Written by Wendy Johnstone, originally published in Senior Living Magazine
Caregivers providing care and support encounter a multitude of physical and psychological stressors. While caregiving is considered rewarding by most caregivers, it often creates significant stress. And research shows that too much stress negatively impacts one’s physical and psychological health, including depression, anxiety, and a decrease in overall well-being.
Caregivers often tell us that they know what they need to do for themselves, but it can be difficult to pause the caregiving video playing in their head. Also, they can’t always find respite so they can leave their home (even more so now!). This can lead to caregivers who stop caring for themselves; not because they want to but because they can’t find the energy to focus on themselves.
Mind-body connections are gaining traction as being an effective way of improving overall well-being for caregivers. Activities such as yoga, walking meditation and mindfulness are a few ways caregivers can change their relationship to stressors, especially when those stressors can’t be changed. This is often the case with caregiving.
The beauty of such activities is that once they are learned, caregivers can use them on an ongoing basis. The impact of mind-body activities often stretches beyond the caregiving role. Caregivers report feeling more empowered to use them in their everyday lives or as a daily practice. Equally important, mind-body activities can be done in small spaces or outdoors in the yard or neighbourhood and can be tailored in length and intensity.
Mindfulness is awareness we gain through paying attention to thoughts and emotions in the present moment and with no judgment. The focus of mindfulness is to be aware of one’s immediate surroundings and sensations and allow thoughts and feelings to come and go without ruminating or getting lost in them.
Family Caregivers of BC (FCBC) has some webinars and handouts on mindfulness. You can find them by searching our website with the keyword “mindfulness.” Dan Harris’ book called Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is also a great resource for those who don’t know where to begin with a mindfulness practice.
Yoga brings together physical and mental components to help achieve movement of the body and a more peaceful mind. Yoga usually focuses on postures (poses), breathing techniques and mindfulness. There are many variations in types and intensities. The “Do Yoga With Me” website has many Canadian yoga teachers and a wide variety of practices from beginners to advanced.
Walking meditation is for those who love being outdoors and active. It is designed to bring body and mind in sync while walking. One of the basics of this method involves staying aware of the physical experience of walking, paying attention to the specific components of each step. When the mind wanders, simply bring it back to each step.
It’s similar to the practice of noticing breath and allowing thoughts to pop up. When a thought pops up, experts suggest going back to focusing on the breath. There are various walking meditation apps or guidelines on the web.
The above activities are a starting point; there are many others that reduce stress and offer an opportunity to improve wellness. Consider trying a few in 2021!