I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again . . . caregiving is hard.
But you didn’t need me to tell you that. You already know. You’re the expert. You live it. 24/7.
And let’s be honest, even if your caregiving fairy godmother suddenly, magically appeared in your living room and
told you that with a wave of her wand you’d be relieved of all you caregiving duty, likely you wouldn’t accept it. After all, this is your mother, your father, a sibling or a spouse, that we’re talking about.
It’s the very person you love so dearly, which is why being a family caregiver is just SO challenging. But yet, you do it because you have to because you wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t, even when your loved one is speaking hurtfully to you, even when he/she is insulting you.
But all of it – the daily grind: the running to appointments, the checking in, the fighting with insurance companies – all of it is takes a toll physically, mentally and spiritually. You feel it. You’re not just tired, you’re exhausted. You’re not just stressed, you’re overwhelmed, sometimes so much that you feel overtaken and submerged in the deluge that is your caregiver’s life.
You find yourself:
no longer sleeping at night the way you used to.
dragging around all day, feeling spent and done-in.
irritable and anxious.
with an appetite that’s either gone completely or ever present
It’s what happened to me and as a result, I was worn out, sick, and thirty-five pounds heavier!
It wasn’t until a year after my parents’ passed that I started using essential oils on a regular basis.
Oh, I knew about essential oils, knew about them for years. As a yoga instructor for many years, how could I not? I’d even buy some on occasion: lavender to put in my bath, peppermint or clove because I liked the scents.
It wasn’t until I decided to put essential oil on the helpyouthru.com website (my thinking being, “caregivers-relaxing essential oils — a match made in heaven”) that I started using them in earnest. After all, if I was going to have them on my website, I had to try them out first.
Now, I should say that at the time this was happening I wasn’t doing well. As many of you already know, my parents passed in late 2016 and even fourteen to fifteen months later, I was still feeling the effects, among them being:
depressed and nervous (never realized one can be nervous while in mourning),
achy, so much so that it felt like every muscle in my body was sore,
and an unhealthy appetite that caused me to put on an additional ten pounds.
So, I began using the essential oils. This was toward the end of February 2018. By mid-March of that same year (a few short weeks later), I was feeling better. Not all better, but better enough that I could see the difference.
I had more energy.
I felt less anxious.
I had fewer aches in my body and if those were great enough,
I started feeling like myself again! That was the best part
I’m telling you — how grateful was I with the change I experienced once I started using the oils! If only I’d known, I’d have used them sooner!
You might be asking yourself, why I’m sharing this?
The reason is simple — I want you to be aware of a very powerful tool you can use to help make your caregiving life more easeful. So, if:
you’re not sleeping the way you want or need to,
you’re dragging around all day, feeling exhausted,
you’re irritable and anxious,
you see yourself pushing your plate away, the mere thought of food making your stomach feel like there were a rock in it, only to come back a few hours later to devour the contents of your refrigerator,
you see your bathroom scale forever inching upward because of your unhealthy eating habits and/or your non-existent exercise routines, then essential oils could be something you’d want in your self-care/caregiving toolbox.
Now, let me be totally clear here, essential oils aren’t going to take caregiving tasks off your plate.
They aren’t going to drive Dad to his doctor’s appointment and they aren’t going to call Mom’s insurance company and fight for her benefits.
As the primary caregiver, those are still tasks that need to be done. The difference is that you’ll feel more balanced, calmer and more grounded doing them. Not only that, you’ll be able to get the rest you need and you’ll feel healthier so when those ups and downs all caregivers experience come along, you’re better able to handle them.
I so appreciate the effect these precious oils have had on my life. My only regret is that I didn’t know about them sooner – these all-natural, plant-based, amazing smelling oils, these little beauties have helped me so much.
And they so work fast which is really great news for all us family and former family caregivers!
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC an on-line resource devoted to stressed out, overwhelmed family caregivers. Please visit www.helpyouthru.com. If you’d like to learn more about essential oils and how they can help you navigate your caregiving journey, please feel free to contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Since February, she has become a Wellness Advocate for DoTERRA and is more than happy to share how essential oils can help you in your caregiving journey.
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.
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.
Hackspirit.com 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.
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.
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:
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: email@example.com.
By Karen Bromberg
Take a moment. I’d like you to think back to when you were a child. Hanging out with your friends. Riding your bike. Skating. Going to school. Doing homework. Relaxing at the beach during the summer.
In memory, everything seemed so easy and straightforward.
We knew what we had to do and what we weren’t allowed. We knew what was right and what was wrong was wrong and never the twain shall meet.
Dads went to work. Moms stayed home. Communities were more closely knit. Grandparents (sometimes great-grandparents) lived nearby and when they could no longer take care of themselves, they’d invariably move in with us.
It was hardly unusual for generations to live together. On my block alone, there were three houses that were multi-generational, mine being one.
Back then families “took care of their own.” Grandma and/or grandpa would get their own room, extra places would be set at the dinner table and life would go on as before. We kids may have gotten yelled at by either Mom or Dad, “kids, kids,” they say in a hushed scream, “grandma (and/or grandpa) is trying to rest” but that was about it.
Oh, there may have been a bump or two, a raised voice here or there, but for the most part, things seemed to flow. No muss. No fuss. Grandma (or Grandpa) just seemed to fold into the family.
Assisted Living facilities didn’t exist and nursing homes were places that no self-respecting son or daughter would ever relegate their parent(s) to.
There were no such things as blogs (heck, there wasn’t even an Internet back then, hard to believe!) or articles in magazines sporting titles such as “Five Relaxation Tips For Overwhelmed Caregivers” or “Ten Strategies For Overwhelmed Caregivers.”
From our vantage point as children, family caregiving seemed like the most natural thing in the world and from what we saw from our parents, caregiving was a family matter. Period.
Fast forward to 2018
Things are different . . . sizably different. The biggest difference, of course, is that now we are the adults. The problems we were once sheltered from are now the very things we’re dealing with and the issues we were protected from by our parents are now what we are protecting our children from.
But that’s not the only difference.
What was true and accepted when we were kids isn’t so much anymore. Men aren’t the sole breadwinners and women’s roles have expanded to include professions unheard of in our mother’s day: doctors, lawyers, managers, even astronauts.
According to a 2017 blog from U.S. Department of Labor,
- “Seventy percentof mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time.
- Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percentof households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.”
Which mean that almost half the women working outside the home today aren’t do it for personal satisfaction, but for economic survival.
According to the same blog post, 45% of women are marketing and sales managers and 27% are chief executives, indicating again, what we already know, that women in this generation don’t just have jobs, they have careers and are not just working but are in positions of leadership.
That said, in Caregiving In The U.S., a 2015 report by AARP, ”The majority of caregivers are female (60%).” Roughly translated – family caregiving still defaults mostly to women even as women are more and more in the workplace (and in positions of power).
A generation ago, when grandma or grandpa needed someone to go with them to the doctor, for example, it would be no problem. If Mom worked, she’d simply call her boss and tell him that she needed the day off. It’s what my mother did when my grandmother had to go to the doctor. And no, the boss wasn’t happy about it but . . .
So what now?
It’s clear that the rules have changed. What worked for our mothers and grandmothers simply isn’t going to work for us. Not because we’re bad people and not because we’re selfish or uncaring. It’s simply because things have changed.
The problem, as I see it, is that while societal expectations and responsibilities have altered, the way we approach caregiving (the prism by which we view it) really hasn’t.
We remember the way our mothers approached it and try to do it the same way. For many of us, family caregiving is still considered a private matter. Oh, we may discuss, even complain about it, outside the family, but we still look for solutions within the family, turning to siblings or other relatives for help and guidance even though we know we’re likely not going to get it.
So, the question becomes how do we do this thing called caregiving in a way that honors who we are now, in this generation.
The first thing I think we need to do is not blame anyone. Not our sibling that won’t pitch in. Not the uncle who likes to tell us what we’re doing wrong. While they may infuriate us, we have to remember that they are as scared as we are and are doing the best they can even though from our perspective what they are offering is so incredibly not.
The second thing I think we have to focus on is how we’re going to find ways (save, sane and healthy ways) to care for our loved ones while still tending to all the things we have to tend to. It’s going to take creativity, patience, honesty and yes, even a little humor to find the answers that will meet our needs. But I have confidence that we will find them.
For some, it’ll mean that their loved one will stay in their own homes and be monitored by a visiting nurse. Maybe they’ll have a homecare attendant during the day or maybe as a live-in.
For others, assisted living or nursing home might be the best option. And I know that there’s a stigma about this whole idea of adult children placing their elderly parents into such facilities. I know it because I was on the receiving end of it when it was time for my parents to go into assisted living.
People seemed to feel so comfortable saying things. Hurtful things. Things that made me feel guilty. And even if they didn’t say anything, I could feel their disapproval. It wasn’t helpful. To be honest, it only made a difficult situation worse.
So, I’m actually the last person who will ever tell anyone what I think they should do. I do, however, think it’s important to shine a light on options.
While I wouldn’t say that it’s the norm to have elderly parents or grandparents living in assisted living, I will say it’s far more common and getting more common all the time. According to an article on American Senior Communities’ website, “Currently, around one million Americans live in some type of senior living community, and that number is expected to double by the year 2030.”
Thanks to the reforms in the 80s, nursing homes have gotten sizably better. That said, not all are good and family caregivers would do well to be vigilant to make sure that their loved ones are being properly cared for.
I was fortunate. The nursing home my parents were in was quite nice. It wasn’t perfect but my parents were well cared for.
While not all nursing homes are as good as the one my parents were in, we have to remember that they have to adhere to certain guidelines or risk penalty. Of course, with the easing of fines (NY Times 12/24/2017) we’re going to have to see how all this shakes out. My advice is for family caregivers to be extra special vigilant. Drop in when the staff is not expecting you. Enlist other family members and friends to visit. Get their opinion of how things are going.
It’s especially important because we are so busy as caregivers, employees, spouses, and parents, that we reach out to others (friends, a clergy person, a counselor, therapist or any other professional working with family caregivers) even before we feel like it’s getting too much. That way we can prevent that overwhelming feeling and avoid the risk of burnout.
It can be so helpful and healing to speak to someone who actually understands what it’s like and who knows what it’s like. And it could end being that they’ll have a simple solution to a problem you’re having but, because you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see.
We also have to allow ourselves the “luxury” of not being perfect and understand that because of the ways society has changed, no matter how much we may want to, we simply can’t be the way we remember our mothers being.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone 929-276-2109. Want to get more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier, simply fill out the form below and join our mailing list.