Mindfulness and Family Caregiving
Family caregiving can be a full-time job. It can take a lot of your time and sap you of your energy. Without taking some time to reduce your stress levels and care for your mental health, you may eventually burnout.
Today we want to talk about mindfulness as a way to manage and dope with stress. What is mindfulness? Many definitions have tried to characterize it. In essence, it is being present in the moment, acknowledging that the present moment is all that you have control over right now. This definition may sound unclear. But think about how much time you spend worrying about the past, planning for the future, worrying about what other people think of you, second guessing what you did or said. Reflecting about the past and planning the future are not bad qualities, and it can often be necessary. It’s just they can be all-consuming, causing anxiety and a loss of focus. Mindfulness tries to ground you in the present, even when you are having these thoughts.
Mindfulness has been a known stress-reliever, encouraged by many cognitive beharioral therapists and health professionals alike. John Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and mindfulness expert, suggests that mindfulness is not just thinking about the present and forgetting everything else, but about recognizing your thoughts as you have them. He says imagine your thoughts as a river flowing, carrying you downstream. However, mindfulness means swimming to the bank, and watching the river (your thoughts) flow by. This move removes yourself from your own thoughts, distancing you, so you have more control over the moment.
Mindfulness is not easy, and it can take a lot of practice.
Below we will suggest some practices that can help you stay focused.
- Deep Breathing: This is one of the most effective ways to keep your mind from running away with wild thoughts. Breathe in for four seconds, counting the seconds in your head or out loud. And then breath out for four seconds, counting the seconds again. Repeat this process for as little as one minute to as much as ten minutes! Focusing on your breath and counting helps you stay focused on the present moment. When you are counting your breaths, the only thing you are thinking about is counting your breaths! This is what mindfulness is about. You can perform this practice everywhere.
- Meditation: This is similar to the above, but meditation usually involves being in a space that has little to no distracts. Meditation involves deep breathing, closed eyes (sometimes), and can involve movement. Although some people can meditate sitting still, others cannot. It is definitely possible to meditate while moving. For instance, try stretching your muscles. Stretching ensures that you are focused on the exercise itself (especially since they can be a little uncomfortable sometimes!), breathing, and relaxation. At the same time, it isn’t just a still position. Perform whatever form of mediation works for you!
- Physical activity: Sometimes exercising, like resistance training, walking, running, etc. can be a great way to get your mind off of things. Not only does physical exercise release dopamine, relaxing you, it can also be a way to distract yourself from anxious/stressful thoughts. Doing physical activity forces you to focus on the task at hand. And when you finish, you often emerge with a new, fresh perspective on certain matters. Or, at the very least, you are in a better head-space than before.