Caregiving is a role that any of us can take on at any point, that impacts our lifestyle, schedule, and even our relationship with the care recipient. In the United States, one in seven Americans is a caregiver, and that percentage continues to rise. Regardless of how long you’ve been in the role, how do you maintain patience and compassion as you go along your caregiving journey? Here are a few tips and reminders:

General Understanding:

  1. Caregiving is NOT a role to be done alone
    • While people may think it’s their duty, the role of a caregiver is not something easily done by one person; they will need a support system. 
  2. To be compassionate and patient with the care recipient, a caregiver must be compassionate and patient with themselves 
    • Caregiving can be challenging – physically, emotionally, and financially. However, the caregiver must also look after themselves in order to provide good care to their loved one.
  3. Do not take things personally – Sometimes the illness or symptoms can cause the care recipient to act a certain way.

Tips for Providing Compassion and Patience:

    • Know your limitations – The goal for caregiving is not to be a prefect caregiver. Always know that there will always be a limit to what you can do alone. Acknowledging this is the first step to providing good care for your loved one.
    • Questions to ask yourself
      • What topics or issues, related to health and caregiving, are you scared to think about?
      • What are your stress triggers while caregiving? What are you comfortable/not comfortable doing?
      • What are your relationships like with others who help care (or potentially could help care) for your loved one?
    • Short breaks can go a long way – Even a five-minute break can be as powerful as an hour, giving caregivers a refreshed perspective to go back to their roles.
    • Make time for your hobbies
      • Whether it’s 15 minutes spent reading or a weekly exercise class with friends, hobbies are an important form of self-care
    • Questions to ask yourself
      • Are you feeling on edge or overwhelmed?
      • When was the last time you did something only for yourself? How did you feel afterwards?
      • What is a realistic type of self-care that you could do for yourself?
      • Who could you ask for help, while you do your self-care activity?
    • Look for signs of burnout – Are you feeling tired, regularly thinking negative thoughts, getting irritated easily, experiencing loss of appetite, or being unable to sleep? These may be signs of burnout.
    • Be aware of decision fatigue – Having to make, or at least feeling like you have to make, the majority of decisions for your loved one can become very tiring. Consider asking family or friends to help with certain decisions, such as meal planning or activities.
    • Enryo can sometimes be harmful – While many of us may be hesitant to ask for help, not doing so and fear of being a burden can cause additional stress as well. Make sure you remain connected with family, friends, colleagues, and the community.
    • Questions to ask yourself
      • If you are reluctant to ask for help, why do you think that is?
      • Who are a few people who you could ask for help, without feeling like a burden?
      • What types of tasks or decisions could you ask someone to assist with?
    • Looking at the situation, no matter how big or small, from your loved one’s perspective can help you understand how they may be feeling or why they are acting a certain way.
    • Create opportunities for discussion – Rather than assuming you know, regularly ask about your loved one’s preferences and thoughts.
    • Anticipate their needs and feelings – It may not always be possible to ask in advance, or your loved one may not respond. Use your past experiences and look for non-verbal cues to help inform your decisions and actions.
    • Questions to ask yourself:
      • Does it seem like your loved one is not sharing their needs because they don’t want to burden you?
      • How does your loved one see you, as the caregiver? Do you look, or sound stressed?
      • How might your loved one be non-verbally expressing their needs, preferences, and feelings?

Methods for Practicing Compassion, Self-Awareness, and Self Care:

Here are a few methods you can consider:

  • Breathing – Breathing exercises, including just a moment to catch your breath, can be refreshing
    • 3-breath method: The first breath is to focus on your breathing. The second is to relax your body. The third is to think about what is most important at the moment.
  • Self-awareness tools:
    • Noting – noticing what is going on, noting that, then let it be and take a breath
    • Body scan – taking a mental inventory on your physical state
    • Journaling – processing your thoughts through writing it out
  • Mindful, empathetic listening – Attentively and kindly listen to what your loved one wants to convey to you
  • Set aside time for an activity or hobby – Blocking off this time, preferably on a regular basis, can refuel your energy to care to your loved one
  • Therapy – If the situation becomes overwhelming, consider seeking support from a trained therapist
  • Join a caregiver support group – Support groups can provide not only emotional support but also new suggestions and tips from other family caregivers.

Thank you to Dr. Emi Iijima, for providing insight into creating this article.