5 Ways to get into the Zen of Caregiving

purity of the zen massageI have caregiver burnout. I cared for my husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease, for 10 years. Before that I flew back and forth from Colorado to Florida whenever one of my parents had a health crisis (which was frequent). My daughter just had a baby, and I’d love to be there for her, but my mother has pneumonia and congestive heart failure. I am torn between helping my daughter and her beautiful, young family, and my elderly failing mother. I am flying to Florida for a few days and then back to Colorado. And I will probably be doing this again in the coming month. I tell myself, “you need to take care of yourself. You need to keep your head above water.” Easier said than done. But I learned a lot during the course of my husband’s illness. I know how important it is to meditate, do yoga, dance and eat and sleep well.

Caregiving is a huge challenge, and it’s very easy to let the responsibility of caring for an ill friend or relative become a yoke around one’s neck. But with practice and mindfulness it can turn into a spiritual practice. How?

  1. When you wake up in the morning let your first thought be, “I’m going to have a great day. It will be filled with joy and laughter, and I will maintain equanimity.” Be grateful for your ability to see, hear, walk, and serve your loved one. Other affirmations that you might like: I will remain calm and present throughout the day. I welcome peace, trust, and acceptance into my life. I’m feeling strong and healthy today. I am a kind, compassionate caregiver.
  2. Instead of reacting with anxiety or impatience to a stressful situation or annoying behavior such as constant complaining, asking the same question repeatedly, pacing up and down the hall, stop and breathe. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Do it again, and again. Now stop and ask yourself how you feel? Not too bad. Stretch your arms straight up towards the ceiling. Lower them and do it again, one at a time. Roll your head gently to the right and then to the left, and then slowly in a circle. Look to your right, center and then to the left. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly. Feel your body relax.
  3. Focus on the present. Instead of worrying about taking your loved one to a doctor’s appointment and anticipating how he or she will react or what news you will hear, put your attention on something beautiful—inside your home or out the window. If the sky is blue, appreciate its beauty. Listen to the birds singing and appreciate the miracle of their song. Look at a painting on the wall and really look at the colors, the brush strokes, and the image. Imagine the spark that inspired the artist during the creative process, and let it inspire you to get through the day while maintaining a positive outlook.
  4. Light a candle and have your care partner sit down next to you. Enjoy the glow, letting it calm your nerves. Match your breathing to your care partner’s and find your peace.
  5. Keep a journal. It’s a wonderful, easy way to get your concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams out without relying on your therapist or best friend. Use a writing prompt to get you going such as “I never thought. . . . It’s so hard to . .. “I’ll always remember . . .

These are just a few things that can ease the stress of caregiving. Have courage; find strength from the simple things.

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