Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension & Caregiver.
(Fourth article in a four-part series on staying positive as a caregiver.)
Since there were so many strategies to help us maintain a positive attitude two articles were needed and I’ve probably missed many others. If your strategy isn’t included please add it to your tool box of positive building activities and add it in the comment section of this article. I would love to hear about them and will add them to future articles. As a reminder, this is the fourth article in the staying positive as a caregiver series. I hope you check them all out and remember to comment at the end of each article:
- 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.
Let’s review some of the key ideas from the previous articles in this series. Since we can’t be positive all the time, having a range of strategies will help each of us cope with the multitude of stresses we encounter as caregivers. It’s in our best interest to be positive because it keeps us healthy. Positive thoughts lead to a more positive attitude. Being positive actually changes the way our brain works. Even the most negative person can learn to be positive! Article three outlined positive building strategies that involved others and require action. This article focuses on strategies that require self-reflection, learning new skills, and are more internally focused.
Look for & Pay Attention to Good Things.
It’s easy to only see the hard or negative things of caregiving but try to find the good things about caregiving. This morning he/she was able to get up and we spent some time together watching TV. His/her pain is less today. We got a call from a friend checking in on us. Regardless of how bad things are going you’ll find something positive you just have to look for it. Lots of little positive things can add up and help keep your spirits up too!
Pat yourself on the back for doing the best job you can do instead of being critical of yourself. Many times, we are our own worst critics. If you find that you are being hard on yourself, take a few minutes and think about the past week and jot down everything you did right. I bet you’ll be surprised at everything you did and you’ll feel a lot better. Don’t forget to reward yourself for your ability to adapt and problem solve or avoid a problem, for holding your tongue (this is one I have problems with), learning a new task or something else you accomplished. Your reward can be as simple as actually patting yourself on the back or with something tangible such as your favorite candy bar, a coffee or wine break or taking time to watch a movie or read an additional chapter of your book.
Recognize when You’re Negative.
Look at your negative feelings and thoughts (might want to write them down) and determine if they are valid based on the situation you’re in or are they harmful to you. It is normal to be negative when you continue to get bad health reports or there are complications in your care receiver’s condition. You need time to process the news and adjust to what it means and of course you are sad and upset. What you don’t need is to beat yourself up about not having time to give your care receiver a bath or change his wound that day as other things came up. The bath and/or wound bandage can be changed the next day.
An attitude of gratitude strengthens your positive attitude and helps reduce stress. Often, I find myself taking for granted people, things, and events that I am grateful for but don’t acknowledge them. I am trying to be more mindful about naming what I am grateful for or my many blessings. I bet you are like me and have people in your life like family members, friends, medical personnel, and others who you are grateful for and depend on. How about things like a hospital bed, medical equipment that make your life easier, good TV or movies to watch, the sun is shining, etc. Of course, there are events we love to celebrate like family and/or friend get togethers, holidays, positive test results, a phone call or text, and many others. I have to keep my eyes open to see that there is much to be grateful for even in the most terrible times of my caregiver journey.
Acknowledge Your Limitations.
Knowing what you can and can’t do is essential. Sometimes the things you can’t do may be things you feel uncomfortable doing or don’t want to do. Get help for these things, find ways to help the care receiver do them themselves or determine if the item needs to be done or can it be done in a different way.
Listen to Your Body.
Our bodies communicate with us on a daily basis. It tells us when we are hungry, need sleep, hurt, or feel overwhelmed. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you. If it is telling you, you are tired then take a break even if its only for a few minutes. Being rested will help you stay positive. If your body is telling you it needs medical attention then get it sooner than later! Caregivers often become ill or even die because they didn’t listen to their bodies and seek medical attention. It’s imperative to take care of yourself!
Be Confident as a Caregiver.
Remember caregiving isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a tough job and one that presents many trials and tribulations. Pledge yourself to being positive and teach yourself to find something positive in your difficult times. You can do this regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Stay in the “Here & Now.”
Focus on what is needed today and don’t worry about tomorrow. You can plan ahead, but try not to worry about what might happen in the future. Don’t dwell on what happened yesterday or last week. These things are old news and aren’t about what you can do today. This is a hard one for me. I am a planner so I have to remind myself to focus on today because tomorrow will be here tomorrow.
Try to find joy and laugher in your day. Laughter is an antidote to stress. It decreases stress hormones, and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. There are apps, calendars or books that provide comics, funny sayings, or laughable situations that could be helpful is getting a laugh each day. Don’t forget about funny books, movies, TVs or friends who make you laugh.
Name the Shame.
Don’t beat yourself up about something you didn’t do or something you may not have done perfectly. Identify what you’re shameful about, accept it and move on. What’s more important is to identify all the things you did right! Don’t fall for dwelling on the one bad item and forget about the 99 you did well!
You have probably heard the statement—Be Happy! Would you believe that smiling, using positive words when describing situations and life plus voicing happy thoughts is helping you to think more positively. You will gain a more positive outlook and your mood changes. This process takes time but when you feel or hear yourself being negative try to stop yourself—smile, use positive words and share positive thoughts.
Use Positive Self-Talk.
Positive thinking often starts with positive self-talk and is helpful in maintaining a positive attitude. When something happens are your first thoughts positive or negative? If your thoughts are more positive you are more optimistic versus pessimistic. If you are pessimistic you have a tendency to disregard any positive thoughts regarding the situation, often blame yourself for what happened, jump to the worse conclusion, and see things as either good or bad. If you tend to be pessimistic there are resources on ways to become more optimistic. Individuals with more optimistic outlooks are more likely to live longer, have less stress and depression. They are less likely to get colds, and generally have healthier hearts and overall are healthier.
Have you ever had a negative thought that just won’t go away no matter what you tried to do to get rid of it? If you have, then you have experienced ruminating. There has been some research to link ruminating to depression which necessitates getting professional help. If you ruminate off and on the use of mindfulness, thinking about positive events or imagery have been found to be helpful.
Spiritually is often linked to religious participation and beliefs. Spiritually can be found by connecting with others, discovering your value system and searching for meaning in life.
As you can see there are many strategies that we use to help us maintain a positive attitude as we cope with our caregiving roles and responsibilities. By having a tool chest of positive attitude building strategies, we will be helping ourselves stay healthy and that’s what’s most important!
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.