Care for the Caregiver: Mindfulness

“The need to take care of each other is the need to take care of self.” -Tracy Traut, Program Director of the Indiana Professionals Recovery Program (IPRP)

During the next couple of months, we’re going to focus on a topic that is more relevant now than ever: Care for the Caregiver.

There are so many kinds of caregivers, including professional caregivers like nurses, doctors, nurse assistants, psychiatric professionals, assisted living staff, hospice staff, EMTs, first responders, and more. There are also personal caregivers like adult children taking care of their aging or ailing parents, parents caring for their children, spouses caring for their loved ones through illness or impairment, and so on. Honestly, in our current environment, most of us are providing care for someone.

While being a caregiver offers its own rewards, it is also a significant source of stress and can exacerbate anxiety, mood and sleep disorders, and poor self-care. Continually putting others’ needs before our own, day after day puts us at risk for burnout and exhaustion. As we try to “do it all,” we commonly devalue and neglect our own physical, mental, and emotional needs. We all know reducing stress is crucial to a happy, healthy life. To that end, we’d like to offer some resources over the next few weeks for taking better care of yourself while continuing to care for others. Today, we’re going to start by exploring mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been a self-care buzzword for the last several years, but few truly understand its principles or how they can apply them in their own busy lives. Many people equate mindfulness with meditation, determine they have neither the time nor patience for meditation, and pursue it no further. While it’s true meditation is indeed a mindfulness practice and a powerful means of reducing stress, it is just one tool in the mindfulness toolbelt. So if it’s not just meditation, what is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.” – mindful.org

Be Present for Yourself

The practice of mindfulness is simple: be present in the moment. This requires no formal practice, no special tools or cushions, no esoteric music, no set amount of time, no specific atmosphere. You can become present in the moment by simply sitting still, wherever you are, and paying attention to your mind and body for a few moments.

1. Find somewhere comfortable where you can sit undisturbed for a few moments.

2. Focus on your breath. Is your breathing quick and shallow or slow and deep? Something in the middle? Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

3. Assess how are you feeling physically. Consider each of your five senses. Scan your body for pain or tension.

4. Become aware of what is happening around you, resisting the urge to jump into action and participate. There is plenty of time for that later.

5. Take note of what are you thinking about. Do not try to stop your thinking or drive thoughts away. Simply take note of your thoughts without judgment.

6. Identify what emotions you are experiencing. Again, do not berate or judge yourself for your emotions. Simply identify whatever it is you’re feeling.

Don’t Judge Yourself

The lack of self-judgment is very important to mindfulness. Caregivers are wired to put others’ needs before their own—so much so that they will push their own needs away and try to ignore them. They will often feel guilty for taking time for themselves. The goal of mindfulness is not to shame ourselves or force ourselves to change anything. The goal is to simply observe our present experiences and acknowledge them without criticism or blame. Only when we truly acknowledge our needs can we respond to them with compassion.

Many people mistakenly believe the goal of mindfulness is to achieve a completely quiet mind and body. They envision reaching some “higher” state of being in which the mind is completely free of thoughts and emotions, attaining some sort of “enlightenment.” This is not accurate. The goal of mindfulness is simply to slow ourselves down, even for just a few minutes—to truly pay attention to ourselves so that we can give ourselves the care WE need.

Be Kind to Yourself

Other mindfulness exercises all build off this very basic starting point of just being in the moment. Breathing exercises, meditation, practicing gratitude, physical exercises such as walking or yoga, intentional sleep routines, and more can all help us live a life with more compassion and care for ourselves.

As caregivers, we spend a great deal of energy helping others and often completely forget to extend the same grace to ourselves. In the words of the Mayo Clinic, “Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.” If we can show patience, kindness, and love to ourselves, we will certainly be better equipped to extend compassion to others.

Mindfulness Resources

If you’d like to dive into mindfulness and aren’t sure where to start, you may find these resources helpful:

Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Kabat-Zinn is a renowned and respected mindfulness expert, and this book will teach you the basics of mindfulness, why they’re important, and how to use them.

Headspace App

The Headspace app is perfect for those new to mindfulness and for those who are comfortable with it. There are plenty of tools available to help you learn mindfulness in the free version, including modules on the basics of meditation, healthy sleep, exercise, and calming the mind. The paid subscription opens up hundreds of more resources.

Calm App

Similar to the Headspace app, but with a totally different vibe, Calm also gives you plenty of resources to learn mindfulness, meditation, better sleep, breathing exercises, and more. Calm also has a good variety of resources in its free version, but so many more with a subscription. Calm is also unique for the range of voices guiding you through the modules, including household names like Matthew McConaughey, LeAnn Rimes, Kelly Rowland, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Mindfulness Podcasts

Click here, and you’ll find a comprehensive list of the most enjoyable and helpful mindfulness podcasts available. There’s something for everyone!

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 11:42