Recently, a friend was telling me about her caregiving experiences. Her list of stresses, challenges and outright pain would be familiar to most caregivers.
I asked, “Have you ever tried mindfulness as a way to lower your stress level, help you think and experience it all more positively, and get a handle on how you go through your day?”
She looked at me like I was growing a hand out of the top of my head and, with her wonderful sense of humor, said, “Look, sport, I’m mindful of trying not to lose my keys every five minutes. I’m positive that if our home care person shows up late again, I’m going to kill her. And, I’d like to get a handle of a shovel to smack Mom’s doctor who keeps telling us that things are progressing.”
The stresses of caregiving are well-known, so I won’t go into them. I’ll simply offer again the 5 Hs, the areas in which caregiver stress negatively impacts us: Our heart, head, health, home and hands (workplace).
The great thing about easing into some sort of mindfulness practice is that increasing research shows it can positively—and immediately—address some of the underlying sources of stress, including negative emotional reactions, an inability to think positively and dealing with anxiety. Psychologists call the foundation of these negative notions framing. How we frame an experience, as positive or negative, kicks out a whole range of stress reactions, good and bad.
If you are a caregiver and you’re—oh, let’s say, 50-plus—and you have some of your own health issues, let me offer the one bit of reality that should encourage you to run, not walk, to the nearest source of information about mindfulness. Research across the board shows that chronic activation of your stress response (let’s get personal here: how you react to the stress of caregiving and being a caregiver) cannot only contribute to disease, but is highly likely to make current health conditions worse.
Let me put an even finer point on this: If you have joint problems, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and the range of physical issues that pop up as we age; if you want to make common colds worse; and maybe increase your potential for a heart attack, keep letting caregiver stress hammer you.
Now, go back and read the last two paragraphs again.
Don’t think a mindful practice involves hours of sitting on a floor cross-legged. (If you ever see me start trying to do that, please go ahead and call 911.)One mindfulness practice only takes a few minutes and has a range of positive benefits, and everyone does it all the time—breathing.
Sit in a position you can sustain comfortably for a few minutes; sitting in a chair or on a couch is fine. Take a moment to simply relax and slow down a little.
Close your eyes, put your thumb or forefinger over your right nostril, and slowly, deeply, inhale through your left nostril for a count of five.
Focus all your attention on your breathing; that’s the essence of a mindfulness exercise.
Hold your breath for four seconds.
Then, release your right nostril, put your thumb or forefinger over your left nostril and exhale slowly and completely through your right nostril and count to five.
Now, simply reverse the process. Inhale through the right and exhale through the left.
Keep it going through four or five rounds, more if you have time.
You can do deep breathing anywhere, and you only need a few minutes.
You’ll often find the exercise calms and energizes you. Why? Because, when we get stressed we restrict our breathing, which means we get less oxygen to our brain, which means we get more of a stressed feeling. Deep breathing means more oxygen and that tells our brains, “Calm down, things will be OK.”
And, that’s it.
Try this simple mindfulness exercise a few times. Don’t give up if you don’t feel like Harrison Ford or Cybill Shepherd the first time.
As caregivers, we are often so pressed for time that we have to pick our moments. Use a few of those moments for this deep breathing exercise, and you’ll be delighted with the results.
Mike Collins is the producer of the video, “Care for the Caregiver,” winner of a National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today’s Caregiver Magazine. For ways to deal with the craziness of caregiving, visit www.crazycaregiver.com .
©2017 Mike Collins