As a caregiver, you may have no trouble finding stressful moments, but moments of joy could be harder to find. It is impossible to generalize about the daily life of a caregiver because some caregivers take care of a spouse, a parent, a friend, and others a child. The time, effort, and skills needed to be a caregiver vary based on the person’s needs, which can change over time.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Where to Find Moments of Joy as a Caregiver
- What Moments Might Cause a Caregiver Stress?
- How to Stay Positive as a Caregiver During Challenging Moments
Caregiving can create feelings of compassion, responsibility, frustration, obligation, guilt, and even anger. Caregiver burnout is so pervasive among caregivers that it is estimated that 40-70% of family caregivers report symptoms of depression. Finding joy in caregiving can take effort and an awareness of where to look for joy. By finding moments of joy, you will decrease your stress and, in the end, become a better caregiver.
Where to Find Moments of Joy as a Caregiver
Finding joy as a caregiver is a two-pronged approach. One is to find joy while you are caregiving, and the other is to find those moments that inform your caregiving and make the journey deeper and more significant. While not every situation will be joyful, chances are you will discover many more than you knew possible.
1. Practice gratitude
It can be tough to be grateful when caring for a loved one who is suffering. But there is much to be thankful for. Each day write down some things you are grateful for. They don't have to be related to caregiving but could be the love of family or your friends. Perhaps you are thankful for your relationship with the person you care for and the honor of being able to care for them.
2. Listening to music
Music is healing and uplifting. You can assist your loved one with listening to music to improve their mood. For you, listening to music will connect you with a part of yourself that can bring memories, excite your nervous system (in a positive way) and bring simple joy. Accessing music with platforms like Spotify and Apple music has never been easier. Talk with your loved ones about the music they want to listen to and coordinate the technology to assist them.
3. Acknowledge holidays and special occasions
As a caregiver, you may have to adapt to what your loved one needs and can do during holidays and special occasions, but it may be a mistake to overlook the value of celebration. Ask the person you care about how they want to celebrate- if they cannot tell you, plan something that will not be overwhelming but joyful. Celebrating special occasions can help to normalize a caregiving situation.
4. Seek out nature
Being in nature is associated with increased well-being, better sleep, memory improvement, and decreased stress. It isn't always possible to get a loved one out to nature without considerable effort, but even something simple as time in the yard or a park amongst the greenery and birds singing will bring joy. Make it a point to get your loved one outside as much as possible.
5. Find humor
Finding humor in a caregiving situation can be tricky, depending on the person you care for. But, humor can diffuse a stressful situation, and laughter, in general, has multiple mental health and physical benefits. If humor is challenging to find in the caregiving situation itself, put on a funny movie or listen to a podcast of one of your loved one’s favorite comedians.
6. Try mindfulness
It seems as though mindfulness is everywhere these days. But don't be intimidated. With practice, mindfulness can bring joy to almost any caregiving situation. You can think of mindfulness as the opposite of anxiety. With anxiety and stress, you are thinking ahead of all the possibilities that may or may not occur. The advantage of mindfulness is that it keeps you present in the moment so you won't miss those moments of joy. Mindfulness can also bring you closer to your loved one and increase your awareness of their needs.
7. Memories can be joyful
Memories can be painful, but they can also bring joy. Everyone has had better days, but life is rich with happiness and pleasurable memories. As a caregiver, you can facilitate good memories by looking at photo albums or talking about things in the past.
8. Bring other family members into the caregiving experience
Invite other family members, especially children, to visit your loved one. Although it can be distressing for others to see a loved one in decline, there is no reason to hide behind that fact. Bringing other family members into the caregiving situation can be a very positive and uplifting experience.
What Moments Might Cause a Caregiver Stress?
Few caregiver situations don’t have at least some stress, and some have significant stress. Your stress level will depend on many factors, like your mood that day, other challenges in your life, or whether you are having a good or a bad day. You will likely recognize some of these stressors and realize you aren’t alone.
Complex caregiving tasks
Caregivers are expected to perform increasingly complex medical tasks for their loved ones. This can happen when someone is discharged from the hospital, rehab or when an illness exacerbates. Often there is no training for these tasks, and as a caregiver, you can become stressed not knowing if you are doing things correctly or safely. Accessing caregiver resources can help you learn caregiving techniques and connect with other caregivers.
Uncooperative or angry loved one
You could be caring for someone with dementia, an aging parent, or a spouse. Anger and frustration are normal reactions to losing control and being sick. That anger can sometimes manifest as being uncooperative and difficult to deal with. You are only trying to help, but it can be very stressful when you encounter resistance.
When your loved one declines, the emotional and caregiving toll can be stressful, even if expected. Caregiving duties can increase, and thoughts about if and how your loved one can recover can be stressful. Especially at the end of life, beliefs about losing someone can be emotionally draining.
The financial strain of caregiving can be very stressful. It can take a toll if you have left your employment, downsized your hours, or hired some additional help. It is hard not to think about the short and long-term economic impact every time you care for someone.
Not enough help
As a caregiver, you may have a job and other family responsibilities. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate everyone’s needs. Hiring help may not be in your budget, and other family members are not helping as much as you need them.
How to Stay Positive as a Caregiver During Challenging Moments
Staying positive as a caregiver during challenging moments will take some mental fortitude and an acceptance that you can’t stay positive every moment. Accessing caregiver resources will help you build a foundation of support and knowledge. Stay connected with others to build a foundation of support.
Accept your limitations
You can’t do it all; if you think you can, the stress will make it challenging to stay positive. Accepting your limitations, doing what you can, and letting the rest go can give you a more positive attitude. Acknowledge that you are doing the best that you can.
You don't have to feel happy to act happy. Considering the circumstances, be as positive as possible, and you may be surprised at how much your attitude changes. Bring your positive attitude to the person you care for and watch them react with more gratitude.
Have someone to talk to
Whether it's a caregiver counselor, trusted friend, or family member, having someone to talk to will help you stay positive in those challenging moments. Others can give you a different perspective and offer coping strategies.
Taking deep breaths has been shown to calm the nervous system by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Settling the body helps settle the mind, which can lead to stress reduction. You can practice deep breathing any time of day to get used to the process.
Focus on the relationship
It is normal for the relationship with the person you are caring for to change. Try to be mindful of the person's value and the significance of your relationship with them. People can change when they are ill or disabled, but their disability does not define them.
Plan on a self-care activity
When you are in a challenging caregiver moment, think about a way you will reward yourself after the caregiving is finished for that day. Ideas are a spa treatment, a walk in the park, or a conversation with a good friend.
This too shall pass
Whatever the challenging moment is in caregiving, it will pass. If there are angry or frustrating moments, it will be easier to stay positive if you realize that tomorrow is another day and that this, too, shall pass. A shift in attitude can change the current dynamic for the better.
Moments of Joy in a Caregiver’s Daily Life
Joy can sometimes feel like a fleeting and elusive emotion when you are a caregiver. But with practice and awareness, you can find more moments of joy than you thought possible.