Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension & Caregiver.
(Third article in a four-part series on staying positive as a caregiver.)
Since every caregiver will experience stress sometime in their caregiver journey and the realization of the need for caregivers to be positive to stay healthy a four-part series, staying positive as a caregiver was created.
The articles are:
- Staying Positive: The Link Between Being Positive & Stress
How our caregiving stress hinders being positive and maintaining a positive attitude.
- Staying Positive: How Our Bodies React to Stress
Identifies differences in how our body reacts to stress versus positive thinking and a positive attitude.
- Staying Positive: Action Strategies to Help Caregivers Stay Positive
Positive building strategies that can be added to your caregiver tool box that involve others or require an action.
- Staying Positive: Internally Focused Strategies to Help Caregivers Stay Positive
More positive building strategies that require self-reflection, learning new skills and are more internally focused.
In the first two articles in the Staying Positive series for family caregivers we reviewed the link between being positive and caregiver stress. We explored how different parts of our bodies react to stress. Remember that having a positive attitude is healthy and promotes positive thinking. Our brain responds to repetitive thoughts causing neurons to produce chemicals which alter how our brain functions. These changes can be positive or negative depending on our thoughts and behaviors. Think about how the brain would react to daily exercise versus hearing you make negative comments about your caregiver abilities. Daily exercise produces positive thoughts while the negative comments or thoughts create negativity in the brain. Having positive thoughts on a continual basis reduces stress, boosts the immune system which helps keep you well, increases resiliency and heals the body.
With that background we need to answer the question—what can I do? We as caregivers can work on building a more positive attitude and there are lots of different strategies to help us. Since we are human, it’s impossible to always be positive but we can decide if staying as positive as possible is a goal so we can maintain our health. I suggest building a tool box of positive building strategies that can be looked at when you are down and need to work on being positive. Just print off the articles or flag them for future review. Since not all the strategies work for everyone or work for different situations, I’ve gathered almost thirty strategies for your consideration. I’ve grouped the strategies into two groups. The first group of strategies are ones that require a physical action or involvement of someone else. The second group (article four of series) are more internal focused and require some self-reflection and/or the learning of new skills. If you have a strategy that works that isn’t listed please add it in the comment section at the end of the article.
Strategies that Require Involvement of Others or an Action
- Take care of yourself: We hear this all the time because it’s so important. We are so busy taking care of our care receiver we don’t do for ourselves. Take time to exercise regularly, get a good night’s rest, take a nap if you need it, and eat healthy foods.
- Spoil yourself: A small treat goes a long way in relieving stress and boosting your feelings. Get a massage, pedicure, new outfit, flowers, food treat or something you like that is special.
- Do something you like to do: There is research that says you will feel more rejuvenated by doing something you want to do rather than what you have to do. So, take time to be with a friend, take a bubble bath, read a book for a half hour, do a past hobby, play with your grandchildren, walk the dog, work in the workshop, or something else. What’s important here is to do something you DON’T have to do. Something that is just for you!
- Surround yourself with positive people: Identify people in your life who lift your spirits and make you feel good. Give them a call, send a text or go for coffee. After a few minutes with a positive person you’ll feel much better.
- Maintain a life beyond caregiving: Caregiving is challenging and will consume all your time if you allow it to. Try to continue outside interests you had before caregiving. If possible, get out to groups or events you did before caregiving. Social media can help you stay in touch with friends and family members. Websites like Caring Bridge are designed to help caregivers stay in touch with lots of people at once and are easy to use.
- Keep your social ties: It is important to keep your social ties because they are your support system. They are also the individuals who are willing to help you out or step in when you need a break.
- Take time for yourself: Yes—really do it as it will help you continue being a caregiver. If you think this is impossible, I challenge you to start with one minute. Just sit for one minute and close your eyes. How did that feel? The next day try two minutes, then three minutes and so on until you have a block of time that is just yours. Tell your care receiver you are taking “Me Time!” It will be worth the effort to carve out this time for yourself.
- Ask for help: Keep a list of people who have offered to help you out. You just have to ask. Be specific about what you need, when you need it and other details regarding your request. You will be surprised at how willing people are to help out. Also, many of us who are caregivers were those who offered to help when someone else needed help—so think of it as collecting on the help you provided for others.
- Communicate with other caregivers: Caregivers are creative people and having others understand what you are going though can be beneficial. Sometimes by listening to others you gain a different perspective of your situation and by helping others you’ll stay positive.
- Discover healthy ways to manage your stress: Stay away from unhealthy stress coping strategies like using drugs or alcohol. Find stress management techniques that work for you like calling a friend, journaling, exercise, getting help or other strategies.
- Be kind to others: It is known that the individual who does for others often gains more from that act than the person they were kind to. This is something I’ve been attempting to do daily. Even little things like smiling at someone at the grocery store, opening a door for someone, sending a note or text to someone, or commenting on something a person is wearing, etc. A little kindness goes a long way in helping to maintain a positive attitude. Of course, you can also do much larger acts of kindness like volunteering, helping someone in need, donating money, etc. Regardless of which kindness acts you do you’ll be more positive.
- Use relaxation techniques: Try different relaxation techniques to see which ones work best for you. Some of them can be used immediately while others may take more time. Some relaxation techniques include yoga, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation. Some people use prayer as a way to relax.
- Get enough sleep: Without sleep you won’t be able to function so make sure you get about eight hours a night. If you need a nap take it, because sleep will help you manage stress better resulting in being more positive.
- Journaling: Journaling is the act of writing down your thoughts, feelings and actions. A journal can be helpful because it enables you to reflect on what you have written. Often individuals find that by writing down and reflecting on them things become clearer to them. Journals can have a theme or topic such as a gratitude or blessings journal, they can be a catalogue of your caregiver journey, or just thoughts that come to mind. Having a journal maybe just the tool for you as it helps you reflect and puts various situations in perspective.
Hopefully this list of possible ways to maintain a positive attitude will be helpful. You probably already use some of them while others are ones you might want to try. Maintaining a positive attitude will keep you healthy so you can continue being a caregiver. Remember if you have a strategy not listed that requires the involvement of others or action add it to the comment section below this article.
American Heart Association. (2017, June 30). Caregivers: Be Realistic, Think Positive. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
Caring Village Staff. (2018, February 5). How to Stay Positive as a Caregiver. Retrieved May 30, 2020, from Caring Village.
First Light Home Care Staff. (2017, November 24). Maintaining a Positive Attitude as a Family Caregiver. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from First Light Home Care.
Hsu, K. J. (2017, March 16). Anxiety.org. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Rumination Is A Risk Factor For Anxiety.
Jacobs, B. J. (2017, July 6). Repeat After Me: I am a Good Caregiver. (AARP) Retrieved June 3, 2020, from Family Caregiving: Caregiver Live Balance.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, January 21). Healthy Lifestyle: Stress Management. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from Mayo Clinic.
Schumacher, P. (2918, March 30). How to Stay Positive as a Caregiver. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from Home Care Assistance.
Smith, M. (2019, October). Caregiver Stress and Burnout. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from HelpGuide.