Marilyn is 55 years old, works part-time in retail and has two teens at home. She currently cares for her partner who has chronic pain and a brain injury from a motor vehicle accident. She feels like the “linchpin” in her family and is the case manager for her partner and for her two children. She’ll be the first to tell you her life isn’t easy or what she imagined it to be. In the next breath, Marilyn will tell you how thankful she is to be able to care for her partner and to see her children step up with pitching in and being caring and compassionate towards their father.
Marilyn doesn’t see caregiving as a trap; she sees it as an opportunity.
She admits caregiving is rarely static or easy; nor is it black and white. Some days are easier and better than others. Yet over time, she’s finding ways to add to her toolbox of caregiving strategies – one of which is becoming more resilient.
According to George Vaillant, resilient caregivers resemble “a twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead, it springs back and continues growing.”
Resilience is a process. It isn’t a trait. You aren’t born with it. Resiliency is a skill, and can be developed through behaviour, thoughts and actions. Similar to caregiving being unique to the individual, so is building resiliency. We all react differently to stress, and strategies that work for one person may not work for another.
Research shows the following strategies for building resilience or as “caregiver heartiness”:
Stay connected: a primary factor in resiliency is having strong connections with family and friends who are supportive and caring.
Nurture your inner superhero: seeing ourselves in a positive light, believing in our abilities and knowing our strengths helps us bounce back from stress and challenging situations.
Make friends with reality: change is a part of caregiving. Caregivers often reflect on the fact that being a caregiver wasn’t in their life plan and with that came a shift in perspective and expectations. Resilient caregivers often provide the advice, “accept circumstances that can’t be changed. Then turn your attention to what circumstances can be changed and focus on them.”
Take off the rose-coloured glasses… but not permanently: be mindful of your feelings, especially the painful and negatives ones. It’s important to acknowledge that life is imperfect and to hold space and comfort for ourselves in the face of difficult times. It’s a fine balance. Research also shows the importance of not staying too long with negative thoughts and working towards a long-term perspective.
Create meaning in your caregiving role: Finding positive meaning (even if it seems small) in your role adds to positive overall health. Having and holding a sense of purpose in caregiving is also associated with resiliency. For some, it’s knowing they are strengthening the relationship between themselves and the care recipient or giving back to a loved one. For others, their caregiving role can fulfill a sense of greater purpose in life, taking pride in their skills or a desire for a better outcome for the person needing care.