There are countless caregivers throughout the United States: some people are caring for their aging loved ones, while others are raising children with special needs. With the advent of telehealth connecting people across the country, some caregivers are even able to work with their patients virtually.
Regardless of the caregiving relationship, it’s normal for caregivers to experience high levels of stress, burn-out, and other deleterious effects of the job. The act of caregiving demands a sense of balance in order to stay healthy and happy, both for the caregiver and the person with special needs that they are caring for. One of the best ways to cope with stress and relieve feelings of guilt is by practicing mindfulness.
What is burnout?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, burnout is “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able, physically or financially.” These feelings might persist when the caregiver tries to spend time and money on themselves since they aren’t taking care of their loved one 24/7. If burnout becomes too severe, you might even wind up in an urgent care clinic because you get sick more often or because you’re suffering from an anxiety attack.
Luckily, practicing mindfulness has been shown to have positive effects on caregivers through a number of studies and experiments.
The importance of mindfulness for caregivers
In simple terms, mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment. This sense of awareness is all too easy to forget about in the momentum of daily life. For caregivers who cope with high levels of stress each day, enjoying the moment might be the last thing on their to-do list.
By staying in the moment, caregivers are able to detach themselves from negative thoughts and future worries that paralyze them in the moment. This can lead to a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression. When these feelings start to take over, negative health issues can occur as a result. The caregiver might have higher blood pressure or a weakened immune system because of their stress. Cold symptoms start to show between one and three days after coming into contact with a virus, but these simple ailments can last much longer in stressed-out individuals. Workers who are stressed out might also experience higher levels of chronic pain, like 50% of working Americans who claim to experience back pain every year.
Mindfulness can also help them enjoy what little down-time they have during their breaks or after work, especially if the caregiver happens to work in a facility or medical housing community. Mindfulness is all about recognizing when negative thoughts and emotions rise and coming up with healthy ways to deal with them.
After all, caring for a person with special needs can be an all-encompassing affair. Caregivers often feel like their whole life is devoted to the well-being of someone else and they tend to feel guilty when they spend any time on their own well-being.
Whether you’re a caregiver yourself or a concerned loved one who wants to help the caregiver in their family, here’s how to mindfulness each day.
For caregivers working in the home
Caregivers who take care of their loved one in the comfort of their own home are at a particularly high risk for burnout. Even though 60% of remote workers prefer to do their work at home, caregivers can feel like it’s impossible to separate home life from work life. Unfortunately, this can lead to heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Caregivers who work in the home can practice mindfulness by meditating in the same spot each day. It’s important to establish a safe space in your home that’s designed for you and only you. This can be a difficult task, especially if you’re the primary caregiver for a child with disabilities that demands your attention, but it’s essential to practice mindfulness in a quiet environment of your choosing. This will serve as the grounding force that enables you to tackle the rest of the day.
Caregivers working from home should also carve out time in the day to practice mindfulness. Taking time and space for yourself is hard, but it’s necessary to foster healthy habits that benefit you in the long-term. Have an honest conversation with your loved one about taking time for yourself. This might be difficult if your loved one is suffering from dementia, but practicing mindfulness at shorter intervals can help. Gently reminding your loved one when you’ll be back through notes and frequent conversations is another great way to carve out time for yourself.
If you’re the caregiver of a child, this might look a little different. You might be able to invest in mindfulness during a nap time or when they’re playing with safe toys. You might even consider practicing meditation with your child as a group activity. This won’t always work, but meditation can be calming for a range of disabilities, especially when it comes to loved ones with sensory processing issues.
For caregivers working for a corporation
Caregivers working for a company or corporation tend to have a little more freedom than home caregivers. Regardless, they’re still exposed to the same stressors day after day. Over time, these aspects of caregiving can weigh you down and lead to feelings of burnout.
Just like home caregivers, taking breaks is a necessary component of mindfulness. When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or burnt-out from the stress of the day, entering a quiet room and practicing breathing exercises can make a world of difference. You should also lean on coworkers who are present when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Separating yourself from work is a little easier in this situation, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard to do. When you get home from work, the best thing you can do is practice mindfulness. Recognize that you’re home, safe, and that you don’t have to worry about the stressors you normally deal with at work. Try touching the fabric of your couch or savoring the taste of a yogurt in your fridge: engaging your senses is one of the best ways to ground yourself and embrace the moment. You can do the same thing each morning when you’re enjoying your first cup of coffee for the day.
It’s natural to look toward the future, but worrying about things to come while you’re trying to enjoy your downtime is a recipe for disaster. You cannot stop the thoughts from coming, but you can choose not to dwell on them. Allow these thoughts to come, and then let them go, just like you would during a period of meditation.
Why all caregivers should practice mindfulness
With so much on your plate, it can feel impossible to make time for yourself as a caregiver. When you start to experience burnout, your mental and physical health will become strained as a result.
Working with your thoughts instead of actively battling against them can enable caregivers to avoid burnout and the other common side effects associated with devoting your life to others. With practice, engaging in mindfulness is one of the best ways to thrive as a caregiver and prevent burnout. Rely on these tips when you want to take better care of yourself.