Dear Carol: Over the past few years, my parents have had two strokes and one broken hip between them. They both have recovered and are doing fine for people in their 80s. Their in-home care services have remained reasonably stable even during this COVID-19 epidemic.
I'm the problem. I can’t shake the feeling that another health emergency is just around the corner. I understand that expecting that there will be more emergencies is only realistic, but this thinking that I'll be called out to handle something horrible is keeping me from enjoying the fact that things are going well for now. How do I accept the uncomfortable reality yet allow myself to enjoy this period of relative calm? — JH.
Dear JH: By definition, caregivers provide care for people with at least somewhat fragile cognitive and/or physical health, and often both. That reality keeps many caregivers stuck in a fight-or-flight mode due to handling repeated emergencies, sometimes several at once. Unfortunately, staying in this mindset can quickly become a habit that keeps us chronically stressed — even during calmer times.
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You are ahead of many in that you recognize that your mindset is unhealthy and want to change it. Some things that might help:
- Gratitude: Arriving at what is often called an attitude of gratitude isn’t always a smooth journey, but it’s a rewarding one to attempt. No one will always succeed in expressing continual gratitude. However, some practices, such as writing lists of what we have to be grateful for, or regular journaling so that you can return to our notes to look for good things that have happened, can help us maintain a more balanced view.
- Make a plan but keep it flexible: Work out the best possible system with your parents to keep you on top of their health and life events, but don't become rigid. Rigidity can promote anxiety for all of you, while simply having a loose plan for emergencies can help you feel more in control.
- Meditation and/or prayer: There are many forms of meditation. Some are coupled with prayer, while others focus on breathing and/or nature. You might want to try one of the numerous apps for today’s smartphones that can serve as guides or prompts. While meditation isn't for everyone, it's an approach worth trying.
- Time alone: While this time of COVID-19 has proven far too isolating for some, others have realized for the first time how healing time alone can be. Try to find a balance that works best for you.
- Support groups: Caregiver support groups can provide the understanding that you likely need because the people attending them know on a personal level what you are going through. Online support groups have proven invaluable during our current health crisis.
Most of us are prone to a certain amount of ruminating and overthinking, JH, but you deserve to enjoy this calmer time. If you feel that you can’t control your anxious thought pattern, you may want to see a counselor for extra support.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.