Whether you’re relatively new to caregiving or have been in this role for some time, the daily caregiving routine can easily become repetitive and monotonous, leaving you feeling like you’re in a recurring loop, and going through the motions might feel a bit like Groundhog Day.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope with a busy schedule, you might find yourself operating on autopilot. While this response might have come quite naturally to you, it’s important to recognise that living in autopilot mode is often a response to stress and a coping mechanism.
Many caregivers find themselves stuck in this pattern, and unknowingly navigate their day-to-day with limited awareness and the week may even feel “foggy” to you. It’s important to get back into the driving seat of our own lives, and practising mindfulness can help you with that.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the art of being “in the moment” and having an awareness of what is happening around you. It extends beyond mere attention and encompasses observing and reflecting on your actions, thoughts and feelings. It has grown in popularity in recent years as research has shown that it can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve cognitive ability and improve the quality of life.
Mindfulness empowers caregivers to navigate situations with heightened awareness, enabling thoughtful responses instead of mere instinctive reactions. This allows caregivers to step back and gain a new or different perspective on the situation. By choosing calm responses over immediate reactions, the potential for future regrets is diminished, contributing to a calmer and better caregiving environment.
Before you begin, it’s important to address potential roadblocks:
1. Distractions are inevitable.
Living in the present does not come naturally for many of us and our minds often drift to the past or future. We often mull over things that have passed, or live in anticipation of the future. It’s vital to understand that mindfulness does not require perpetual presence. Instead, it is about choosing to pay attention to moments and learning how to refocus when you notice that your mind has drifted off.
2. Consistent effort is key.
Similar to how physical exercise can improve one’s health, think of mindfulness practices as a fitness routine for your mind. It is not something learnt overnight, but it gets easier with continued practice.
3. Mindfulness isn’t solely for challenging times.
While mindfulness proves invaluable in challenging situations, it is also important to be present in moments when you are calm and happy. The ultimate goal is cultivating mindfulness throughout your life.
You might be wondering, “How can I possibly find time for this?”. We’ve done the groundwork and compiled mindfulness practices that can be incorporated into your daily schedule – while you take a shower, do the dishes and interact with your loved ones.
Starting the day on a mindful note
Incorporating mindfulness into your busy schedule might seem like a lot. The good news is you don’t need to have huge chunks of time to dedicate to mindfulness meditation to reap its benefits.
Even on the most hectic of days, begin your day with a moment of quiet reflection. As you wake up, take a few deep breaths and set an intention for the day ahead. It could be as simple as “I will approach each task with patience”, or “I will find moments of joy in my caregiving responsibilities.”
For many of us, mornings feel like a race against the clock, with many things we need to get done. This could also include taking a morning walk or having breakfast without distractions from screens or your lengthy to-do list. Embracing a slower and more mindful morning can help set a positive tone for the day.
Take small breaks throughout the day
Throughout the day, take short breaks when you can. Finding moments of respite to ground yourself, especially whenever you feel stressed is crucial. A simple practice you can inculcate is to pause, breathe, observe and proceed.
When you feel tension building, take a brief pause. In this pause, close your eyes and take a few, slow deep breaths. Our breaths can be very grounding, and bring our anxiety levels down. Next, observe how the body is feeling—are you feeling strain in certain parts of the body? If yes, perhaps you may want to slow down or be aware lest it turn into an injury. Finally, with a calmer perspective, proceed with what you were doing.
This brief pause can help you reset, reduce stress, and regain a sense of calm amidst the demands of caregiving.
Mindful listening and communication
When interacting with your loved one or the person you are caring for, practise mindful listening. Give your full attention to your loved one and maintain eye contact throughout the exchange. As their primary caregiver, you are likely well in the know of their condition. However, resist the urge to interrupt them while they are speaking.
This is especially key if your loved one has dementia. Dementia is a progressive condition that often leads to profound memory loss and difficulties with communication, which can make it hard for them to articulate their thoughts.
Navigating their temperament changes can also take a mental and emotional toll on caregivers, particularly in more advanced cases where mood swings, higher levels of aggression, confusion and paranoia can be a part of their behaviour.
In such cases, it is not uncommon for dementia caregivers to experience impatience or feel frustrated with their loved ones. However, staying fully present during your conversations with them is of paramount importance. By offering your unwavering attention, you are providing them an opportunity to express themselves. Continue to foster a sense of connection and understanding even amidst the complexities of their condition.
After starting your day on a mindful note, it is also key to end your day with a moment of gratitude. Gratitude is not about ignoring the bad things but noticing and focusing on the positives of your day.
One of the best and simplest ways to do so is to keep a journal. It could be a notebook, or a notes app on your phone, whatever works for you. A few suggestions to get you started:
- Reflect: Set aside a few minutes at the end of your day to reflect and recollect what happened in the day.
- What went well: Write down three things you’re grateful for, focusing on moments of joy or connection. Beyond this, also acknowledge the efforts you’ve made as a caregiver, recognising that you’re making a meaningful difference.
- Savour the positives: Read over these moments whenever you are feeling down or extra stress. Doing so can help you shift your perspective or boost your mood!
What should I keep in mind when trying to practise mindfulness?
Remember, the journey to mindfulness is a gradual one, and there is no need to rush or feel discouraged. Start by incorporating these practices into your routine gradually and adapt them to your unique caregiving context. Over time, you’ll likely notice a greater sense of presence, improved emotional resilience, and a more meaningful caregiving experience.
By infusing mindfulness into your daily life, you’re not only enhancing your own well-being but also cultivating a more mindful and compassionate caregiving environment that benefits both you and those under your care.
Caregiving does not have to be a journey that you take on your own. Our trained Care Pros, which includes local caregivers and trained nurses are here to lend a helping hand. If you need some respite or help with overnight care, our team of Care Advisors are always available to help.