How caregivers benefit from mindfulness
Moving from one task to the next. Crossing one item off your to-do list and immediately adding another. Dealing with crisis after crisis. The many responsibilities and worries that go along with caregiving can make it difficult to catch your breath—and nearly impossible to relax.
Do you have time left over to think about how you feel? To recognize the value of what you’re doing? Many caregivers answer “no” to those questions. Caregiving can make you feel like you’re on autopilot; you just get done what needs to be done, with no time for yourself.
Practicing mindfulness may help you find new ways to appreciate your surroundings—even under difficult circumstances—and provide you with health benefits at the same time.
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention on purpose. It goes beyond simply being aware of what you’re doing. Being mindful means taking time to recognize the different aspects of the experience you’re having.
Why try mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches acceptance without judgment. Recognizing, acknowledging and accepting your feelings—whether they’re good, bad or indifferent—can help reduce stress by enabling you to:
- Take time each day to stop and be in the moment
- Reflect on how your body responds to what’s happening around you
- Observe your thoughts and try to separate yourself from them, as though they belong to someone else
Living mindfully can also remind you that you don’t have control over everything in life, but you do have the ability to choose how you respond to situations around you. Mindfulness helps you:
- Become aware of what your emotions are, before you make decisions
- Work through difficult emotions, such as fear, anger and resentment
- Appreciate when you’re feeling strong, healthy, creative or happy
- Do things with purpose
- Live a more meaningful and satisfied life
Other benefits of mindfulness may include:
- Reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes
- Decreased blood pressure
- Lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress
- Decreased surgical recovery time
- Better management of chronic conditions such as pain, sleep disorders and asthma
- Increased immunity, optimism, memory, self-control and self-awareness
Ways to practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is a way to focus on the present, rather than worrying about the past or the future. This is especially important when you’re spending a lot of your time in a caregiving role—you need time to relax your mind and your body.
Here are some tips for getting started. You can add several to your routine right away. Or choose one to try and see how it works for you.
- Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Are there repetitive thoughts that come to mind several times in a day? Consider writing them down or beginning a journal.
- While driving, turn off the radio and put your phone away.
- Go for a walk, and notice things around you such as newly planted flowers, animals playing in a yard or the feeling of the sun warming your body.
- Sit in silence for five minutes or longer. Practice mindfulness exercises to calm your mind. (On Fallon Health’s homepage, click on the Healthwise® Knowledgebase link. Then search “mindfulness” for exercises you can do.)
- At meal times, pay attention to how much and how fast you’re eating. How does the food taste? What is the texture?
- Carve out at least 10 minutes during the day to do something just for you. Go for a walk, play with the dog or read.
- Take deep mindful breaths. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth with a sigh. Imagine with each exhale that you’re letting go of any obligations, and all the thoughts occupying your mind. Give yourself permission to be in this moment without any expectations.
Once you learn to be mindful, the benefits will begin to spill over into other areas of your life, helping to decrease daily stress. Learning to accept both positive and negative experiences can help you move forward with a more balanced life, even while you’re providing care for someone else.