Using Mindfulness To Deepen Our Caregiving

Using Mindfulness To Deepen Our Caregiving

By Robert M. Oliva, ND, LMSW
Clarity of thought, focus, and stable emotions are characteristics that can help any overwhelmed caregiver meet the needs of caring for a loved one. Unfortunately, under the stress of caregiving, these qualities are often in short supply. The practice of mindfulness can be of great assistance in bringing our minds and emotions under control while expanding our capacity to give the care that is so needed.
Losing our Harmony
As stressed family caregivers, we spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about things: What’s going to happen tomorrow at the medical evaluation? Will our loved one take the new medication? Are we going to have the energy to get all our chores done and perform our caretaker tasks? Will the finances hold up? We can lose our patience and say and do things we later regret.
Lots of time can be spent lamenting the past and the things that could have been done better or on the things we wish hadn’t happened. Our minds jump from anxiety to worry minute by minute, hour by hour, day after day. The fears and pressures of life begin to take up a large part of our waking and even sleeping reality.
The tendency of our minds to jump from thought to thought can be very helpful at times. It reminds us of the things we need to pay attention to. But there is a dark side to this process. We become the victims of the non-stop thinking that jumps from worry to worry. We are left with fear, anxiety, and mental and physical exhaustion that reduces our happiness and caregiving effectiveness.
This entire process can be frustrating and exhausting. For caregivers, it can be deadening.
Monkey Mind
In Buddhism, this mental process is called the Monkey Mind. Buddha himself put it this way:
Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.
When the monkey mind is left unattended it leads to an incessant internal monologue that makes it virtually impossible to remain clear, focused, and effective in what we are doing. The more we let the Monkey Mind have its way the more we lose control of our own thinking and feeling. If we let the monkey keep grabbing at all the branches, we are in for a wild ride.
Monkey mind is like being on mental autopilot.
In Karen’s April 3rd blog post on this site, she mentioned that an important strategy for coping with caregiving is to stay in the present. Mindfulness is exactly the way to accomplish this. Although a regular sitting meditation practice can help keep us focused, mindfulness can be practiced at any time during the day. It is especially good when utilized during difficult and emotional moments. It’s like taking meditation on the road wherever you go.
Mindfulness is a way to quiet monkey mind and gets off autopilot. lists six ways or habits you can develop in using mindfulness to great benefit. They can be helpful in life and especially in caregiving.
Noticing the Lack of Mindfulness
Have you ever been lost in thought? I’m sure you have. A good place to start on the path to mindfulness is to become aware of when you aren’t.
Much of our time is spent on being engulfed in thoughts that pop up out of nowhere. And we get stuck with them. Noticing when this happens is a good way of becoming aware that your Monkey Mind is dragging you along for the ride. Once you notice that you are losing your focus you can bring your attention back to the present.
Paying Attention to Your Thoughts
Thought and feelings are occurring to us all the time. Being mindful of what they are in a non-judgmental manner can be helpful in reducing the emotional upset and distractibility they may cause. It also helps us become more aware of what may be prompting them.
Monitoring your thoughts and feelings can become a daily habit that reduces the emotional upset they cause. You don’t have to be at the mercy of your thoughts. You can note them and over time choose what you will do with them. It’s not necessary to only do this when you are meditating or sitting alone. Practice in real time. Especially during your caretaking time.
Listening Intently
Actively listening to those around you is an important part of being mindful. Each day we have numerous conversations. Intently listening to what people are saying improves your communication with others as well as understanding clearly what is being said.
Listening makes us aware of the emotions and concerns of others. This can bring deeper meaning, stability, and satisfaction to our relationships. But don’t only practice listening to what you consider important conversations. Do it with even the most seemingly inconsequential ones. As caregivers, the ability to fully listen to those we care for cannot be underestimated.
Being Thoughtful About Your Breathing
Your breath is always with you. Breathing is a natural process of living. Breathing is your anchor to the present. As the Buddhist monk, Thick Nhat Hanh has said: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky, Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Noting and monitoring your breathing is a way of calming monkey mind. With the breath, you become centered. The agitation of the moment can be reduced by concentrating on the inward and outward flow of your breathing. You can practice breathing while meditating. As you progress, start to practice when you are alone at lunch or waiting to face a challenging caregiving situation. Ultimately, you will be able to use your breath while in actual real-life situations to calm and focus yourself.
Turning Repetitive Tasks into Something Memorable
Many of the things we do in life become mindless habits. Even driving is something we think little about. Taking the time to be mindful of your everyday tasks, say brushing your teeth, allows you to quiet your mind. By focusing on what you are doing, you can reduce the negatives of the monkey mind and the worries of past, present, and future.
Focusing on what you are doing prevents too much wandering from taking place.
Noticing Something New Everyday
Every day is different. By stepping back and being mindful and non-judgmental of what’s happening around you, even the mundane things of your life can teach you something new. You can see your relationships with those you care for in a new light. This can open new vistas that would never have been imagined.
By looking a little closer and focusing on what is in front of you, you may come to see what was once hidden. For caregivers, this is an invaluable tool.
Final Thoughts
Mindfulness is a valuable personal tool for caregivers. Regular practice enhances mental clarity and focus, deepens emotional stability, as well as heightening the capacity to deal with the stresses endemic to caregiving.
Mindfulness can be effective as a sitting meditation or as regularly practiced during our daily activities. Taking the time during the day to follow your breath, become aware of your feelings, your reactions to situations, actively listening, and remaining attentive to your tasks can deepen your capacity to serve and be happy. It’s a bulwark against the threat of burnout, emotional distancing, and overall distress.
As you practice mindfulness, you will notice these changes manifesting over time. The more mindful you become the more you and your situation may be transformed.
Here are some resources to help you get started and sustaining your mindfulness practice:

Beginner’s Guide To Mindfulness
What Mindfulness Can Do For You
Oxford Mindfulness Centre

How To Train Your Monkey Mind
Dr. Robert M. Oliva is a New York State licensed Master Social Worker, a traditional Naturopath, a certified Holistic Health Practitioner and a health and fitness writer. He is a member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the National Association of Social Workers. Dr. Oliva is a former Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College (CUNY). He can be contacted at:

Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver Burnout

By Karen Bromberg
What is it and how does it differ from caregiver stress?
I’m so glad you asked.
Caregivers experience stress, that’s a given. It’s like getting sunburnt if you sit out in the sun too long without sunscreen; it’s like getting wet if you walk in the rain without an umbrella. You provide care to someone and you’re going to get stressed. It comes with the territory.
Just run a quick Google search and you’ll see just how prevalent it is. But wait, you may say, isn’t caregiver stress and caregiver burnout the same thing? I mean, I’m looking at my Google search results and they seem to use “caregiver stress” and “caregiver burnout” synonymously.
Well, they’re not. What do I mean? Let’s take a closer look.
Author Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out in a blog post entitled The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late on, “When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, you are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.”
But, you may be asking, when does stress cross over and become burn-out?
Short answer, it can be different for each person. It is when a loved one is being rushed yet again to the emergency room? Or when one’s mother or father move in and turn a once relatively quiet existence upside down? Perhaps it’s when the doctor gives the dreaded diagnosis after months of a loved one having this or that illness? It may be any one or none of those things.
So . . .
Could you be burnt out and not even know it?
Several weeks ago, I was preparing to do a Facebook Livestream. The topic? What else? Caregiver Burnout. I read a bunch of articles and blog posts. To my surprise, I found myself identifying with many of the symptoms: inability to function, detachment, overwhelm.
I was amazed. Truly, it was an eye-opener! I mean, I’d been accused of being detached. Imagine my surprise!
To be honest it made total sense. After all, my parents had died. I was busy at my job. I was trying to catch up with things, things that were important to me, things I let slide during my parents’ illnesses and death. In essence, I was trying to get my life back, all while still struggling with exhaustion.
I had no idea I was burnt out, but as Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. reminds us in her blog post, The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late in, “You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden ‘have burnout.’ Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it much harder to recognize.”
So what do I do if I find I’m burnt out?
Even if you think you might be burnt out, the first thing I would do is get checked out by a physician and/or mental health professional, if for no other reason than to get an outsider’s point of view. Now, you can go and talk to a friend, neighbor, or relative and ask him or her if they think you are burnt out but the benefit of being evaluated by a health professional is that the medical professional:

is objective,
can help to alleviate the symptoms and
can help to ultimately resolve the condition.

It’s so important to stay on top of caregiver burnout, I can’t stress it enough. If not for ourselves, then for the ones we care for.
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole notion of selfishness vs selflessness. I mean, it’s great when we act selflessly; putting others’ needs ahead of our own, not expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s great. I get it. We feel important. We feel essential. And the truth is, we are.
But there also comes a time when we have to take care of ourselves as well and, no it’s not selfish for us to do so. In fact, if we look at it another way, we can put it along with all the myriad of other selfless acts we perform every day. I mean, we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can stay healthy so that we can take care of our mother, father, spouse, etc. 
And no, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not if I take care of myself I can’t take care of my loved one. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. Getting a little rest, doing something else while your loved one is well cared for (possibly in respite care) can make all the difference.
So . . . while waiting for our appointment with our medical professional how about figuring out how much stress we’re under. I know. The answer is “lots,” but “lots” doesn’t really say a lot and the more specific we can be as to the areas of where our stress the more we’ll be able to get out of our appointment. 
In last week’s blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I addressed ways we can assess our stress levels. My suggestion would be to start there, then once done, bring that information with us and talk about it during our appointment. 
The other reason is that once we know what our stress level is, we can start taking steps toward dialing it back. 
How do we dial it back?  Below are a few ideas:

Perform relaxation techniques 

Deep breathing, meditation, deep relaxation are all really good methods for relaxing the body and mind.


Take a break 

For some this is tricky. What if you can’t leave the house? What if your loved one is demanding? What if he or she needs to be able to see you or gets upset if he or she can’t? What happens then? Well, you can still take a break. How about sitting in a chair, eyes closed, listening to beautiful music or if you can’t even do that, how about imagining yourself in a lovely garden, perhaps the beach or mountains. Our minds are such powerful instruments. If we can’t change our external environment, how about changing our internal ones. We can put out mind to work in the service of relaxing US.


Relaxing around the difficulties and challenges 

What I’m talking about here is a mind-shift. Okay, I can see you there, arms crossed, rolling your eyes but hear me out. What if, instead of tightening your bodies when your loved one says or does something irritating you take a deep breath instead? What if, instead of feeling that jab in the gut, that tightness in the shoulders, you shrug it off as nothing more than a thoughtless word? What if instead of wanting to scream when the doctor’s assistant tells you that the doctor is running two hours late, you simply accept it and let the anger simply wash over and out of you? What then? How much easier would your day be? I’m not saying that you should suppress or repress any emotion. That’s not it at all. And trust me what I’m saying isn’t easy (I’m still working on it) but what if instead of falling into old patterns of reacting, we choose a somewhat different way?


Find support

Talk to a friend, family member, someone that you trust and someone that you feel safe with. Remember, there are support groups: in your neighborhood, on the Internet, people who care, people who want to be there for you. Remember, when it comes to family caregiving, there can never be too much support.

Did you find the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver Stress

By Karen Bromberg
What is it?
Stress, as we know, is the body’s “fight or flight” response but as family caregivers how can we, even if we may want to, pick up and leave. We can’t. We know we can’t. Who’d take care of Mom (or Dad, or the spouse, or whomever)? After all, they can’t be left alone. 
Any of this sound familiar? 
It would be so much simpler if we could just get up leave or put up our dukes whenever we find ourselves in a stressful situation while caregiving, wouldn’t it? The getting up and leaving, that we can imagine doing. The putting up our dukes? Why, the picture is almost laughable.
We can’t do that, and we know it, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. We’re caregivers and these are our loved-one. We care for them . . . deeply . . . and want the best for them. That’s why we’ve sacrificed so much for them. (But is it really a sacrifice?)
Yeah, family caregiving can be SO complicated, can’t it? And exhausting. And stressful. It’s so stressful that it’s even a syndrome. Caregiver’s syndrome. I discovered that when I was preparing to do this blog post. I Googled “caregiver stress” and not only did I find numerous articles pertaining to the subject, but what I discovered stunned me. Did you know there’s such a thing as caregiver syndrome? You heard me right. Caregiver Syndrome. If you did, you’re one up on me.
An article on Wikipedia entitled Caregiver Stress describes what I’m sure many a family caregiver has experienced. It says, “Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress is a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent.[1] The term is often used by healthcare professionals, but it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
Why is this important to know?
Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us caregivers actually notice that we’re stressed? 
We go about our day, coping as best we can, trying to maintain our balance, trying to keep our cool. We have SO much on our plates that at times it feels as though it’s about to tip over, but we carry on. We’re smart. We’re capable and we know how to get the things done. That’s just who we are. 
So what do we do about it?
1. Try not to feel guilty
This is so important, and I know what you’re probably thinking “it’s easy for her to say that, sitting in her living room, writing this post.” And it’s true, it is easy for me to say it and just so hard to do it, but think about it, what has guilt ever given you besides more guilt? I mean, really, it’s not like guilt is empowering. It doesn’t provide any energy. In fact, quite the opposite. It actually makes us feel more tired. It doesn’t provide a positive outlook. Instead of helping us to see possibilities, all it does is provide us with a gloomy outlook. 
2. Assess your level of stress
How? There’s a variety of ways. Talk to a physician or mental health professional. Mentally go through your body and become aware of what muscles might be tight or tense. Notice if your jaw is clenched. Or if the back of your neck is stiff. Additionally, there are quizzes and scales (many scales and quizzes) easily found on the Internet. Simply do a quick Google search on the topic of “Caregiver Stress Assessment” or ”Caregiver Stress Assessment Tools.” You will see a whole list pop up. Some on this list are connected with Assisted Living or other facilities. Others aren’t. Feel free to choose one or two that speak to you. Think of it as a game. After all, as we’ve so often heard, “knowing is half the battle.”
3. Do things to dial back the stress
Okay, now you’re saying, “Sure. Right. Sounds good, but you don’t have my life.  If you did, you wouldn’t be saying that.” And that’s totally true. I don’t have your life and I have no idea of the specifics of what you go through day-to-day. Even so, (and I don’t want to sound judgmental IN THE SLIGHTEST) but I have to tell you there are things you can do NOW that’ll make you feel at least a little better, no matter how busy you are. I’ll be going over more specific techniques and ideas in upcoming posts but for now allow me to give you a few suggestions.
Accept help when it’s offered. This is no small thing. As caregivers, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. I know because not only have I’ve spoken to numerous family caregivers, it’s also what I experienced. We think that we’re the only ones who can take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, but that’s not entirely true. Accept the help where appropriate and realize that help may not come from where you expect it, (your brother or sister, for example). It may come from your neighbor down the block ringing your doorbell and asking if you need anything from the grocery store.
Make yourself a priority. As family caregivers, we are so good at putting ourselves last. Exercise? Me? Who has the energy? Cook a healthy meal? Who has the time? But we must take of ourselves (Okay, I see you there rolling your eyes), and I know it’s annoying to hear it, but it’s true. We must take the few, precious moments we can to make better choices for ourselves. Why? If for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than who’d care for our loved ones if something were to happen to us?
Get support. Let’s face it, family caregiving is one of the hardest jobs we’ll likely ever be called on to do and we can’t do it alone! My suggestion, my urging, is to find a group either in your neighborhood or, if you can’t leave the house, online that’ll offer you the support you need. Find a place where you can vent, where you can share, where you can get resources and tips to make your journey that much easier. There are tons on Facebook. Find one (or two or three) that meet your needs. Feel free hang out and not say anything if you choose. You’re not required to share but also don’t be afraid to. Remember, people want to listen, they want to help, and they want to be there for you, even if it’s virtually.
Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at