Dr. Russell, a clinical psychologist seeing patients in Stanwood, contributed this article to the Stanwood Camano News.
Busy Caregiver? Three Ways to Make Time for Mindfulness
by Hillary D. Russell, Ph.D.
At some point, almost everyone will have a loved one with a significant medical illness. In fact, according to the Caregiver Action Network, in 2009, more than 65 million Americans (that’s 29% of the population) provided care to a family member or friend for an average of 20 hours per week. This has proven to be a cost effective way for the health care industry to manage patient care. Caregivers also increase patient empowerment and family involvement. There are many resources for both daily and distant caregivers. The National Institute of Health offers a list of reading and video resources through Medline Plus.
While there is the logistical benefit of caregiving, what matters most is the fostered relationship. As relational creatures, acts of love, devotion, belonging, and feeling valued have benefits for both the giver and the receiver. Therefore, it’s important to take caregiving further. While caregiving often focuses on meeting hygiene, financial, and home and health management needs, the most important aspect of caregiving is the relationship. Adding mindfulness as a caregiver can enhance the experience. Mindfulness, in its most basic sense, is the art of being fully aware and in the present moment in the absence of judgment. Typically, this is opposite of a caregiver managing multiple tasks, often for more than one household. Mindfulness allows for the full experience of life, your life, as it is happens.
This may seem impossible for a busy caregiver. However, the reward for even five minutes of mindfulness between you and your loved one is one for the memory books. Caregivers have a very long list of tasks including: pay bills, do laundry, change bed sheets, wash and comb hair, drive to appointments, and pick up prescriptions. While the goal may be to accomplish as many tasks as possible in the shortest amount of time, the true goal is to maintain, even improve, the quality of life for our loved one. In truth, 3-5 minutes of just being engaged and present in the moment with our loved one is more precious, rewarding, and healing than a clean coffee mug. There are many ways to engage in mindfulness.
Here are three ways to incorporate mindfulness into a busy caregiving routine:
- After changing the bed sheets with fresh linen, sit or lay with or next to your loved one. With soft music, or in silence, remark how fresh the linens smell, how nice they feel, and how nice it is to share this moment with him or her.
- While in the waiting room, practice mindfulness together. Notice all the colors in the room, become aware of the fluctuations in sounds around you, count the number of smiles you can trade with others.
- Your loved one may have limited verbal, attention, concentration or mobility. Mindfulness is about being in the moment. Take notice and engage in those moments of attention, awareness and coherence. Value that time with them being fully present in the moment with him or her by acknowledging their presence and you being there to experience it fully.
Capturing mindful moments permits flexibility within the time together. Mindfulness is sharing a moment of silence, laughter or tears fully, without worry of all the tasks to do. These moments are why we assume caregiver roles. These are the moments we will remember, not the business of caregiving. While all the tasks are worthy duties, time spent together is a better choice.
Hillary Russell, a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic Stanwood Clinic works with adults and families facing difficult transitions, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. She earned her doctorate degree in psychology at Seattle Pacific University.
Free Support Group for Caregivers in Everett
A free support group for dementia caregivers, open to all care partners, family members and friends of individuals with dementia, is offered in Everett by The Everett Clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association. To register or for more information, please call 425-346-8687.