Some Ideas For Developing Caregiver Resilience
Most people will have times in their lives when they have to manage setbacks. If we’re lucky these resolve themselves quickly and we move on, but caregivers are often in a different league altogether. They may spend years of their own lives in the service of others. Some manage and some don’t. So what is it that improves our capacity to cope with often challenging long-term events and experiences?
Resilience is the term psychologists use to describe our ability to keep going in the face of difficulties and to bounce back from them. It’s an important character feature as it helps prevent us from becoming dragged down by negative emotions that can lead to anxiety disorders and depression. The good news is that resilience is something that can be learned. It is basically a skill and like all skills the sooner you start and the more you practice the better it becomes.
Resilience comes with a wealth of added benefits. Resilient people are generally more energetic and more open to new ideas. They also cope with stressors thrown at them more effectively and make others feel good too. So, how do we tap into this wonderful resource?
First it’s important to remember that you already have a wealth of experience to draw on. One way to focus on the process is by recalling those times when you experienced setbacks or rejections and what you did to get back on the rails. It may be that some of your approaches were more effective than others, but the point of this exercise is to draw on events and experiences you have successfully overcome, not those that left you with feelings of ambivalence or those that are still too raw to contemplate.
Next, let’s look at things in 3D! That is, Distraction, Distancing and Disputation.
These are three techniques that can help build resilience. In the case of Distraction you need to get involved in something before your negative inner voice gets a hold. Focus your attention on something very different and give it your complete attention. It can be anything from mixing a cake, to making a cup of tea, to trying to place a few pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. The point is to regain your composure and head off ruminating on the negatives.
Distancing is a technique that reminds you that emotions are simply personal interpretations, not facts. My reality is not the same as yours and the things that press your buttons may not touch mine. So you might try putting yourself in ‘my’ shoes. How would I (incidentally ‘I’ can be anyone you like) react to this? Will the situation be so significant in five minutes, a day or a week’s time? What other things are far worse than this?
My last example is Disputation. Here you use your inner detective to weigh up the evidence for and against your negative emotions or beliefs. It’s a useful approach for caregivers who may be prone to thinking the worst. As you become more skilled you can do this in your head, but a starting point is to get a sheet of paper and write down what’s troubling you. Now free your mind and come up with as many alternative and optimistic things as you can. Don’t allow yourself to listen to that inner voice that urges you to justify why you can’t do this! You might also want to try a perspective exercise in which you write down your negative issues and identify the worst thing that could realistically happen and then ask yourself – how likely is this to happen on a scale of 1-10. Now think of the best thing that could happen and rate it in the same way. This may not solve your problems but you might be surprised how effective it is in gaining some perspective over a troubling situation.
Always focus on practical steps you can take to improve your situation. This prevents the sense of inertia and helplessness that sometimes comes to haunt caregivers. Focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t, is a key element in developing resilience.