Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Caregiving: An Attitude of Gratitude
Caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. Caregiving can also be an emotional roller coaster. Family caregivers are at increased risk for excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and for depression. You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or injury on someone for whom you care. But, there is a great deal that you can do to for your own well-being. Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for yourself. Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, with taking care of others an easier option. However, as a family caregiver, you should ask yourself, “What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill?” Breaking old patterns is not an easy proposition, but it can be done. The first task in removing personal barriers is to identify what is in the way. For example, Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient’s affection? Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first? Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about? Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help? Why? Sometimes caregivers have misconceptions that increase their stress and get in the way of taking good care of themselves. Here are some of the most commonly expressed: I am responsible for my parent’s or loved one’s health. If I don’t do it, no one will. If I do it right, I will get love, attention and the respect I deserve. Because we base our behavior on our beliefs and attitudes, misconceptions like those noted above can cause caregivers to continually attempt to do what cannot be done and to try to control what cannot be controlled. Once you’ve started to identify personal barriers to your self-care, you can begin moving forward one small step at a time. How we perceive and respond to an event is significant in how we adjust and cope with it. The stress you feel is not only the result of your caregiving situation, but also the result of your perception of it – whether you see the glass as half-full or half-empty. It is important to remember that you are not alone in your experiences. Your level of stress is influenced by many factors, including: Whether your caregiving is voluntary. If you feel you have no choice in taking on the responsibilities, the chances are greater that you will experience strain, distress and resentment. Your relationship with the care recipient. Sometimes people care for another with the hope of healing the relationship. If healing does not occur, you may feel regret and discouragement. Your coping abilities. How you coped with stress in the past predicts how you will cope now. Identify your current coping strengths so that you can build on them. Your caregiving situation. Some caregiving situations are more stressful than others. For example, caring for a person with dementia is often more stressful than caring for someone with a physical ailment. Whether support is available. Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your own needs when you are a caregiver – it’s an important part of the job. And, current research is finding that taking care of tired caregivers could be as important as providing care for their care-recipients. Simply listing what you, as a spousal caregiver, are grateful for can provide you with the much-needed "tender loving care" that you are providing for your spouse -- and that you are typically not receiving from any other source. So the question that I have for you is: "How is your 'attitude of gratitude'?" As we all know, we are often stressed out by the various caregiving activities we perform for our spouses. The lead professor associated with the study theorized that something as simple as writing about gratitude will help relieve that stress. Specifically, in order to show the link between gratitude and health, researchers are analyzing just how gratefulness impacts the lives of men and women who care for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. "Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease is a prime example of unlimited love. There is a lot of sacrifice involved, a lot of cost, and no reward" the lead researcher said. While her research is focused on Alzheimer's caregivers, the results of that research can be extrapolated to all caregivers - especially spousal caregivers. In order to better understand how to help caregivers, half of the research group fill out "gratitude journals" in which the participants listed what they were grateful for each day. The other half of the research group filled out "hardship journals" in which the participants listed the hardships incurred each day. Both groups wrote in their journals for two weeks. Researchers theorize that those who completed the gratitude journals will have increases in their respective psychological well-being, general health, and life satisfaction. Previous research with college students found that gratitude had improved their physical and cognitive health. Since caregivers are dealing with much more serious issues, an emphasis on gratitude could conceivably help them cope with their daily problems more effectively. I have a GREAT "attitude of gratitude" -- how about you? It really does help get through challenging days as a caregiver.