How to Use Mindfulness to Reduce Caregiver Stress

An attitude of heightened awareness and focused attention can have great benefits

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- Posted on Apr 14, 2020

A woman meditating in her home.

Julie Hayes is the Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Compassion and empathy are among the most valuable traits a good family caregiver can have, as they drive you to give your loved one the best possible care. But these qualities can also allow you to pour everything—and then more—into caregiving tasks, often to the exclusion of your own needs and feelings. Your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual reserves can quickly run dry, given all that caregiving requires of you. It is not uncommon for caregivers to isolate themselves socially and to neglect important aspects of self-care. Continually putting your loved one’s needs first, while you push aside your own, can easily lead to burnout and even beyond, to more significant compassion fatigue.

Self-care is an often-used term for an approach to fighting caregiver stress and burnout. One of the oldest routes to stress reduction is meditation, defined by Verywell Mind as “a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.” The practice goes back to ancient times and is embraced by cultures and religions throughout the world. The numerous proven health benefits of meditation include decreased stress and anxiety; better sleep, memory and regulation of emotions; and lowered blood pressure, according to research. Meditation can help to cultivate mindfulness, which combats stress and burnout.

What is mindfulness for stress reduction?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of what is now known as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness cultivated through meditation can help those who practice it to:

· Focus on experiences instead of on preconceived judgements and expectations

· Act with deliberation and intention, rather than on ‘autopilot’

· Respond to situations rather than react to them

· Increase awareness of all aspects of a situation, instead of automatically shutting out those that are perceived as confusing or unpleasant

Kabat-Zinn has identified seven necessary attitudes to the cultivation of mindfulness:

1. Non-judging, the practice of being an impartial witness by avoiding snap judgements and reactions, and instead observing the situation as it is

2. Patience, the ability to allow things to unfold at a natural pace

3. Beginner’s Mind, the practice of setting aside experience and expertise to look at something with fresh eyes

4. Trust in yourself, your intuition and your feelings

5. Non-striving, the practice of setting aside a specific agenda, and simply being as you are

6. Acceptance of how things are without judgement of whether things are good or bad

7. Letting go of emotions, thoughts and anxieties you’re holding onto, and letting them be

How can I use mindfulness for stress reduction as a caregiving tool?

Practicing mindful meditation for stress reduction can help you to combat compassion fatigue and burnout. Research compiled by the American Psychological Association shows that mindfulness has benefits such as:

· stress reduction

· increased focus

· a decreased sense of being controlled by emotions

· reduced dwelling over unhappy thoughts

It’s common for caregivers to neglect their own emotions in order to focus more on their loved ones’ needs. Mindfulness for stress reduction is one way to become more aware and accepting of the emotions you may have. Instead of discounting your feelings, you can begin to better recognize their place in your life and more readily come to terms with them.

In addition to its self-care benefits, mindful meditation can also improve the way you care for your loved one. In her book “The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiver Journey,” licensed geriatric social worker Nancy Kriseman explains how mindfulness can help caregivers to become more fully present with their loved ones without disengaging. This can allow for greater attentiveness to your loved one’s experiences, in addition to your own. “Embracing a healing presence requires you to just be in the moment together,” Kriseman wrote. “[Mindfulness] can help slow you down some so you can make the best possible decisions for your care recipient. It also helps bring more balance and ease while navigating the caregiving journey.”

How can I bring mindfulness for stress reduction into my busy schedule?

As a caregiver, you have a full plate, and adding mindfulness to it may feel like a lot to fit in. The good news is that there are easy ways to make it a part of your schedule, even on the most hectic of days. You may want to start by exploring a few of these options:

· Try PsychCentral’s 1-Minute Mindful Exercises, which offer simple stretches and even a delicious mindful eating exercise

· Practice breathing techniques with this 3 minute exercise by emotional wellness platform Stop, Breathe & Think, or if you have a bit more time, check out this 20 minute guided meditation by The Mindful Movement.

· Pause for a moment in the middle of something you’re doing in your day to focus on the movements of your body, feel your breath and be aware of whatever’s going on around you.

· Download phone applications enjoyed by fellow meditation practitioners such as Insight Timer; Stop, Breathe & Think; Simple Habit; and #Mindful

· Visit mindful.org’s recommended guided meditations which focus on various areas, including cultivating resilience, practicing non-judgement and shifting out of autopilot.

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