Becoming a Mindful Caregiver: Understanding Your Role

Becoming a Mindful Caregiver

At some point in your life, you have been a caregiver, is now a caregiver, will become a caregiver, or will need a caregiver. Most people who become caregivers have not received training nor have they been exposed to role modeling.

Caregiving is not something a person thinks about until he or she is smack in the middle of it all. Many caregivers learn from the seat of their pants without much guidance or planning. At my caregiver workshops, whenever I ask people to raise their hand if they enthusiastically can't wait to become one, inevitably, everyone chuckles and not a single hand goes up. After the chuckles silence, I suggest that there is a less stressful and more positive way to being a caregiver. The goal is to learn "mindfulness."

A mindful caregiver first and foremost recognizes you matter just as much as the care recipient. This requires that you stay in tune with your whole self, mind, body and spirit. And that you commit to being a conscious and intentional caregiver.

Learn Mindfulness

In order to become a mindful caregiver, it is important to understand what influences the caregiver role. First, become conscious of how you entered into this role. This can help you set more realistic expectations and get clarity about what you can do, can't do or don't feel comfortable doing. For example, if you had an unhealthy relationship with the person needing the care, you understandably may have conflicted feelings about whether you want to or can provide care.

Examples of unhealthy relationships might include; an abusive relationship, in which your parent or spouse was physically abusive throughout your marriage or childhood, or a parent who has been an alcoholic and was and still is emotionally abusive. You may have entered this role out of pure necessity or obligation such as when your elder parent breaks a hip or has a stroke and now requires care and supervision. Or, you may truly have entered into this role out of love and desire to help provide care.

Being able to step back and recognize what role you may want to play, can help prevent stress and unwanted feelings of anger and resentment. Setting realistic expectations that match your unique situation, might include; choosing to not provide hands-on care, but instead hiring someone, or because of your past and current situation, choosing to not being involved in the care altogether.

Pay Attention to Emotions

Be Mindful of Your Emotions

Another way of being a mindful caregiver, become aware of your emotions and feelings and how they influence this role. As most caregivers learn rather quickly, your emotions and feelings can vacillate from day-to-day. At times, you may feel sad, even depressed. This may leave you feeling emotionally depleted. Then other days, you may experience joy and fulfillment in being a caregiver. You may feel uplifted and grateful. And there most likely will be times when you may feel frustrated, resentful or angry, which can cause you to feel exhausted and worn out. Your emotions can wreak havoc with not only how you provide care, but how you attempt to make decisions.

In many caregiving situations, it is not unusual that your emotions can get in the way of making best decisions. And, they can even prevent you from a decision. Guilt and worry are the two primary culprits that can create tremendous stress for caregivers in decision-making. Most often you know what you need to do, but your guilt and worry gets in your way, causing you to either avoid a decision or feeling you will make the wrong decision. Being more aware of how your emotions impact your day-to-day caregiving can help you stay more in tune with yourself. When you tune into yourself, you are better able to stay in touch with your needs and your care recipient's needs.

How Caregiving Affects the Interpersonal Situation

Lastly, the caregiver role can also be influenced by a number of interpersonal and relational factors: your past and present relationship with your loved one, the personalities of each of you, your current life situation, the support or lack of support available to you, and finally, your health status and the health status of your loved one.

Being mindful of how each of these factors impact the caregiver role can encourage you to create a healthier role for yourself. Taking a mindful approach to caregiving, by defining your caregiver role helps you take into account what you can realistically provide and not provide. When doing so, you most likely will find more ease as you travel the caregiving journey.

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