Keep the joy in caregiving
It probably can be stated with a great measure of certainty that caregiving is a very intense and at times a draining experience. In many ways it can sap the energy from someone mentally, emotionally, and physically. Many caregivers can testify to the ever on-going challenges and demands of looking after and caring for the disabled whether a child or an adult. How can a caregiver keep up her/his spirits and still experience “joy” in what has to be done? Take comfort: many caregivers who experience these draining sensations share their thoughts and experiences to still have joy in the care of those who need it.
One caregiver suggests there are five key elements of joyfulness in caregiving being hope, faith, balance, healing, and strength. One should keep up the faith that tomorrow will be better and bearable. Strength can obtained by leaning on someone when things become too much. Leaning on such a person can bring healing. Amidst all the demands we can find hope by allowing to believe that tomorrow will be alright. It is possible to keep joy at the forefront by maintaining a balance and strength with the aforementioned elements.
Many caregivers strongly advise and encourage to keep a sense of humour. Elisa a point in case. She had to take care of her father who suffered from dementia. At one point she became very irritated and angry with her father because of a certain situation. Then Elisa shared an incident:
“Fortunately, the weekend brought a change of pace. With the emotional embers still smouldering, my husband, father and I sat in the family room reading the mail and newspaper. Suddenly, my father rose and stomped toward his bedroom. He stopped abruptly, turned around to look at us and sternly demanded, “Where’s my room?”
My husband said, “I’ll show you, Mardig,” as he rose to lead him down the hallway. I got up and followed closely behind. Still upset about the unnecessary illness we endured, I whispered, “David, look!” My father’s hearing was poor, so he kept walking as David turned to see me miming hands around my father’s neck, as if to strangle him. Since I typically don’t react this way, David began laughing. My father stopped, looked at David and then at me. Trying to cover up my guilt, I smiled like a Cheshire cat. David continued laughing. My father looked serious yet confused. Trying to figure out what was happening, he mirrored our reactions. A smile appeared and then he, too, began to laugh. Amazed at just how close to bottom we hit just a few days earlier, I started laughing, too.
What a breakthrough. Standing in the hallway, each of us laughing for different reasons, we must have wondered: "What are we doing, standing here laughing?" And this is what we mean when tears are dried with laughter. Thus, we returned to the family room with unburdened hearts filled with joy … for the time being.”
Be open to humorous moments and situations – they are therapeutic and a tonic to the burdened soul.
There are useful and practical tips that caregivers give to make caregiving an ongoing joyful and fulfilling experience:
· Get to know and use available resources. If possible make use of day care service during the week. The caregiver herself will benefit from attending support groups and learn from such resources as well as online sources.
· Take some respite. Even if it is only five minutes. It helps to regain perspective and you will be able to approach the task again.
· Learn as much as you can about the disorder. This will help you to know what to expect and cope with it.
· Care for the person you are taking care of the same way as you would want to be taken care of if you had the disorder.
Jeanine DeHoney writes on the blog Today’s Caregiver that caregiving can take a toll on you physically and emotionally especially when joy is affected. There are days that you feel like a robot just going through the motions and you may forget what makes your heart sing with joy. It is essential that caregiver will infuse joy and laughter back in one’s life which will help to cope better with the stress of being a caregiver. Laughter is crucial to strengthening the immune system and releases certain ‘’feel good’’ endorphins. DeHoney shares the following to add more joy to caregiving:
· Create a joyful journal. A journal is that safe place where you can express your most private thoughts, feelings and experiences in a very honest way including the difficulties and darkest ones. Do not dwell on them for too long because that is not sum total of your life. There are moments of joy as well: joyous and funny memories of the loved one or the person you are caring for; joyous events in your life; an upbeat song you like a lot; an inspirational thought or quote you heard or read.
· Put a joyful mantra on your computer or fridge. You can read this every day and it will keep you positive and in a joyous mood.
· Celebrate.There are many ways to have a small celebration. Treat yourself with flowers. Take a day or time off by getting others to take over your responsibilities for a while in order to have date night, spa day or any other relaxing activity.
· Eat joyously. By this is meant healthily. Caregivers tend to eat rushed, less nutritious foods or skip meals. Instead you should go for the rainbow stuff: green, yellow, orange, red, white and purple. Don’t forget the fruits. These will give you the necessary nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
· Exercise. That’s a good one and essential for self-care and well-being. A fitness centre is not feasible take a walk. Exercise DVD’s or music to dance with is fun.
· Surround yourself with happy, vibrant friends. If they are fun and creative it will have a positive effect on you. Their high spirits will uplift you in times when things are too much for you.
· Be joyous with the one you are caring for. Even if that person is not responsive. Bring up funny memories, tell jokes, put on a comical or inspirational movie. The person taken care of is much more than the disease or disorder and you are much more than a caretaker.
· Cultivate gratitude. Happiness is closely associated with gratitude and research has confirmed this. Purposefully look for things, big and small (especially), that will fill you with gratitude. These will counter negative and depressing feelings and will uplift you to the point of being able to continue with renewed strength and joy.
Amy Goyer is an author, speaker and consultant specialising aging, family and caregiving. She regularly contributes by writing for the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP). She maintains that experiencing joy while caregiving is not easy but it is essential for survival. To relieve stress, be motivated, be active, to connect and have relieve of boredom some fun will be very helpful. One has to proactively create joyful moments which will infuse joy for the caregiver and the recipient of care. Goyer makes the following suggestions:
Music. Music as means of creating moments of joy is very common amongst caregivers. Play music that is loved by the person receiving care. It brings peace, ease of pain, energise, and distract from anxiety.
Adventures. Every outing can be regarded as an adventure and plan for it. This could be a medical appointment, shopping, dinner, a movie, a ball game or just a car ride.
Food.Good food smells and tastes good and can stir happy memories. And when you eat, savour every bite.
Physical activity. It doesn’t have to be difficult or extreme exercise. The simple things can be fun too. Do swimming if possible. Walking and dancing, tossing a ball back and forth, yoga breathing and poses are easy and with little if any financial implications.
Games. Familiar card games, board games, charades, puzzles and crossword puzzles are wonderful ways of distraction from boredom and frustration.
Celebrations and holidays. Use any excuse to have a party. There are many reasons and occasions for anniversaries. Especially small accomplishments are reasons to celebrate like a successful shower or fastening their own buttons.
Humour.This is good one. Sometimes you need to be a bit silly. Drop the pose and laugh at yourself. Watch fun movies and read funny stories. Laugh at everyday mistakes and foibles. Amy Goyer tells about when she forgot to give her father his false teeth and didn’t realise it until they were at a ball game. He just smiled, made a funny face and laughed it off.
Caregiving, especially in instances where it has been laid upon someone who has to take care of a loved one or whoever, is frequently a life of self-sacrifice. This goes for those caregivers who do this professionally for a living as well. But everybody who is in the business of caregiving will testify that it is hard work and strenuous. It can take its toll in many ways on emotional, mental and physical level. One runs the risk of becoming disillusioned, frustrated, demotivated and fatigued. After all caregivers are only human! The consequence of this could be that the noble and fulfilling service that the caregiver is supposed to deliver could become lost because it becomes a drag. The joy of it is lost. And that would be sad.
For the caregiver’s own well-being – and for the person being cared for – it is essential to maintain the joy of caregiving. This should ensure the feeling of “I’m doing something good and worthwhile”. There are many little things in life one can notice, do and enjoy which will foster the joy of caregiving. Some examples were given in the pages above. They are easy, accessible and affordable. Pursue them and you will experience a profound difference.
Caregivers, we salute you! Thank you for your selflessness!