If you are a family caregiver, you are at risk of stress or worse—burnout. One great tool for reducing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue is mindfulness.
If at any point you have thought or said some version of “I don’t have time to take a break” because you are taking care of a parent or spouse or other loved one, these tips and techniques are for you.
You’re never going to find more time in the day. But there is something you can do while you take a shower, do dishes, or even while you are actively caring for a loved one.
Taking mindful space for yourself will keep you grounded and peaceful while you help take care of a loved one.
- Take deep breaths.
Research shows that spending just a few minutes sitting with your breath will relax you. Take five minutes to sit down, breathe deeply, feel your lungs fill with air, let it go easily, and repeat. Place your attention on how it feels to inhale fully and release the breath fully. After a few minutes of breathing exercises, you will have more oxygen running through your body, and the body’s natural relaxation response will kick in.
- Be present.
Do one thing at a time. When you are with your care partner, be with them fully. Try slowing down, even when things are hectic. Engage your senses: listen to what’s going on in the room, watch the way the light comes through the window, feel the warmth of your loved one’s hand. Be present when you’re taking a break, too. Let yourself be aware of a moment of quiet, or even your own tiredness. Any time you’re really there with whatever is happening, you are practicing mindfulness.
Be kind to yourself.
What do you love to do that is healthy, absorbing, and renewing? Do you like to run or bike? Listen to music? Take a bubble bath? Have lunch out with a friend? Read a good mystery novel? Take a nap? Think of these things as necessary, not as special treats. Things that you love to do are like anti-stress medicine for your mind and body.
Does meditation or prayer help you to de-stress? Try starting the morning with a prayer or meditation for caregivers to set your intention for the day.
- Practice gratitude.
Sit outside, even if it’s on a sidewalk bench. Get some sun on your face, be with your breath, and watch the world go by. Think of one thing for which you are truly grateful. You can try writing this down every day—in a gratitude journal or just in your calendar. Just seeing these words can bring a moment of uplift when the challenges of caregiving seem overwhelming.
- Connect to others.
Don’t take on the challenges of family caregiving on your own. Call family or friends. Ask them if you can call to check in occasionally. Tell them they don’t have to fix or do anything, you just need them to listen, even for just a few minutes. When you say things out loud, it helps. Try joining a caregiver support group, even remotely. Or, look for a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class in your community.
Bonus: Try Starting a Meditation Practice for Caregiver Stress
Sitting and following your breath might seem useless, especially given everything on your to-do list. But meditation has many benefits.
Here is a beginner’s guide to the practice of meditation. It’s all you need to get started.
Every Day at the Same Time
Schedule this mindful meditation time for the same time and in the same spot every day.
5-10 Minutes at First
When starting out with meditation practice, keep it short and sweet. Set a timer for five to ten minutes.
Sit and Watch Your Breath
Sit upright on a cushion on the floor, propped up on the couch, or in a chair with your feet on the ground.
Watch your breath as it flows in and out. Don’t try to control it, just observe. You can bring your awareness to your chest, your belly, or even your nostrils. See what feels most natural to you.
Let Your Thoughts Flow By
When you start thinking about what you need to do, or something you forgot, or anything else that gets your attention, just note it and gently return to your breath. The thing is not to tire yourself out by forcing it. Think of a tree that starts to sway in the wind and then gently returns to its natural stable position.
After the Practice, Take a Minute
When you’re done with this short practice, give yourself a few minutes to ground yourself in your intentions for the day. What are your priorities and what do you need to put into place to take care of yourself so that you can be a present and attentive caregiver?
Track how you do each day on the issue(s) you decided to give some extra attention to and at the end of the week, review how things are going.
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