HOW THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF GRATITUDE REDUCE CAREGIVER STRESS DailyCaring, October 2020
This DailyCaring article discusses how gratitude is proven to reduce stress—from the point of view of CAREGIVERS having gratitude saying:
- Practicing gratitude can make you happier, lower stress, protect you from depression, help you sleep better, boost your immune system, and improve your relationships.
- Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring negative feelings or bad things in general, but recognizing the positive in your life, which is not terrible 100% of the time.
The article points out the benefits of recognizing the positive effects of gratitude:
- It helps you become more optimistic and improves your overall attitude,
- It helps you to respond in an optimistic attitude more naturally.
- It helps you focus on what you do have rather to avoid getting sucked into negativity.
The suggested method of practice gratitude is to keep a journal.
This is all well and good. But I must also suggest that care receivers and the other family members remember to show gratitude to the caregiver. Nobody is perfect in caregiving situations. Everyone gets cranky or critical and makes mistakes. But acknowledging the caregiver for their efforts goes a long way.
My husband and I were frontline caregivers for his mother for seven years. After she began to suffer recurrent falls, hospitalizations, and rehabilitations, she moved into our home. I quit my job and became her fulltime caregiver. This arrangement went well for the first two years, but then the inevitable decline began again, and the caregiving arrangement became increasingly difficult. My attempts to mitigate increasing needs were not well-received.
“Everything is for your convenience!” David and I tried to talk to her about her feelings, but I ended up leaving the room. I was really angry about her remark. I was sinking under the weight of caregiving, trying to find solutions to problems, and was accused of doing things for my own convenience!What to Do about Mama? pp. 21-22
For me, the greatest difficulty was the language used by my mother-in-law and Sandy, describing me as “selfish.” I could understand “obnoxious,” but “selfish” was unfair and demoralizing and totally undermined the progress we had made.What to Do about Mama? p. 28
Once again, our conversation felt strained. I asked Sandy if she needed to clear the air about anything else. Big mistake! She told me that she felt putting Mom in the nursing home for a respite stay was selfish on my part. She proceeded to tell me that, although David and I provided Mom with very good physical care, the emotional care we provided was terrible; in fact, it “sucked.”What to Do about Mama? p. 26
When my health had declined to the point that I needed two knee replacements, arrangements were made for my mother-in-law to move in with her daughter. I felt that I had not lived up to the commitment I had made, which was caused me a lot of anxiety. The Hospice Spiritual Advisor gave me an assignment, which is a great example to illustrate the theme of the DailyCaring article How the Positive Effects of Gratitude Reduce Caregiver Stress.
Blessings of Mom Living in Our Household
• Example set for our children. Our youngest daughter said, “Thank you, Mom, for taking care of my Grandma and being such a good example for me.”
• The grandchildren have had an opportunity to know and love Great Grandma. This was in contrast to Shelley’s comment that they really didn’t see their grandparents much growing up.
• I was able to give my mother-in-law the gift of my children and grandchildren. I am proud of the love, support, and appreciation they show her.
• I had the opportunity to demonstrate to my mother-in-law and siblings-in-law my appreciation for being a part of their family since I was eighteen years old. I was also able to show thanks to my parents-in-law for providing support in our times of need. Most of all, I was able to show gratitude for their assistance and encouragement in helping to provide our children with their college educations. This was to be my gift to my all of my in-laws.What to Do about Mama? p. 35
HOW CAREGIVING CHANGES US: WHAT DIES, WHAT GROWS: Thursday, October 5, 2020
In this article Donna Thompson describes caregiving as a process with no clear beginning and no clear end. She states that caregivers may not even accept that they have taken on the role, but whenever one cares for another, they are indeed a caregiver.
- You may think initially that this will be a temporary state of affair—only until someone else steps up to the plate or when life returns to normal. But then you find yourself still embroiled weeks or months or years later.
- During that time, you have experienced uncertainty and self-doubt while your relationships and associations have changed. You, too, have changed—permanently and fundamentally—and there is no going back to who you were when you began the journey. Caregiving is now undeniably a part of you—you have found previously unknown pieces of yourself in the process. Your transformation is an accomplishment.
- You may have had to come to grips with your disappointment in others to whom you felt the closest. You may have been hurt by their reactions to you and your situation. But during this process, you’ve developed your own voice.
The big trip-up occurs when you discover that the realities do not meet your expectations and you begin to feel disappointment and frustration. When you are carrying so much burden on your shoulders as a caregiver (in addition to your other roles—such as spouse, parent, and/or employee), and if you feel unappreciated, overwhelmed, and out of control, these emotions can turn into anger, resentment, and bitterness. These nasty feelings seem to eat away at you, like cancer, from the inside out.What to Do about Mama? p. 176
Through the process of “rising to the occasion,” they discovered newfound capabilities and personal growth. Jane learned a lot about her own emotional strengths. She also chose a new career path—working with mature adults and developing senior programming for fitness facilities. June started and facilitated a caregiver support group and has found it cathartic: “We cry and vent and laugh and love each other.” Caregiving taught Aggie to take life one day at a time—and more about patience than any other experience. Ward says a caregiver has to be very strong—“with 24/7 time to give.” Initially, Annabelle resented having to do caregiving. But ultimately, she was glad she had the experience. She knows now what is important, and that it doesn’t pay to get upset over little things. Annabelle also relates that she has enjoyed watching her mother grow from a dependent 1950s-style housewife into an energetic older woman who stands up for herself and calls the shots of her day. For Keith caregiving became a process of discovery—of what one is capable of doing in a crisis. He has compiled a booklet of information to help others who are undertaking the experience. In addition, when families pull together to support one another, other members experience personal growth—specifically, the caregiver’s children. One caregiver learned by the example her mother had set. Aggie said that her caregiving taught her children many valuable lessons. Deborah in contrast, pointed out that she learned her caregiving orientation from her mother, who would take home-cooked meals to the sick—and had cared for her own mother and her father-in-law as well. Other caregivers express the importance their faith played in their caregiving experience and report even greater spiritual growth. In caring for her son, Betty was inspired by his character and his faith—bringing her closer to God. Suzanne, who believes that things happen for a reason, sometimes feels that the only thing that helps her through the day is her trust in God.What to Do about Mama? pp. 242-243
There are two important questions left for you to determine:
What has died in you?
What has grown?
Are you feeling that caregiving is ruining your life? Listen to the podcast: Caregiving Ruined My Life – The Caring Generation®
by Pamela Wilson | Sep 15, 2020 |
In this podcast Pamela Wilson speaks to an unspoken belief of many caregivers: “Caregiving Ruined my Life.”
Although I never thought or felt about caregiving exactly in these terms, I guess you can say I came close. Because caregiving had drained me, both physically and emotionally, my thoughts ran more along the lines of: “I squandered the last best years of my life.”
As part of the process of regrouping after caregiving, I wrote What to Do about Mama? I wanted to share insights about what I learned. I wanted pre-caregivers to know beforehand what they were getting into. I wanted current caregivers to have more tools to work through the inevitable hurdles. I wanted to give post-caregivers encouragement that there is life after caregiving, and more importantly, how to avoid burdening their own children with the same degree of responsibility.
Wilson states that many caregivers even feel that caregiving almost killed them, and I can personally attest to the truth in that statement as reported by those caregivers who submitted their stories for inclusion in What to Do about Mama?
“My overall caregiving experience has nearly killed me.” (Katrina’s Story)What to Do about Mama? p. 105
“At times, I have felt her suck the life right out of me.” (June’s Story)What to Do about Mama? p. 144
Wilson affirms that caregiving can be rewarding, meaningful, and joyous, but goes on to say: “Let’s be realistic.” Caregiving might be the most difficult responsibility you will ever accept. Few family members report raising their hands to volunteer for the job. Many caregivers feel they had no other choice, because nobody else stepped up to offer help.
Following are ten ways caregivers can take back their lives, according to Pamela Wilson. I have listed them along with my affirmations and rebuttals, noted in red.
- Tip #1: When elderly parents are adamant about refusing help, stop pushing. Set boundary lines. Learn how to take back your life one step at a time. You’re not going to abandon your parents, but you may also not be that caregiver who loses your life when your parents’ lives fall apart. In the beginning, we felt guilty that my mother-in-law had been pushed into moving closer to family. As front-line caregivers, we accommodated her every need. Later, when her needs increased, she moved into our home. Eventually I began to set boundary lines which were not well-received. I was told everything was done for my convenience and that I was selfish. Boundaries are of critical importance. They are not a magical solution.
- Tip #2: Manage your work-life balance while honoring your sense of duty. Hire in-home caregiving aides, consider other supportive living arrangements such as assisted living facilities, avail yourself of available community resources. We did not hesitate to enlist Hospice services. They helped my mother-in-law live life to the fullest, even traveling by plane to a granddaughter’s college graduation. She was on Hospice for two years. It’s a fallacy that the patient must be on his or her deathbed before receiving Hospice services.
- Tip #3: Not all families get along. The longer you continue being “the caregiver”, the longer the problem will persist. Develop a plan to take back your life–and follow through. Your relationship may suffer, but if you become emotionally and physically drained, your resentment will grow, and family relationships will suffer anyway. Don’t allow this burden to become solely your problem. We had a family meeting and thought we had an established plan. Near the end, it took a family mediation before expectations were met. Don’t undertake a commitment based on assumptions. Draw up a concrete and specific plan of how everyone can and will contribute. Sign, date, and revisit the plan often so that it will continue to meet growing needs. Again, your relationships may suffer, but is better than the following.
- Tip #4: “Caring for my elderly mother is killing me.” Acknowledge it and then take your life back. There is life after caregiving. (But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can turn back time.)
- Tip #5: If something is making you sick, acknowledge the impact of caregiving stress and having to shoulder the brunt of the burden. While caregiving, I contracted the shingles. Fortunately, they weren’t too bad. Stress related? I believe so. I also damaged my knee while squatting down to tend my mother-in-law’s skin tears. The knee(s) deteriorated to that point of needing replacements and ended my caregiving responsibility. My mother-in-law moved from our home to her daughter’s and lived one more month.
- Tip #6: It’s frustrating when people say, “Call me if you need help” and are then not there for you when you need them. Well, sure. But sometimes the caregiver needs to follow through with asking and to be specific in their needs. And sometimes, the parent is resistant. My husband and I used the services of a Friendly Visitor from Hospice so that we could have a “date night.” I would have dinner prepared so that my mother-in-law could feel that she was entertaining a “guest” rather that feeling like she required a babysitter.
- Tip #7: Caregivers who stop working to be full-time caregivers, don’t foresee that caregiving work will become all-consuming, isolating, and depressing—often their only outside social and mental activity. It can impact you financially, mentally, and physically. Anticipated months can turn into years. Consider the potential impact ahead of time. When my mother-in-law moved in, I emphasized that I wanted to maintain time for my daily walk. Because we all valued her ability to have social contact, I would take my mother-in-law to the senior center twice a week to play bridge. After she was settled there, I would hightail it over to Curves for a workout and would then proceed to one of my daughters’ homes for a visit with grandchildren. Fortunately, everything was in a fifteen-minute radius of here and there. This became my primary survival technique—a real win-win situation.
- Tip # 8 Most families don’t give enough prior consideration to the challenges of living with elderly parents. Parents and children have different lifestyles, and this decision changes lives forever. It’s not easily reversible. Separating is like getting a divorce. Feelings are hurt when a caregiver says, “I can’t do this anymore.” I worked at the Area Agency on Aging and had a lot of experience visiting families and observing various caregiving models, and we definitely gave this a lot of thought. But even after knowing someone for 40+ years, there are still surprises. As an in-law, I found out more about my mother-in-law that I ever wanted to know, and I’m sure she felt the same. When it came to the point that she had to move out of our home she said, “You’re evicting an eighty-nine-year-old woman!” and “I feel protected here.” (What to Do about Mama? p. 32.) Talk about guilt!
- Tip #9 If you made the decision to give up a full-time job and live with elderly parents, you may have a great deal of apprehension and fear about getting back out there. I did give up a full-time job, but since I was able to retire, this was not a big problem for me. It is common for caregivers to feel, “What now?” when caregiving ends. I bypass that one, too, probably due to my status as a daughter-in-law, and also because I was focused on having bilateral knee replacements and going through rehabilitation.
- Tip #10: Caregiving is a marathon—not a sprint. It doesn’t end quickly. Every choice that you make might be questioned by your family members. You will be judged for helping too much, not helping enough, for being selfish, for expressing your feelings. Whatever happened to the idea of enjoying life while you’re young? This was our experience exactly. Caregiving needs can develop suddenly. When “the crisis moment” occurs you often find yourself woefully unprepared. Bottom line for the siblings is: “If they want to weigh in on what the solution should be, they have to participate in the process that leads up to that.”
See Chapter One in What to Do about Mama? Expectations and Realities of Caregiving for my complete caregiving story. The following excerpt is a summary of the experience.
I thought we did a lot of things right:What to Do about Mama? p. 39
*We had a full family discussion among the siblings when developing the caregiving plan, both when Mom moved north and later when she moved into our home.
*We communicated frequently and openly, both verbally and in writing. Although e-mailing has its drawbacks, it was efficient.
*We did our best to respect Mom’s independence. Initially, she lived in an independent retirement home. When she moved in with us, she had her own space with her own furniture and belongings.
*We provided Mom with a multitude of opportunities to socialize with both family and friends.
Still, we did a lot of things wrong:
*We did not include Mom in our initial discussions. Ultimately, the decision was hers, but she was strongly pressured.
*We did not discuss our values or explore other options to moving north. What took precedence? Autonomy or safety?
*We made too many assumptions and had too little commitment. Our expectations were too high. Caregivers are giving people who often try to maintain a sense of control. Caregiving is fraught with a lack of control over both the situations that occur and the people involved. Our expectations of others were unrealistic; our expectations of ourselves were self-defeating.
*Despite a good multi-decade relationship, the difference in our family cultures and its impact on who we were as people was just too vast. Once the trouble began, interaction among all parties became increasingly difficult, and then impossible. That was the quicksand I never saw in my path.
Ultimately, my husband and I have come to believe that it takes a caregiver to understand a caregiver. They did not understand.What to Do about Mama? pp. 39-40
The Caring Generation, with host Pamela D. Wilson: Living With Elderly Parents Radio Show
This is a great program for anyone thinking about having an elderly parent move into their home. Pamela Wilson provides information to discuss and consider prior to making a commitment of this magnitude.
In-home caregiving is the model my husband and I undertook to provide care for his mother. Our arrangement had one major difference: I assumed the role of primary caregiver as a daughter-in-law. Our experience is detailed in What to Do about Mama?
Although our caregiving situation had a number of positives, there was also more difficulties than we ever foresaw. I am highlighting those points because they have the most significant application to the disintegration of our caregiving arrangement.
- Although we discussed the arrangement extensively with all family members beforehand, we did not establish firm parameters of shared responsibility in a formal, written, and a notarized agreement.
- We made sacrifices above and beyond what the others were willing to do, which eventually led to resentment.
- We did not realize how much sharing our home would change our spousal relationship.
- Unanticipated details surrounding the situation can create unforeseen complications.
- We underestimated escalating needs, which increased the scope of responsibilities. Neither did we fully anticipate the number of years involved with providing care.
- We did not recognize the differences in our family cultures, which led to serious misunderstandings.
- Over time, caregiving can become a trap that can undermine the adult child-parent relationship, as well as relationships with other family members.
- Caregiving can be very long-term. We did not prepare a contingency plan for if and when the arrangement became unmanageable.
Remember: Do not enter a live-in caregiving arrangement lightly.
As of last Monday, Katie has been home for six weeks. I would like to report that everything has worked out and this care plan is now sailing smoothly. But since most of you are probably caregivers, you already know that there’s always a problem to be mitigated just around the next bend—especially in a scenario as complicated as Katie’s.
Ironically, even improvements bring with them another glitch. When I visited Katie on Tuesday, she was especially quiet and blue. When I asked her about it she said, “I’m not sure I will ever walk again,” and, “Every day is the same as the last.” I asked her if being home was better than living in the nursing home and she replied, “Oh, yes!” But, because Katie is much more aware and much more expressive she is also recognizing the profound extent of her limitations, unlike in the nursing home where she just slept through time.
On Tuesday, Sam said that for the past three days Katie had been crying out again. He doesn’t feel that he can stand it if she doesn’t get a handle on her pain. But then during Thursday’s visit he reported that Katie had shown improvement again–hence the roller coaster analogy. The OT recommended that Sam and Gloria give Katie a heads up before each and every movement when transferring and providing personal care. I reminded Katie that it is her responsibility to maintain control—she is the only one who can do it. Of course we remember to acknowledge the difficulty of bearing pain and to lavish her with praise when she does well.
The biggest UP that I can report is that Katie’s room is finished and that Gloria is now able to provide care independently for those times Sam must be away from home. That alleviates the need for Sam to make arrangements with the neighbors to cover when he is working at his part time job.
The biggest DOWN is really a bummer. The transfer of funding from the nursing home to the community was supposed to be a “seamless” process. Seamless, indeed! There has been NO transfer, so none of the vendors have been paid for the environmental modifications, consumable products have not been provided (such as diapers, wipes and barrier cream), delivery of equipment has been held up (such as the combination shower chair-wheelchair), and most importantly, the agency caregiver has not been paid (because she is living in the home 24/7, all she has received is her room and board). Obviously, this is causing a great deal of stress for everyone involved, and the problem needs to be rectified soon.
I have a few ideas for dealing with some of these problems, but I will leave that for the next post. In the meantime, I would sure appreciate hearing any thoughts and suggestions you experienced caregivers may have to offer.
Katie sang, Katie laughed, Katie smiled.
- “There are always bumps in the transition road–we expect them,” the Provider said. “Give this about a week and Gloria, Sam and Katie will start to get into a routine.”
- First bump: In short, the home health agency did not show up on Tuesday, and will be unable to come until Sunday. This occurred because the nursing home did not send the orders until the day of Katie’s release; orders were incomplete; the staff was uncooperative in rectifying the problem.
- Second bump: The environmental modifications could not be provided until after Katie’s discharge. Katie’s living area is carpeted, which makes it very difficult to move the Hoyer lift and wheel chair. In addition, since Katie is dead weight in the bed, it takes two people to move and transfer Katie. The laminate floor will not be installed until after the New Year.
- Third bump: Sam is having difficulty visualizing that Gloria will be able to handle the heavy aspects of Katie’s care without assist. He points out that this has always been his biggest concern. The success of the plan rests on the caregiver’s ability to work independently. In the meantime, Sam will have to pitch in to help Gloria, or make arrangements to have the neighbors help.
Sam is embroiled in the middle of a very difficult situation. It’s hard for him to see the positives.
- First positive: The Provider is monitoring Gloria’s ability to handle Katie. They will make adjustments where needed and are confident that it will all work out.
- Second positive: The Provider reports—“ I cannot believe how alert and oriented Katie is—it blows me away. She is reminding Sam to do things! Sam went up to get some tape and came down and said, ‘I can’t remember what I went upstairs for.’ Katie replied, ‘Honey you went for tape.’ After Sam leaves the room, Katie says to me, ‘I think Sam needs to do some of my brain teaser exercises to stimulate his brain.’ Gloria, Katie and I cracked up. She laughs, she smiles—she is funny and right on point.”
- Third positive: Katie’s new mantra–
Susan Diamond’s blog entry “When Aging Parents Can No Longer ‘Do.’ Ways To Empower So They Can Continue to ‘Do.'” is about empowering aging parents: http://helpparentsagewell.com
I’d like to share a few more examples of empowering aging parents. When my MIL moved from Florida to our hometown, she bought a pontoon boat. This was something she always wanted. My husband was the captain and we took her boating frequently with family and friends. She’d strut out of her retirement community building with her jaunty pink cap to go boating—and I knew she was “showing off” a bit for the other residents. Unfortunately, she fell in the bathroom after a day on the boat and broke her tailbone and pelvis. That was the end of the boating, and the beginning of the vicious cycle of falls, hospitalization, and nursing home rehabilitations.
My MIL then moved in with us and I was her primary caregiver. We had two good years before the next decline. I took her to the senior center twice a week to play bridge. Sometimes we would have lunch and bridge parties at our home. Best of all, she was able to participate in all our family celebrations. When the grandchildren were around (and running amok), she liked to say, “I started all this.”
Pneumonia and congestive heart failure began to ravage her body and she started receiving hospice services. Even then, we put a lot of emphasis on maintaining social relationships and activities. Hospice loves to come in and help people enjoy everything they can do in life. Her hospice group supplied MIL with a transport chair so I could get her out of the house to go to the senior center, and with travel oxygen so she could go to the beach with her daughter.
Even if the last two years in our home became extremely difficult, I feel good that we did the best we could to empower my husband’s mother.
See: Help! Aging Parents: http://www.helpparentsagewell.blogspot.com for complete conversation about “Aging Parents and Us–as Caregivers: Know Thyself.”
Knowing thyself as a caregiver involves the understanding of positives and negatives.
For seven years my husband and I were caregivers for his mother. Initially, she moved to our area and into a supportive independent living retirement community. This arrangement worked well for three years. Then we entered into a crisis phase for six months due to a cycle of falls, hospitalizations, and rehabs. In an attempt to end this “vicious cycle,” my mother-in-law moved into our home and I became the primary caregiver. The arrangement went well for two years before we inevitably hit the slippery slope of decline, which lasted another two years until her death. Those last two years were very difficult.
After our journey was over, I wanted to turn what had become quite negative into a positive once again. I (along with my co-author) wrote a book about caregiving, What to Do about Mama? A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members, and am in the process of promoting the book on social media sites, an area in which my experience is practically nil. My oldest daughter is helping me with this endeavor.
This brings me to the point I am addressing: What’s positive and what’s negative? Although my daughter is proud of my accomplishment of authoring a published book, and although she believes the book has value for “people who need it,” the book in and of itself makes her uncomfortable. Simply, it feels negative to her. Isn’t it ironic that I wrote a book to turn a negative into a positive, but that it feels negative?
Of course, as a mother, I’ve been a caregiver most of my life. But for me, caregiving for children is a hopeful process of building and preparing for the future. But caregiving for an aging parent is in contrast trying to make the final path as comfortable and trauma-free as possible by doing the best you can day by day.
I think your last two sentences say it all, Barbara. Of course no one is perfect And when we do the latter to the best of our ability, we basically have no regrets (a positive). This isn’t always true with parenting, however. We can do our best and we can still have regrets (I know this well from my many years of counseling). Wishing you good luck with your book.