Gifts Of the Season

We’ve talked a lot on the blog about the challenges caregivers face during the holiday season: the pressure to meet expectations from family members, the struggles of including your loved one in traditions, and the grief that can wash over you when you realize that the holidays look quite different from what they once were. The beginning of January can be a time of reflection and anticipation for the coming year, and it’s important to recognise all of the beauty in your life as well as the challenges.

This is an invitation to look back on what may have been a challenging holiday season and instead of focusing on what you overcame, acknowledge the moments that made you smile or feel peaceful. Perhaps your family found a creative way of including your spouse or parent in family traditions, or you were able to connect with your loved one by talking about memories from past holidays. Maybe you shared a nourishing meal with friends or had the chance to see the joy experienced by children at the end of December.

Take some time over the next few days to sit down and make a list: what made you smile over the holidays? What nurtured you? After writing your list, reflect on how you feel now, and how you might be able to acknowledge the moments of beauty that inevitably pop up in the coming year.

What were some cherished moments from your holiday season? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.

Cassandra Van Dyck

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Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC): Frustration

Today we’re introducing a new series on the North Van Caregivers blog: Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC). We created this series in hopes of supporting unpaid family caregivers through the triggering emotions that often come up on the caregiving journey. These posts should help you to identify the difficult emotions you’re experiencing and give you some tools to work through them quickly. You can print off the image or save it to your phone for easy reference.

Please remember to seek support if you’re noticing the same emotions coming up over and over again, either from a network group or a professional counsellor or therapist. Extra support is often needed and helpful when you’re finding yourself stuck or suffering. 

EFAC 2

What other emotions would you like us to cover? Please let us know in our comments!

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

Fresh Starts

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Am I the only one who feels a greater need to hit “reset” in September than in January? The change in seasons seems to come abruptly, as leaves fall and September’s breeze chills. Children go back to school, and it seems like everyone settles in for the colder months, leaving behind the whimsy of summer. For me, this feels like the time to reflect, reset, and get organized. Although this can be a physical task – cleaning and rearranging rooms and purging belongings that no longer serve me, it can also be a deeply emotional one. I find myself reflecting on relationships that nourish me deeply, and others that leave me drained. I look at the ways that I’m treating myself well, and also how I’m not. I ask myself what I can change to ensure I’m taking better care of myself, so in turn I can care for and be present with my loved ones.

Fresh starts, for me, are not about drastically changing my life or setting (often unrealistic) goals. When I feel the need to make changes in my life, I first ask myself the following, very important, question:

Am I being kind to myself?

Goals or changes that are not kind often stem from shame. For example, wanting to lose weight because you feel like you’re unattractive, or hoping to never miss an important event with your care partner because you think you’re unreliable. Ask yourself if the goal feels like a punishment, or a reward, and proceed from there. If the shift feels like a punishment, this reflection might encourage you to get some support for what you’re going through, which can help shift your perspective.

If you need some more ideas for how to get the fresh start you’re craving, read these previous blog posts:

Re-Discovering Gentleness

Setting Intentions

Exploring Hope

Do you find ways to reset in September? How does it impact your caregiving role? We’d love to hear from you in our comments. 

Cassandra Van Dyck

An Invitation to Surrender

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“Sweet surrender, is all that I have to give.” – Sarah McLachlan

Have you ever resisted feeling an uncomfortable emotion, like sadness? How did that feel – in your throat, your limbs, your heart?

Have you ever felt sadness, and then just really let yourself cry? How did you feel then?

Surrendering to emotions or situations that you had not anticipated or hoped for can feel impossible at times, but it’s often just what you need. Accepting and allowing yourself to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings that can come with the caregiving journey will enable you to work through your feelings in a much gentler way.

When you first realized you were a caregiver, you might have felt any number of difficult emotions: frustrated, angry, sad, and even resentful. These are common emotions for caregivers to feel when you’re experiencing high levels of stress and a drastic shift in your way of living. It’s important to get support for these feelings and work through them. Surrendering is not meant to flippantly wish away these feelings or an ending. It is a state of being where you admit that you cannot go on the way you are, so you must do things differently.

“Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, encounters a situation that rocks the foundation of who we are and what we think we can bear—is past our limits if you will.  Sometimes it’s a situation we’ve been living with for a long time and sometimes it’s a sudden event that overwhelms us and for which our usual coping strategies are useless. While the content may differ, what these experiences share is the power to bring us to our knees, figuratively and often literally as well. And, the power to change us.” – Nancy Colier

This is not a “how-to” post. It is an invitation to experience what it’s like to relinquish control and sink in to the present moment. It is a mindfulness experiment – not a set of a steps to follow.

Take some time for yourself in the next little while and try this guided meditation. Find a comfortable place to lie down, close your eyes, and listen.

Have you had moments of surrender in your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

What if…? How to Overcome Anticipatory Anxiety.

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“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson

On your caregiving journey, you will need to make an incredible amount of decisions, and you will be faced with many questions. There will be decisions about your loved one’s treatment plans, questions about their living situations, and decisions about end-of-life care. You will also be faced with questions about what you can manage, such as accessing respite for your loved one or involving another family member or professional in their care. These decisions and questions, though often hard to make, are manageable with the right support and consideration. The question that is hardest is one that every caregiver will ask themselves at some point, and it is unanswerable. “What if…?”

What if my husband get sick while he’s in staying overnight in a respite facility?

What if the treatment plan doesn’t work?

What if my wife is in pain and I can’t help?

What if my mother is unhappy in assisted living?

What if my father can’t remember my name?

These are the questions that keep us awake at night. They make our palms sweaty and our hearts race and they make tears come to our eyes. It can be terrifying to think of all the tough things that could happen.

“Anticipatory anxiety is the anxiety we experience with the initial thought and anticipation of doing something,” explains Lucinda Bassett.* In other words, we are looking forward, the same way we are when we need to make plans or decisions, but we are anticipating something bad happening. We are scared of what could happen in the future and we are worried about losing control. “The truth is that the actual situation is never as bad or as anxiety-producing as the anticipation,” says Bassett. “Nothing is ever as bad as you expect it will be. The anticipation is most often the worst part.”

 

Ground

The first thing to do when you’re experiencing anticipatory anxiety is to ground yourself in the present moment. “Your fears are all about losing control. If you want to stay in control, stay in the present instead of projecting into the future,” advises Bassett.

Interrupt the “what if” questions with others about the present moment.

Who is here with me?

What am I touching?

What do I smell?

What do I see?

What do I feel?

 

Worst Case Scenarios

It may seem counter productive, but sometimes when you’re anxious, taking yourself through a worst case scenario can be what helps you to overcome your worry. Let’s use the first “what if” question we talked about as an example.

What if my husband get sick while he’s in staying overnight in a respite facility?

If your husband gets sick while he’s staying overnight in a respite facility, what would happen? 

Would the staff have the skills and resources they need to take care of him?

Would another family member or friend come to be with your husband?

Would you be able to speak to your husband on the phone if he needed someone to talk to?

Asking ourselves these questions helps to break down the worries and figure out what we can prepare for, and what we cannot.

 

Best Case Scenarios

Once you’re feeling grounded, an exercise that can be helpful to deal with those nagging “what if” scenarios is to flip them around. Ask yourself the same question you did earlier, but finish the question with a positive possibility. For example…

What if my husband discovers an effective therapeutic treatment while in respite care?

What if the treatment plan helps with my friend’s mobility issues?

What if my wife is in pain and I have the tools I need to support her?

What if my mother makes some new friends in assisted living?

What if my father and I develop new ways of connecting?

 

Try out these three methods for stopping anticipatory anxiety, and remember to connect with a counsellor, therapist, or a trusted friend or family member to work through your concerns and worries. You are not alone on your caregiving journey.

Cassandra

 

*Linda Bassett is the author of, “From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You In Control of Your Life.”

When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful

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When you are in the throes of your caregiving journey and stress is at an all-time high, it can feel impossible to express or feel gratitude. A lack of sleep, nourishing food, and self-care can wreak havoc on your nervous system. You might feel like there’s a dark cloud hanging over your days that’s hard to get out from.

When someone close to your heart is struggling, it can feel very uncomfortable to give yourself permission to feel gratitude. You might think, “How can I be happy when this person I care about so much is not?” Although it’s challenging, being able to tap in to gratitude, even if it is for the smallest joys in your days, is crucial if to maintaining a sense of well-being. Gratitude allows you to be present in whatever moment you’re in. It can give you strength, and even hope.

Remember that you do not have to have a complicated gratitude practice, and that you do not have to be grateful for everything. Life is not perfect, and bad things do happen. It’s okay to be upset about them and to know that you can safely express those feelings. Feeling and expressing gratitude is not about trampling out the not so great emotions, it’s about bringing your attention to the good things that may not be so apparent when you’re struggling.

If you’re struggling to feel gratitude, start with the smallest thing possible that made even the slightest difference to your day. Here are a few ideas:

a warm mug of coffee or tea first thing in the morning

a glass of cool water when you’re on a hot day

stepping in to a hot shower 

the person who held the door for you and your loved one the other day

putting on pyjamas when they’ve just come out of the dryer

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They are just small things, but when you start to pay attention to their occurrences, they become powerful.

Try writing down three things you’re grateful for in the morning, and three things at night before going to sleep. Continue this practice for just one week, and see what sort of difference it makes in your mood.

Please remember that if you’re continuing to struggle and feel like you can’t pull yourself out, reach out to a professional for help. The caregiving journey can be a hard one, and support can make all the difference. 

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

 

 

How to Work through Worries

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If you are an unpaid family caregiver, you will worry. You will worry about your loved one’s health and your ability to cope with life’s curve balls that will most certainly come your way. You’ll worry about signs and symptoms that don’t yet have names, about doctor’s appointments and surgeries and moves. Worrying is a part of the caregiving journey. Sometimes it can even be helpful! Feeling worry can push you to create game plans for tough situations or to find more resources and information to support yourself and your loved one. The trouble, of course, is when worry dominates your thoughts. You might find that you’re having trouble sleeping, that you’re forgetting things more often than not, or that you’re having a hard time being present because you’re constantly thinking about what is or could go wrong. Worrying will be a part of your caregiving journey, but it does not have to consume you. Read on for some ways to work through this difficult emotion.

GO FOR A WALK | If a wave of worry has washed over you and you can’t shake it, go for a walk. When worry takes over, it can be hard to think clearly. Relaxing your nervous system will help you to regulate your emotions and get some perspective.

PRACTICE PMR | Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an amazing way to focus your mind on your body instead of your thoughts. Read this post for the how-to!

CONNECT | Have you noticed that this advice is in every post on difficult emotions? Talking about your emotions is one of the fastest ways to work through difficulties. When we’re alone with our thoughts, they can swirl around our heads and leave us feeling stuck. Talking to a therapist or fellow caregiver can help you to get perspective on your worries, and perhaps give you some tools to tackle them.

POSTPONE WORRYING | Realizing that you can control when you feel worried can be incredibly empowering. The next time you start to feel worried about something, tell yourself that you will address the worry in your next “worry time.” The key to making this work is to schedule a time for worrying, and to have a practice in place to help you work through the concerns. Journaling for 20 minutes before you go to bed, talking to a therapist or counsellor at a weekly or monthly appointment, or writing a list after you eat your lunch can help you to designate an appropriate time to work through your concerns, allowing you to be more present with your loved one.

CREATE DISTINCTION: SOLVABLE/UNSOLVABLE WORRIES | If your worry is solvable, you should be able to take action right away. For example, if you are planning a vacation with your family and you’re worried about what will happen to your parent while you’re away, you can take action to find them respite care overnight if they need it, or look in to grocery delivery services, house cleaning, etc. If your worry is unsolvable, there will be no corresponding action. These are worries that you might feel if you’re worried about how your husband’s cancer will progress, or if their forgetful symptoms will result in a dementia diagnosis. “Worrying is often a way we try to predict what the future has in store-a way to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable,” says Lawrence Robinson. “To stop worrying, tackle your need for certainty and immediate answers.”

How do you cope with worry? We’d love to learn from you in our comments. 

 

Cassandra Van Dyck