic disease of self-cherishing (56).” From what I understand, Rinpoche uses the term “self-cherishing” to refer to self-centered behavior. So we’re looking to cure our self-seeking motives. This is difficult advice to give to caregivers who are, by definition, in a selfless role. In fact, the advice given to caregivers most frequently is to remedy problems with self-care. Let’s flip this teaching around too.
“How to be Happy” provides the reader with wonderful insights into impermanence, compassion, wisdom, and human interaction. But many of the teachings of selflessness seem counter intuitive for caregivers. What are some of your “teachings” for caregivers?