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Mindfulness and Caregiving

Mindfulness is one of those words we hear more and more, but might not know what it means.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment—without interpretation or judgment.”

According to Psychology Today, “mindfulness is a state of active, open attention the present.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, has defined it as, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

So now you know what it is, but you aren’t sure why it matters. The benefits of practicing mindfulness include stress reduction, less negative thoughts, being in a better mood.

Being a Mindful Caregiver

Practicing mindfulness is not the same as being mindful of others. Being mindful as a caregiver is more about looking after yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed and neglect your well-being.

“When I talk about the importance of being a mindful caregiver, there are two things I think about,” says Nancy Kriseman, LCSW, author of The Mindful Caregiver. “The first is the caregiver recognizing the importance of how they are feeling in their mind, body and spirit. The other is being intentional about how they decide to take on this role.”

An AARP/National Alliance for Caregiving study found that 50% of family caregivers feel they have or had no choice in taking on the role of caregiver.

“Caregivers take on this role because they feel that they don’t have a choice, because they feel that they are the only person who can take care of their loved one, and other reasons,” says Ms. Kriseman. “What I find is that there are these entrenched caregiver beliefs—the “oughts” and the “shoulds”—and they project what they think the care recipient needs instead of getting more clarity.”

In her book, Ms. Kriseman walks the reader/caregiver a process to see how they got to the place where they are, which might include feeling stressed. “I ask, ‘Is this a role that comes easily to you?’ and ‘Does this take more of your energy than other things in your life?’ So it becomes more intentional through recognizing what your limitations are, what your realistic expectations are.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Now for another question, how do you practice mindfulness? Ms. Kriseman suggests:

  1. Pause for a minute and really pay attention to breathing. Take three deep breaths, breathing in and out and letting it go. “I see a shift in energy and people become calmer as they do this,” she says.
  2. Find a mantra that you can sit down and read or have on your computer screen. This mantra should be calming.
  3. There should be kindness to yourself as the caregiver in your thoughts. These can be things like, I’m courageous, I’m a great caregiver, I value what I do, I’m a good listener, I am trustworthy. “So often we only look at what we don’t have and think we’re not good enough,” Ms. Kriseman says. “We’re trying to help caregivers feel better about themselves.”

The Mayo Clinic offers a few different ways to practice mindfulness too. These can be as simple as paying attention to setting aside time daily to focus on breathing or meditating.

When it comes to embracing mindfulness as a caregiver, start with asking yourself questions.

“How can you look at ways to reduce stress so you don’t take on the entire thing as your job and you have to do everything?” Ms. Kriseman suggests. “When you’re more intentional, you can look at what is truly needed in this picture to help the care recipient and ask who might be supportive besides yourself and how can you involve other resources?"

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