I learned early on that a diagnosis hits the entire family. I used to always say, it’s not just me who has MS, my whole family does. I was twelve when I was diagnosed and without having any choice, my parents and brother had to suddenly become caregivers. Without a doubt, anyone with illness knows how hard it is to actually put into words the gratitude we feel toward someone who even helps out for an hour, let alone, 24/7.
So today’s blog is focused on caregivers. Yes you. We see you and honor you. For some of you, you might have chosen this as your role, for others it may have developed over time. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge just how much a loved one’s illness affects you. In this blog, I want to focus on care for the caregiver. I know there is a plethora of advice blogs and workshops on this, but we are going to approach it from another angle – from accessing the power of the mind.
Taking care of yourself begins with protecting your inner space – the mind. To be constantly focused on illness, on someone’s needs due to their limitations, can often be a very low place. Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative, imagine what could go wrong, and assess all potential risks. This is for our survival. But when you are living around constant challenges and things actually going wrong, this part of the brain is overactive. If we impress those neural pathways too much, it can become very difficult to create a positive and resilient inner space. The good news is that the brain is plastic, the technical term is neuroplasticity. This means that you can create NEW neural pathways when you do new things and as a result, you can create the neurology for what will serve you best in your role as a caregiver. And that is a peaceful, calm, optimistic, and centered inner world.
The best way to do this is to practice rewiring thoughts. I know that sounds odd but it’s actually quite simple. Here are 3 techniques for caregivers to get you started:
1. Catch Your Thoughts
Become more aware of your thoughts and pick and choose which ones to allow. This takes some practice but you are already exhibiting so much strength as a caregiver so I know you can do this! As you become more aware of thoughts, notice which ones don’t feel good or aren’t serving your highest good. These thoughts usually sound something like “what if ____(something bad) happens,” “that treatment probably won’t work,” “today will probably be the same as yesterday.” If a thought doesn’t make you feel good, it’s probably one you want to drop. Imagine it as a thought bubble, like in a cartoon, and pop the bubble. Practice this through the day. When you pop the bubble, try replacing it with a positive thought or something that makes you feel GREAT. This could be a beautiful memory or an occasion you are looking forward to.
2. Fill Your Time with Positive and Uplifting Things
Creating a positive and powerful inner space means not allowing too much idle time for your mind to wander. Get some audiobooks from your favorite author, spoil yourself with a smart speaker like Alexa to listen to your favorite tunes, or find a motivational speaker or podcast you love. Filling your downtime (even while doing the laundry or washing dishes) with something uplifting will create more neural pathways for enjoyment and pleasure and will reduce the “airtime” for other thoughts. My personal “go-tos” are Abraham Hicks, Dr. Joe Dispenza, or a YouTube search of “healing frequency” or “sound bath.”
3. Ten Minute Meditation
You might be thinking “I don’t have ten minutes.” You cannot afford NOT to take ten minutes for yourself to reduce stress hormones, center your body, and rewire your brain. Studies show that meditating for just 10 minutes a day reduces anxiety, activates the brain in new ways, creates new neural pathways, reduces pain, reduces blood pressure, and much more. Start with a simple practice of focusing on the breath. I recommend using an app like Insight Timer, Headspace, or Calm for beginners. I highly recommend you do your ten minutes a day with the loved one you are taking care of. Check out my previous blog for a free meditation. for beginners
How does all of this serve YOU as the caregiver? I know there isn’t always time to get that massage or take the day off. And when there is time, you probably want to just catch up on sleep. It’s a 24 hour job, I get it. Cultivating an inner world that is calm and peaceful makes all the difference when you are caring for someone else and these 3 techniques for caregivers can help you do just that. I have experienced firsthand how difficult it was for my parents to be taking care of me in this way. The emotional turmoil on top of the physical exertion is a lot to carry, not to mention relationship conflicts and all the medical management. When you are in control of your inner space and when your own mindset comes before anything else, you will find that you have more energy. Things will get done with ease, and the same challenges you faced previously will feel smaller and easier to navigate. You will experience a sense of flow in your life. Imagine that! It is possible and begins with a few small steps. The 3 techniques for caregivers above will help you get started and with time, you will actually change your brain. And, without taking away from your loved one, you’ll actually be able to put yourself first.