When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful

christopher-campbell-37569-unsplash

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

spring flowers

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

 

 

Advertisements

How to Work through Worries

discussion-2822066_640

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

A Mindful Path to Resilience

mountain-maple-3340499_640

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back quickly from hardships. You might know some people who seem to be more resilient than others. When their loved one fell ill, they brainstormed ways to get them support. They stayed positive and found ways to laugh with their spouse. Other people in your life might come to mind that seem to have less resilience. Their care partner’s diagnosis made them anxious or depressed, and they disconnected from social activities. Maybe you’ve noticed that these people have a demonstrated a pattern of how they respond to adversity. Although a person’s ability to respond with resilience may be predictable, it is not something that someone simply “has” or “does not have.” Resilience can be developed, and it can falter.

One of the best ways to build resilience or to recover from adversity it to practice mindfulness. “A recent study highlighting the link between mindfulness and resilience found that: “Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally).” Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting stuck in our story and as a result empower us to move forward,” says Carly Hauck. “Most of life’s stressors are subjective and with mindfulness (seeing things as they are in this present moment), we have the ability to respond with wisdom vs. react in a harmful way.”

If you already have a mindfulness practice…

 …you might find that it goes out the window when you’re faced with difficult occurrences in life. Your mind might feel flooded with fear and sadness and you could feel lost. Responding to hardship with resilience does not have to be a simultaneous occurrence. If you have recently been given some hard-to-handle news, give yourself some time to grieve and process. When you feel that enough time has passed, return to your mindfulness practice. Set a time in stone for meditation or a walk. Put distractions away while you’re walking to your car or the bus stop so you can connect with your surroundings. Reach out to a mindfulness or meditation group and attend weekly or monthly meetings. You have the tools available to you, so now it’s time to use them.

If you have never practiced mindfulness…

…it’s okay! The amazing thing about mindfulness is that you do not have to study for months or years to access its benefits. You can start right now, where you are, with what you have. Are you ready to try? Carly Hauck shares a meditation for tapping in to mindfulness to build resilience.

Come into a comfortable and supported seated posture. Begin to bring your awareness inside and slow down the rhythm of your breathing. Acknowledge any event that happened today or this week that was difficult. Select a moderately difficult experience. It is important that we practice with something moderately challenging vs. the most challenging. Bring your awareness to what happened, thoughts, feelings, and let your heart begin to open as you breathe in and out. Turn towards the moderate difficulty with compassion and acceptance.

Repeat these phrases in whatever order or frequency that feels comfortable to you.

May I be kind to myself.
May I find peace and healing.
I am doing the best that I can in this moment.
May I accept and find ease with things just as they are.

Often, when life is difficult, we can be overly critical and hard on ourselves, but compassion, not criticism, facilitates greater resiliency at home and work. […]

With compassion, we can turn toward the difficult thoughts and emotions and then get back on track with our next wise move.

Remember our three ways to build resilience that we wrote about in October: cry, connect, and practice self-care. That second tip is especially important. Call a trusted friend or family member, a counsellor or therapist, or come to a caregiver Network Group.

What have you done to build resilience? We’d love to hear and learn from you. 

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

 

How to Work through Shame

fear-299679_640We recently talked about the ways that guilt can either provoke you to make changes in your life, or manifest as stress if not addressed. Guilt, while challenging to process, can be a motivating tool. Shame, on the other hand, is a different monster.

I used to think of shame and guilt as interchangeable terms, but they’re really quite different. The easiest way the difference has been explained to me is as follows:

Guilt is when you think you’ve done something bad.

Shame is when you think you are bad.

When an emotion is separate from our identity, it can be easier to experience and work through. For example, when we feel sad over the loss of someone we love, though the pain may be immense, we don’t often think that we are a “sad person” because of the grief we’re experiencing. Shame is different. It can wash over us, putting a shadow on everything we do or say. Shame can make it hard to enjoy the things we used to enjoy and make us doubt our every action. Making decisions from this place can feel impossible because shame can make us feel like we’re doing everything wrong. Shame traps us in what can feel like an endless loop of self-loathing. Shame can feel like an endless loop of self-loathing because the pressure of it on our being prevents us from doing what we really need to do to feel better: it stops us from reaching out.

“Empathy is the antidote to shame. Vulnerability is going to be that path.” – Brene Brown

Consider this your invitation to get a little vulnerable. I know, it’s scary. It’s really scary. Remember to practice self-compassion. If you’re experiencing shame, know that you are not alone. It is not who you are. It is time to reach out and get some support for what you’re going through, so it does not manifest in to other issues, such as depression or anxiety. Maybe there’s someone in your life that you feel entirely safe with that would be a good person to speak with. If not, or if you would click to speak with someone entirely unbiased, reach out to a counsellor or therapist. Speaking with someone about what you’re experiencing, though it can be hard, will help you to work through what you’re holding on to so you can start tapping in to your self-compassion.

If finances are a barrier for you to get support, there are options available. Caregiver support programs are a great place to start, but there are also groups and counsellors covered by the medical services plan available. If you live on the North Shore, try The Hope Centre or Family Services North Shore.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

How to Deal With Guilt

rui-silvestre-429989-unsplash

We’ve all experienced guilt at one time or another; when we’ve said something we wish we hadn’t, when we’ve neglected a person or task that needed our attention, or maybe even when we let forgotten food go bad in the fridge. Guilt is an emotion often felt when there is a negative, or perceived to be negative, consequence for an action. Caregivers often feel guilt for a lot of reasons, but in great part the feeling stems from not being able to do everything they feel they should, or not help their loved one in ways they want to be able to. Psychology Today describes five causes for guilt: guilt for something you did, guilt for something you didn’t do, but want to, guilt for something you think you did, guilt that you didn’t do enough to help someone, and guilt that you’re doing better than someone else. As you can imagine, caregivers will be effected by lots of these causes! If guilt is used to change behaviours or situations, then it can be a useful motivator. If, however, you find yourself feeling guilty every day, or for things that you have no control over, it can become a very unhealthy emotion, often leading to frustration, anger, shame, and burnout.

So, how do you tackle guilt? The key is getting to the source of the emotion, and addressing that situation. This can be tricky to do when you’re experiencing guilt often, or if you’re particularly busy and overworked (which, let’s face it, you likely are if you’re a caregiver!). The first thing to do then, is to slow down. It doesn’t have to be permanently, and it doesn’t even have to be for day, but it’s important that you carve out some time to reflect on why you’re feeling the way that you are. Some people will be able to connect with themselves by writing in a journal, for others it will be a long walk or talking to a close friend or therapist. You might find it useful to tap in to your mindfulness or meditation practice to get as grounded as possible before taking a look at where you’re at.

When you’re feeling grounded, ask yourself the following questions:

Why am I feeling guilty? | Really look at why, and get to the root of it. Can you identify which of the following five causes of guilt you’re feeling? Doing so will allow you to answer the. next question.

Is there anything I can do to change this situation? |If, for example, you’re not able to spend as much time with your loved one as you’d like and it’s causing you to feel guilty, maybe it’s time to look in to getting some extra support. Sometimes, however, things are out of our control and we might find that our guilt is not prompting a need to change anything practical. If this is the case, it’s time to let that guilt go!

Am I getting the support and rest that I need? | When we’re always on the go, guilt can take over. It sounds counter intuitive, but sometimes doing more can cause more guilt than doing less. Consider this: when you’re constantly lacking in sleep and spending most of your days running from one place to the next, do you forget things? The answer is likely yes. The more you practice self-care, the more you’ll be able to be present with your loved one, and help yourself to avoid that pesky feeling of guilt.

Remember to reach out if you’re struggling with guilt and having a hard time shaking it, and be kind to yourself. It is a hard emotion to deal with, but there are ways to tackle it with the right support.

Can you sense a theme emerging on the blog? In the coming months, we’re going to be taking a close look at challenging emotions caregivers commonly experience. Are you struggling with a feeling you’d like some support for? Please let us know! 

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

What Now? After Your Loved One Has Passed

Forest path

Many parts of your caregiving journey will inevitably involve grief. Grief over changes in your loved one, grief over what shifts in routines and responsibilities, and grief over loss. When your caregiving journey has been long, it can be especially challenging to adjust to life after your loved one has passed. Caregivers are often left with the looming question: “what now?” When so much of your time and energy has been spent caring for your loved one, what does life look like now that they’ve passed?

Be gentle with yourself. As with other parts of your caregiving journey, it is crucial to be gentle with yourself during this time. You might be feeling a host emotions – from sadness and fear to frustration and guilt. Everyone experiences loss in different ways, and your emotions will depend greatly on what your relationship with your loved one looked like. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, and try to resist the urge to dampen uncomfortable feelings.

Connect. Spending some time alone to reflect and regroup is important, but spending too much time alone can be detrimental to your well-being. Consider connecting with a grief support group or a counsellor to talk about this transition and to work through your emotions. Both resources can help with big transitions – you do not need to be struggling in a big way to take advantage of these options! If your loved one was connected to a palliative program, such as Every Day Counts, one-on-one counselling may be available to you free of charge. Spending time with family and friends who make you smile and laugh is also important. Reach out to anyone that makes you feel good – even those who you’ve lost touch with! Chances are, they’ll be very happy to hear from you.

Get involved. Is there something you’ve been thinking about doing for years, but have felt you didn’t have the time? Now is a great time to do that thing that lights you up. Maybe it’s as lavish as taking a trip you’ve been dreaming of, or as simple as taking a pottery course or even just picking up a few books from the library and taking the time to read them. Whatever it is, make it a priority to do that thing now.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

3 Book Recommendations for Caregivers

books-1655783_640

Reading a good book can feel (almost) as good as a warm hug from someone you love. It can make you feel understood and comforted. It can give you ideas for how to tackle life’s challenges and empower you when you’re feeling down. A good book can make you laugh out loud and catch your tears.

For caregivers, reading a good book might be just what you need to help you wind down after a long day, or to fill some time while waiting for your loved one at doctor’s appointments. Not sure what to pick up? Read on for three suggestions.

THE DWINDLING: A DAUGHTER’S CAREGIVING JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF LIFE, BY JANET DUNNETT | The Dwindling chronicles a ten-year caregiving journey of twin sisters Janet and Judi with their parents, Betty and Fred. This is a read filled with hope, laughter and bravery. PS – Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Janet Dunnett on the blog!

BURNOUT: THE COST OF CARING, BY CHRISTINA MASLACH | If you are a caregiver, you are at risk of burnout. Even if you feel that you are coping well, this is a must-read for anyone caring for a loved one. This book is filled with tips, symptoms, and strategies for preventing and recovering from burnout.

CAREGIVING: THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF LOVE, LOSS, AND RENEWAL, BY BETH WITROGEN MCLEOD |This book is helpful for anyone at the beginning of their caregiving journey, to get an overview of what they might expect and to learn tips for how to navigate the health care system and get support. For caregivers who have been on their journey for quite some time, this read can help with filling in the gaps they might be struggling with.

What books have helped you on your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear from you!

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

 

Be Kind to Your Body

bart-larue-314562

What’s your relationship like with your body?

Our bodies do so much for us, don’t they? They carry us from place to place and help us to care for our loved ones. Most everyone would agree that a having a healthy body deeply impacts our quality of life.

When your body is not feeling great – when you’re sick or achy or injured or weak – it’s hard to feel  your best and be there for the people you love in the ways you’d like to be.

Like everything in life, some things are beyond your control, but many are not, and you always have the possibility of deciding how you respond to adversity.

Generally speaking, our bodies respond well when we treat them kindly.

How are you treating your body? Here are some things to think about.

Eat Well | Nobody’s perfect, and one of my favourite sayings is, “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.” This is an invitation to look at your overall diet and ask yourself how you’re doing. Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables? Protein? Fibre? Are you drinking enough water? Too much sugar? Our bodies send us strong signals when we are not eating properly. You may have irregular bowel movements or feel sluggish. You might also notice that your energy levels throughout the day are imbalanced. Focus on putting foods in your body that nourish you and slow down meal times when you can. Tuning in to how what you’re eating is making you feel can make a big difference.

Get Moving | Are you getting enough exercise? You don’t have to hit the gym every day to reap the benefits of exercise. Park further away from your destination or walk to the next bus stop if you have time. Get coffee to go and wander through a park instead of sitting down. Exercise keeps your muscles working properly and does wonders for your mental state. Do yoga in your chair! 

Get Your ZZZs | You’ve heard it before but we’ll say it again! Getting adequate sleep is one of the best and easiest (or hardest) ways to be kind to your body. Need some tips? Take a look at these posts. 

Speak Kindly | Sometimes I marvel at all the amazing things our bodies can and have done. If you’re unhappy with the way you look or you’re frustrated with your body’s limitations due to injury or illness, it can be easy to say not-so-kind things to yourself. Take some time to practice gratitude, and think or write about all the things your body does and has done for you. It might change the way you look at yourself in the mirror.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

Blue Monday: How to Prevent Isolation

yuriy-kovalev-97508

I was driving to work this morning, sniffling and scrambling for a tissue to dry my running nose, when I heard the radio announcer say that today is “Blue Monday,” supposedly the saddest day of the year. Oh dear.

Dr. Cliff Arnall coined the term and marked the third Monday of January Blue Monday based on the following “scientific” formula: [W+(D-d)]xTQ/MxNA – where W is weather, D is debt, d monthly salary, T time since Christmas, Q time since failure of attempt to give something up, M low motivational level and NA the need to take action.

Whether you buy in to the formula or not, it is hard to dispute that a lot of people feel down at this time of year. The reasons for low mood are different for everyone, but a common thread is isolation.

When people think about isolation, they often think of it physically. If you are a caregiver and rarely have time to yourself, you might not be aware that you are suffering from isolation. It is very common for people to feel isolated even when they are around people every day. Caregivers give so much to the people they care for, and while there is so much benefit to doing so for caregivers and their care partners, it can also be an isolating pursuit.

The antithesis to isolation is connection. Not sure how to change your situation? Read on and follow these three steps to de-isolate and get connected.

STEP ONE: TAKE INVENTORY | How are you doing? Take some time to write in a journal, to go for a walk by yourself, or to just sit with your thoughts. Really take the time to think about how you’re feeling. When was the last time you laughed with a friend? When was the last time you cried with someone else and felt that you were supported? When was the last time you felt that you were really understood and heard?

STEP TWO: FIND YOUR RESOURCES| If you have a person or people in your life that lift you up, reach out to them, even if you haven’t in awhile. Pick up the phone or send them an email, and let them know that you’d love to set a time to get together. Consider meeting with a local network group to connect with other caregivers. You might find that talking with other people who are experiencing similar emotions and situations to be incredibly comforting.

STEP THREE: MAKE A PLAN | Are you worried about taking time away from your loved one? This fear can leave a lot of caregivers feeling stuck. If you have never sought respite, it can feel overwhelming and scary. Taking a break is essential for your well-being. If you are concerned or unsure of how to take seek respite for your care partner, read this post.

5 Symptoms of Burnout and How to Prevent It

A photo by Volkan Olmez. unsplash.com/photos/wESKMSgZJDoWHAT IS BURNOUT?

You might have said or heard someone say that they feel “burnt out” after a long hike or several task-filled days. Chances are that there is some self-awareness in this personal observation. The person knows that they’re tired and that they will now have to rest to get back to feeling their best.

Unfortunately, experiencing burnout is much more serious. It often creeps up on caregivers who have not been practising self-care and the mindfulness needed to know that they need to slow down and get support.

According to HelpGuide.org, “burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”

5 SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT*

CHRONIC FATIGUE | “In the early stages, you may feel a lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.”

FORGETFULNESS/IMPAIRED CONCENTRATION AND MEMORY | “Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.”

INCREASED ILLNESS | “Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.”

ANXIETY | “Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.”

ANGER | “At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.”

If you are reading this and feel that you are already experiencing burnout, you must get help immediately. Visit your family doctor or see a counsellor of therapist to get support and create a path to wellness.

HOW TO PREVENT BURNOUT

We regularly encourage caregivers to learn and practice the skills needed to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their loved ones. Practicing self-care is a journey, and it is common to at times feel that you are taking care of yourself as well as you could be, and at other times to be struggling. That said, there are lots of things that you can regularly do to prevent burnout. Here are a few tips:

PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE | Drink calming teas, turn off screens an hour before sleeping, and avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

EXERCISE | Just half an hour of gentle exercise a day can ease stress, promote sleep, and aid digestion. Park further away from your destinations, or go for a short walk after your morning coffee. Find creative ways to fit activity in to your day.

DELEGATE | You can not do it all alone. If you are lucky, you have friends and family that help care for your loved one. Talk to them and let them know that you could use some more support. Be specific, and delegate tasks and chores. If you do not feel that you have friends and family to ask for support from, you still have options. Look in to low-cost home care services or respite.

What do you do to practice self-care and prevent burnout? We’d love for you to share your perspective with our caregiving community!

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

*From Psychology Today.