The number of Americans that are caring for an older loved one is on the rise. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Nearly 75% of all caregivers are female, around 50 years of age and these caregivers are spending around 20 hours a week providing care. With numbers like these and tasks ranging from simple grocery shopping and household chores to complicated issues dealing with finances and medical care, it is not any surprise that caregiver burnout is on the rise. Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may show up as signs of fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, and a general lack of self-care.
The questions that come to mind immediately when caring for a caregiver is how do we treat this burnout state, but also what are some ways we can prevent it. My yoga teacher training points me straight to the practice of mindfulness and meditation. I personally found this practice from being a caregiver in a stressful situation. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment. For example, if you are feeling a sensation of overwhelming or a tightness in a part of the body, you may need to find a focus on your breath. By doing this, you are allowing the body to find a way to help itself.
So, what does this mean for a caregiver? I know, and I’m sure those reading this who are caregivers know, that just getting through a day can feel like an impossible struggle. You are busy, you have more tasks than you feel like you can complete which lead to being overwhelmed, you’re sometimes angry for having to be in this situation, you feel a sense of resentment, and it’s just plain hard. Self-care is important. While it is not always feasible to take a vacation to get away or to even get a break for yourself, it is possible to find mindfulness and meditation and use it as respite. Meditation can be done anywhere. You can literally practice it while sitting next to your loved one.
Mindfulness and meditation have numerous benefits. Both can help to bring acceptance to feelings regarding the changes that are happening with your loved ones. Meditating on a regular basis calms the mind, which can promote a better sleep at night. It is something you can do in a short amount of time with big benefits. It can promote stronger immunity when the body is run down from the constant hustle and bustle of caring for someone else. Meditation improves concentration and focus as well as decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. So not only does it improve the health of the mind, it can also improve the health of your body!
With the popularity of meditation on the rise, your smartphone can provide a wealth of resources when it comes to these types of exercises. Several apps come ready to guide you through different meditation exercises. Some of my favorites include Calm, Headspace, and the Insight Timer. Calm offers a variety of different options with guided and unguided meditations. Headspace is narrated by a man with a lovely Australian accent and provides options for many types of meditation for stress, anxiety, confidence, etc. The insight timer app is perhaps my favorite as it offers guided meditations from many individuals with different backgrounds, unguided sessions set to sounds that soothe, and provides podcast type interviews with those that lead the meditations. No matter what you are looking for, there is a meditation app out there for you! Take the time to make mindfulness and meditation a part of your care-giving practice.
Want to get an idea of what a meditation session is before you try an app? Check out one of my favorite simple guided meditations below. You can read through this and practice yourself, or even share with the one you are caring for and practice together.
First, find a quiet and comfortable spot. Sitting nice and straight, feet pressing into the floor, place your hands in your lap, palms up or down, whatever is comfortable for you. Then, close your eyes or keep a soft gaze. Take a scan of your body, noticing what you are feeling in your body and what feelings are circling around in your mind. Start to focus on your breath. Feeling each inhale and exhale. As you breathe in and out, try to focus on something. Maybe thinking of a place that you feel safe and secure. Picturing that space while continuing to breathe deeply in, and deeply out, keeping the focus where you have chosen. Stay here as long as you like. When you are ready to end your meditation, come back to focusing on your breath as you scan your mind and body again. Notice how you feel. Notice what you're thinking. Repeat as often as you’d like!
For more information:
Meditation Benefits Seniors and Their Caregivers:
Calm - https://www.calm.com/
Headspace - https://www.headspace.com/
Insight Timer - https://insighttimer.com/
Or search for them in your App Store