From a recent study conducted by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving,
“…there are more than 43.5 million adults in the United States who have provided unpaid care to an adult or child within the last year. 34.2 million of these Americans provide care to an adult age 50 or older. On average, a family caregiver will spend over 24 hours each week providing care to a loved one, although many report spending over 40 hours per week on caregiving duties.”
Caregiving, in any capacity, can be quite rewarding but it also comes with its own set of challenges. For some, caregiving can be stressful, overwhelming, strenuous and frustrating. Asccare.com lists a number of difficulties for you to pay close attention to, here are a few;
- Depression and isolation
- Sleep deprivation
- Emotional and physical stress
- Lack of privacy
- Being afraid to ask for help
- Financial strain
- Managing time
Coping with any one of these challenges can be trying though many of you face multiple challenges on a daily basis. Thankfully there are mindfulness-based tools and approaches to help you build emotional resilience to maintain delivery of high-quality and compassionate care to your loved ones.
Our Mindful Caregiving Education (MCE) introduces caregivers to mindfulness-based approaches and tools to help build their emotional resilience and work with stress. These approaches help caregivers successfully navigate the unique and challenging situations that can arise in caregiving. Through mindfulness-based education, you can build the skills needed to take on the common challenges of caregiving.
Zen Caregiving Project’s Mindful Family Caregiving, Four-Part Online Series, starting April 7, helps family caregivers find support and community while sharing resilience-building tools to improve the caregiving experience. This online series will help you:
- Increase the capacity to cope with discomfort and suffering
- Create a plan for maintaining self-care
- Establish healthy boundaries in relationships
- Deepen and sustain compassion for self and others
I invite you to take a moment and consider our Mindful Family Caregiving course and see if it fits with your schedule. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Caregiving has got a bad rap
A lot of what we read about caregiving paints a very negative picture. Caregivers stressed by their caregiving responsibilities are at higher risk of experiencing fatigue, depression, and social isolation than non-caregivers, and some studies found that caregivers had decreased life expectancy compared to their non-caregiving equivalents.
An interesting review of the research in the field from a professor at John Hopkins University points out that it isn’t caregiving per se that leads to these negative impacts, it is the stress response that caregiving can produce. In the case of research into life expectancy, those caregivers who were not over-strained had the same life expectancy as non-caregivers and, what’s more, in a few studies, caregivers had a longer life expectancy. This leads to the conclusion that if we can find ways of helping caregivers reduce the stress they experience, we can protect them from the negative impacts of caregiving. Maybe we can even help them benefit from the positive effects of caregiving, such as a sense of purpose, increased confidence, and a deep connection.
How can we reduce the stress of caregiving?
Stress occurs when a situation exceeds the resources that the caregiver feels they have to deal with it – we can all relate to that feeling of overwhelm and anxiety when we feel we are not able to manage the situation in front of us.
We can, therefore, reduce stress in two ways. The first is by changing the situation the caregiver is in so that it doesn’t exceed their resources to cope with it. Family caregivers can face a lot of situations that could contribute to a feeling of overwhelm, e.g., carrying out medical tasks with little training, the physical and emotional fatigue of many hours caregiving, adjusting to the loss of a relationship, loss of time for yourself and increased financial strain to name a few. In response to this, there is a large number of caregiving programs that try in various ways to improve these external circumstances and support the reduce their external stressors by providing practical, logistical, and financial support to caregivers.
The second way to reduce stress is by building up the emotional resources of the caregivers. This helps them to feel more able to meet skillfully and cope with situations as and when they arise (life has a habit of presenting us with “interesting” events and situations when we least expect it!). This emotional resilience approach is the approach that Zen Caregiving Project takes in its Mindful Caregiving Education. In our courses, caregivers are taught mindfulness-based tools and strategies to help acknowledge, understand, and skillfully respond to challenges that arise in their caregiving. By teaching these skills, we are increasing the caregiver’s emotional resource or capacity, meaning they feel able to cope better with more situations whenever they happen and reduces the likelihood of them becoming overwhelmed and stressed.
It’s not an either/or
Here at Zen Caregiving Project, we champion all efforts to support the vital and powerful work that caregivers do, and we realize that a combination of both approaches described above is optimal. We are, however, sometimes surprised that emotional resilience-building is seen as “nice to have” rather than the essential skill we feel it is. Caregiving courses often focus on practical skills related to ADLs, or activities of daily living, like how to bathe or lift someone, or how to navigate the complex health systems. Yet, skills to support emotional resilience are conspicuously absent. Typically, suggestions for self-care when presented focus more on discrete activities such as doing regular exercise and having long baths. Both are great, but it’s best to address the problem of stress once it’s arrived rather than building a set of skills that strengthen emotional resilience and minimize the stress in the first place.
Skills that build emotional resilience aren’t magic cures. Still, we would argue they are equally as important as the more practical skills, both for the caregivers’ wellbeing and the quality of the care they provide to their loved ones.
Work with us to build emotional resilience in those who need it
Here at Zen Caregiving Project, we offer our courses directly to caregivers and also work with partners in a range of sectors to build in emotional resilience into any caregiving support they provide. We hope to continue to raise awareness around and meet this vital need and welcome conversation and collaboration with the network of amazing organizations that work tirelessly to support caregivers.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Families. Caring for an Aging America.
 The authors hypothesized that the positives of caregiving such as having a feeling of purpose in your life, and a connection with the person you are caring for, could explain the longer life.
 See Families. Caring for an Aging America for a good overview of the positive and negative impacts associated with caregiving
 It is no surprise that in the research caregivers with greater external challenges (such as caring for a loved one with greater needs, greater time spent caring and caring for people while on a low income) all experience higher stress than those with less external challenges.
 A study by Ankuda et al (2017) found that those individuals whose caregivers had poor wellbeing were more likely to be admitted to the Emergency Department and have higher Medicare Expenditures.
Our Mindful Family Caregiving Course helps family caregivers find support and community, and shares resilience-building tools to improve their care experience.
Instructor: Roy Remer
This non-profit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for caregivers and the people who receive their care. Their website has an online learning center and links to many other resources such as in-person support groups.
CAN (the National Family Caregivers Association) provides articles, videos, and peer support to family caregivers across the country free of charge. They cover a broad range of topics from practicalities such as medication and nutrition management, to caregiver self-care to navigation of the medical system.
Better Health While Aging provides actionable information for older adults and family caregivers, grounded in what geriatricians believe to be optimal healthcare for older adults.
A website to support families. The site has an active online forum where caregivers can share their experience and learn from others by asking questions, giving answers, or participating in a group discussion.
For those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, this website has clear and easy to access information on practical and emotional elements of caregiving.
The caregiver page of the website has an interactive caregiver resource guide, articles, and videos on cancer-related caregiver topics, online communities, and links to other support groups.
AARP has put together local resource guides showing what support is available for family caregivers in different states and different cities.
Imerman Angels support cancer fighters, survivors, previvors and caregivers by matching them with a “Mentor Angel” – a cancer survivor or caregiver who has faced the same type of cancer and who can answer questions and provide one-to-one support.
Next Step In Care provides written guides and videos for family caregivers that help them through any medical treatment – from visiting the family doctor, trips to ER, hospitalization and discharge and Homecare.
Companioa from the Institute on Aging
A paid-for service, to support caregivers of loved ones with dementia. This service pairs you with a personal “Care Coach”, a trained dementia expert. The Care Coach helps assess your loved ones needs, map out a care plan and meet with you bi-monthly to discuss the plan and your needs.
Written by BJ Miller (a previous Zen Hospice Project Executive Director) and Shoshana Berger, Director at IDEO, this book is a practical guide to approaching the end of life. It includes instructions on everything from navigating the health care system, to talking to your children about your will, to writing a great eulogy.
This website provides clear and comprehensive information on palliative care for people living with a serious illness, or those caring for them. It includes detailed descriptions of what palliative care does and how to access it, videos and podcasts on the topic, and a directory of Palliative Care providers across the US.
Part of the NHPCO’s website, the Patient and Caregiver pages provide free resources on a range of topics, including deciding palliative care, hospice care, advance care planning, caregiving, and loss. Their resources are practical, clear, and easy to read.
This interactive site provides templates, resources, and toolkits to help you with planning for your future care. Spanish versions of all site documents are also available.
Sponsored by the Hospice Foundation of America, HospiceDirectory.org provides a national database to locate hospices by location and/or name, as well as links to additional information for both caregivers and patients.
Foundations of Mindful Caregiving is a deep immersion into time-tested practices for cultivating mindfulness and compassion in caregivers. This weekend course offers a methodology for maintaining healthy and sustainable relationships through challenging times.
We can customize our courses to fit the needs of your organization and of those you serve. Using our core curriculum as the foundation of any course, we can tailor our content to focus on different aspects of caregiving and loss, and tailor the length and format of the course to fit your requirements.