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woman meditating to relieve caregiver stress

Family caregivers fill a world of need, and in doing so are at risk of falling into the caregiver burnout abyss.

If at any point you have thought or said some version of, “I don’t have time to relax….” due to your obligations as a caregiver, read on. Time is not your enemy, your to-do list is. Put it down and walk away…just for a few minutes. No need to panic, it is not going anywhere.

The big open secret is that the key to reducing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue lies in what can be construed to some as the seemingly counterintuitive wisdom of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a necessary core competency that we all need to develop. Taking space for yourself will keep you grounded and peaceful while allowing you to be of service.

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout with 5 Mindfulness Exercises

Keep track of how you feel when you take the time to practice mindfulness. After a week, ask yourself these questions:

  • How you are feeling?
  • Are you relating to your circumstance any differently?
  • Do you have a little more ease around your caregiving?

Whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms of caregiver burnout, small mindful changes over a period as little as a week can begin to yield positive results. Try relieving stress with one of these mindfulness exercises:

  1. Take deep breaths. Research shows that spending just a few minutes sitting with your breath will relax you. Take five minutes to sit down, breathe deeply, feel your lungs fill with air, let it go easily, and repeat. Just place your attention on how it feels to inhale fully and release the breath fully. A few minutes of breathing exercises and you will have more oxygen running through your body and causing you to relax.
  2. Practice gratitude. Sit outside, preferably in nature. Get some sun on your face, be with your breath, and watch the sky, birds, or squirrels do their thing. Think of one, two, or three things for which you are truly grateful. Smile. If you want to go for the gold, keep a gratitude journal. It is a very powerful way to reinforce the positive aspects of your day and, over time, provides an encouraging read when you are faced with a particularly challenging situation. Does meditation or prayer help you to de-stress? Try starting the morning with a prayer or meditation for caregivers to set your intention for the day.
  3. Connect to others. Don’t do this alone. Call family or friends. Ask them if you can call to check-in occasionally. They don’t have to fix or do anything. You just need them to be there for you to listen. This check-in could take as little as five to ten minutes. Verbalizing what is hard and difficult often diffuses the issue at hand or at the very least creates some perspective. Additionally, consider joining a support group comprised of other caregivers who are facing the same issues. Or, sign-up for a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class in your community.
  4. Give yourself a break. What do you love to do for yourself that is healthy, absorbing and renewing? No, we are not including diving into that ice cream in the freezer. Do you need to exercise? Walk? Listen to some music? Take a bubble bath? Have a relaxing lunch with your favorite goofball friend? Read your favorite mystery novel? Take a nap? Make a list of things that you can resort to when you have some time and make that time a priority!
  5. Be present. Do one thing at a time. When you are with your care partner, be with them fully. Do the task at hand as mindfully as possible. Bring the mindfulness techniques that you are cultivating and practicing into your caregiving.
caregivers practicing yoga to reduce caregiver stress and burnout

Meditation for Caregiver Stress

Feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for a loved one? One of the most effective ways to avoid burnout is engaging in a mindfulness practice like meditation.

It may seem counterintuitive to many, but meditation has many benefits. Sitting and following one’s breath may seem like a useless endeavor, especially given the long to-do lists and items that are falling by the wayside day by day.

In reality, taking some time each and every day to sit and follow your breath will help your thoughts slow down, giving you clarity and serving your well-being. Here is a quick outline of meditation for beginners:

Same time, same channel.

Schedule this mindful meditation time for the same time and in the same spot (if you are traveling or in a different location just try to keep to the same time) each and every day.

Early morning works best for many people.

When starting this practice, keep it short and sweet. Spend five to ten minutes in the morning sitting upright on the floor or in a chair with your feet on the ground. There are some great meditation apps out there that can time you and gently ring a beautiful bell when your session is over. Do this every day for a week and see what happens. Various studies done over the past decade confirm that among the myriad of emotions triggered by caregiver burnout, practicing mindful meditation can help you manage and reduce stress, anxiety, and fear.

mindfulness card

Work with your thoughts.

Allow your thoughts to flow by, notice when you are stuck in one thought stream and recognize this as a nudge to gently return to your breath. It can be a tricky skill to work on. When we are first starting out, we tell ourselves that we can’t shut off our thoughts, but that’s not the point. The important thing is recognizing when we are lost in our thoughts and when they make a run for the hills as we race after them. It is taking a moment to grab these thoughts and tell them you will attend to them but they need to quiet down right now.

Give yourself a few precious minutes of clarity each morning to inform how you will proceed with your day. Ground yourself in your intentions for the day. Orient yourself to how you want the day to go. This does not mean that you will be dropping away from your obligations of the day. Instead, think mindfully about how you want to engage in them. What are your priorities and what do you need to put into place to take care of yourself so that you can be a present and attentive caregiver?

Track how you do each day on the issue(s) you decided to give some extra attention to and at the end of the week, review how things are going.

If you’re interested in learning more mindfulness techniques, check out our recent article around how to care for yourself while caring for aging parents.

About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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