Has caring for a loved one with memory loss become a frustrating, all-consuming task? Virtually all caregiver experiences are full of highs and lows – and it’s a slippery slope to caregiver burnout when the lows begin to outweigh the highs. But do the lows really outweigh the highs? Or are they just the squeakiest wheels getting all of your grease?
“Without a sense of mindfulness, caregivers’ resentment, cynicism, grief, and other negative emotions can end up overshadowing any bright spots that may be happening at the same time,” says Paige Deaver, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Tallahassee, a Memory Care community in Tallahassee, Florida. “If accomplishments go unappreciated, and only frustration is left, minor challenges can also become bigger than they really are, pulling the scales ever further out of balance.”
If it’s been a while since you set aside frustrations to fully acknowledge and enjoy the positive, rewarding moments – no matter how small or fleeting – you share with your loved one, take a deep breath and reacquaint yourself with being mindfully present.
In this post, we’ll present an overview of mindfulness, its benefits, and how to make it a natural part of your daily life.
What Is Mindfulness?
Simply put, being mindfully present means stopping to smell the roses, not sweating the small stuff, seeing the forest for the trees...ahem, our apologies, but there’s a reason clichés are clichés. These speak perfectly to the nine tenets of mindfulness, including patience, gratitude, generosity, and acceptance.
When we practice mindfulness, we’re aware of the need to stop, think, breathe – a key component to mindfulness – and gather perspective on irrational or self-defeating thoughts. Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences rather than react to them with aversion or avoidance.
In caregiving, being mindfully present is putting aside yesterday’s “breakfast incident” and tomorrow’s lengthy to-do list so you can find positivity in what you and your loved one are doing right now. It may be appreciating that they didn’t resist getting in the bath, even though they just spilled shampoo on the floor. It may be recognizing and taking heart in all the little things you do right, like not losing your patience when your loved one repeats the same question over and over...and over.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfully present caregivers tend to worry less, feel more appreciated, are focused on the tasks at hand, and can recognize when they are doing a good job. Mindfulness can also help caregivers become less critical and appreciate the skills their loved one has retained and the person they now are.
Scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and founder of its world-renowned Center for Mindfulness, helped bring the powers of mindfulness into mainstream medicine in the 1970s, demonstrating positive changes in health, attitudes and behaviors.
- Improved well-being. Increasing your capacity for mindfulness makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, fully experience activities, and better deal with caregiving challenges. By focusing on the here and now, you may find you are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past and are better able to form more meaningful connections with others.
- Improved physical health. Scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
- Improved mental health. In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as a successful treatment for several issues, including family conflicts, depression and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Putting Mindfulness into Practice
Anyone can learn to become mindful, and you don’t need to practice formal mindfulness meditation (although, if you have five or ten minutes, do check it out) to create and benefit from mindful moments.
1. Observe the present moment as it is. Aim to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment.
2. That means no judging your meandering mind. Your mind might start to replay a frustrating scene you had with your loved one earlier, or it might wander to that doctor’s appointment you keep meaning to make. But that’s okay – more than okay, in fact – because it’s the moment when you recognize that your mind has wandered that researchers believe leads to healthier, more agile brains. When you realize that your mind has wandered, you can consciously bring it back to the present moment.
3. Breathe. Whether meditating or practicing mindful moments as they occur, a focus on your breathing will anchor you to the present moment when your mind strays and help you keep calm if your loved one does something upsetting.
4. Keep your perspective. Is your loved one’s sticky face or shirt sleeve more important than how much they’re loving that ice cream cone?
5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as necessary.
By being mindfully present, you can let in the everyday bright spots that balance out caregiving challenges, improve your relationship with your loved one, and lower your risk of caregiver burnout. So, the next time your dad laughs when the puppy tickles his hand – despite your feelings about feeding the family pet from the table – try laughing with him and appreciating the memory in the making. You might find yourself feeling kinder, calmer, and more patient.
“Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
RELATED: 8 Facts About Mindfulness
To learn how our mindful approach to caregiving benefits our residents, call YourLifeTM of Tallahassee’s life enrichment team at 850-250-5671.
Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled
If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the very best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention and resources into creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.
We see each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can provide assistance with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our personal touch doesn’t stop at our care. In fact, it’s only just the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 850-250-5671 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.