7 Tips Help Caregivers Remain Resilient
Resilience. That’s an important concept for someone who is in the caregiver role, but it’s often hard to come by. That’s why I was interested in a story in the July/August 2012 issue of More magazine by Laurence Gonzales, the author of “Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience.”
As a sidebar to the article, he offered seven tips for bouncing back, noting that taking these steps can help us move past a calamity toward a new and sometimes better life. These steps resonated for me based on my own experiences as well as other caregivers who have shared their stories with me. Therefore, I’m going to share some of these experiences that relate to Gonzales’ tips.
- Do something. Gonzales points out that finding an outlet helps to renew a person’s sense of agency and control while also helping the brain use its seeking pathway instead of its rage pathway. Here’s an example – my friend, Pam, watched her husband slowly succumb to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Pam kept her equilibrium through making quilts. This hobby gave her an outlet to focus her energies. And I've started geocaching, which is a high-tech treasure hunt. This gets me outdoors and helps me focus on something other than caregiving.
- Become a rescuer. It’s easy to be consumed by an event and see yourself as a victim, whether you’re the caregiver or the person who has Alzheimer’s disease. Gonzales suggests, instead, finding ways to help others. Pam again provides a good example. She started attending Alzheimer’s support group meetings and eventually started leading trainings for other caregivers. I also had a similar experience through writing for this website. By getting to help others, I was able to avoid falling into the trap of feeling sorry for myself because my life had taken an unexpected detour because I needed to care for Mom.
- Stay connected socially. Pat has moved her mother, who is showing signs of dementia, into the home that Pat shares with her husband. Since I met Pat, she’s taken up running with a group of women and has run several half-marathons. While I think the exercise provides stress-busting chemicals to Pat's brain, I also believe that the support group she’s developed with her running group is equally important in helping her be able to deal with the ups and downs of caregiving.
- Shake up your hippocampus. Exploring new places through travel or new experiences can make a difference for a caregiver. One time while travelling, I met a woman who was caring for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease. We happened to be in line at a restaurant when we struck up a conversation about caregiving and we sat together and chatted while we ate. The woman told me that one of the ways she maintained her ability to be present for her husband was through taking time for herself by travelling to different locations, such as a trip to the Caribbean.
- Use ritual to control bad memories. Rituals help you find ways to set the pain of the situation aside. For instance, I learned a lot about the Day of the Dead, which is a prominent holiday marked by many in the Hispanic community as a special day to remember the departed. I like this idea and have started incorporating this holiday into my own life. I also tend to use Mom’s birthday as well as the date that she died as days for reflection.
- Fake it until you make it. Gonzales recommends acting as if you’re better since what you do with your body influences your mind. I saw this often with Pam, who always kept a happy demeanor and a calmness as she dealt with her husband’s issues. Her attitude helped her maintain a resilient and positive composure, even when dealing with heartbreaking situations.
- Life is deep, so find ways to find the humor in a situation. Gonzales notes that recalling humorous times with lost loved ones has been found in studies to help people spend less time grieving. I’ve noticed this in my own instance. Throughout the time when Mom was in the nursing home, I found myself trying to find the humor in some of her day-to-day experiences. And even now that she’s been dead for five years, I still find myself telling others about Mom’s episodes at the nursing home when she “fired” all the staff (because she wanted to be in control of the situation). Everyone gets a laugh and I find that I am able to handle her death better with each recounting.
Primary Source for This Sharepost:
Varian, N. (2012). 7 tips for bouncing back. More magazine.