Resilience is a characteristic that helps caregivers bounce back from sadness, exhaustion, and difficulties. It can protect them from developing compassion fatigue and burnout. Psychologists define resilience as a person's ability to recover from hardship. Individuals who are resilient do not allow failure to overwhelm them. Psychologists indicate that those who practice resilience are those who have a positive attitude, optimism, and the ability to control their emotions. These individuals are able to pick themselves up from failure or disappointment and find a way to regroup and move on.
The characteristics of resilience can greatly benefit caregivers who are faced with the daily challenges of watching a loved one decline. Try these ten resilience-building practices:
- Redefine your circumstances. Caring for a loved one can be exceedingly difficult. As you watch your loved one decline, emotions can range from exhaustion to stress to grief. Remind yourself of caregiving duties that give you meaning. You may be the only family member who is available to provide care for your loved one in a time of need. You may be someone that has given your loved one a reason to remain hopeful about the future. For these reasons and many others, find your sense of purpose in a way that you believe to be meaningful.
- Find acceptance. You may not have chosen to become a caregiver, but the more you accept your role as a caregiver the better you will feel. However, if you continue to resist the fact that you are caring for your loved one, you may notice your stress levels rising over time. As you accept your role, you may find that your coping skills will improve as you become more engaged in your role.
- Adapt your role. Be as flexible as possible and accept that many things may not be done perfectly. Instead, conduct your caregiving duties so that they are completed well enough to serve their purpose. For example, you may not be able to cook several courses because of time limitations. However, if you can make a nutritious sandwich or cook a healthy soup for the week, that is good enough. Don’t judge yourself. Accept what you can do and give yourself praise for doing it.
- Maintain your friendships. Healthy relationships will help you reduce stress. Friends and family members are there to support you through difficult times and act as sounding boards for your frustrations.
- Become a bit rebellious. Live life on your own terms. This may seem counterintuitive if your days are restricted by your loved one’s schedule and need for care. However, if you can change the way you think about what is necessary for your life and change your own expectations, you may find it freeing. It’s important to eliminate as many stress-causing factors as possible. These simple steps will help protect you, make you stronger and build resilience.
- Be playful and believe in serendipity. Maintaining a light spirit whenever possible will help you guard against stress and illness. Whenever possible laugh and look at things in a lighthearted manner. For example, make light of small accidents like broken dishes because you can always buy new ones. Believing in serendipity means that you can turn a bad situation into one that teaches you a life lesson or gives you a gift.
- Build a team. Friends, family members, and professional caregivers can create a team to help you with caregiving responsibilities. You can be the team captain who is responsible for scheduling and coordinating services and support. You may be the primary caregiver, but delegation is crucial in relieving some of the pressure of daily responsibilities. You should divide responsibilities among team members according to each person’s strengths. Someone may feel more comfortable interacting with insurance companies and medical offices while another person is willing to take on housekeeping and cooking duties.
- Identify what you need help with most. This may not be as easy as it sounds. For example, do you need someone to mow the lawn or rake the leaves? Can someone run small errands for you like going to the pharmacy, the dry cleaners, and the post office? You may think it’s easier to do all these things yourself, but asking for help will eliminate pressure on you, and remove several things from your daily “To Do” list. When you can reduce the frustration of not being able to do small things for yourself, like picking up your own prescription, you can calm yourself, which in turn builds resilience.
- Organize your own life. Caregivers have many responsibilities regarding the care of their loved one. As a result, they can forget to pay attention to the details of their own life. It is very important that you schedule a time to tend to your own essential matters, like paying taxes and home maintenance. Caregiving is a long-term journey that takes place over the course of many years. It is important to take care of the details of your own life so that when your caregiving responsibilities are over, you have an organized life to return to.
- Watch for changes in your own physical state. For caregivers, stress becomes normal and that is hazardous to their health. Weight gain, sleeplessness, irritability, inability to stick to daily habits and depression are all signs of caregiver burnout. Don’t ignore them. If you begin to notice these signs in yourself, address them. It can take years to recover from caregiver burnout but you can avoid it. Building resilience is the best way to protect your health and care for yourself along the long caregiver journey.
As a caregiver, you are the one who has the opportunity to be with your loved one as they age. Acknowledging this as a gift can help you to build resilience. Developing resilience will serve you well for a lifetime. When your caregiving responsibilities have come to an end, you will be transformed by your experience. You may be exhausted, but you will be strong and you will find that you carry the gifts of caregiving with you for the rest of your life.