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Caregiver Resiliency

14 Tips for Caregivers

by Al Siebert, PhD

Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.

Some caregivers are more resilient, hardy, and stress-resistant than others. They hold up well under pressure and even gain strength from the difficulties and strains.

The inner nature of people made stronger by adversity has fascinated me for many years. A common factor I find in survivors transformed by extreme difficulties is that they fully embrace the challenge. Instead of complaining, they emerse themselves in the circumstance to be dealt with and let it change their lives.

Nancy Linday has a perfect story to illustrate how she converted being a caregiver for her mother into a valuable, satisfying, transforming experience.

Nancy was a champion distance runner who, after a sports injury, took a full-time job as an urban planner. After her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, Nancy quit her job to become her mother’s full-time caregiver. She decided to find a way to slow down her mother’s mental deterioration by engaging her mind and motivation. Nancy had the idea to develop an interchangeable visor / cap, or "Vicap®" that would meet her needs as a runner. She engaged her mother — who had been a legal secretary in her career — with poring through the legal documents necessary to bring an idea to market. The activity helped keep Nancy’s mother’s mind sharp, and created a purpose for being. When Nancy is asked about what she misses most about working on the Vicap now that her mother has passed away, she always says, "THE LAUGHTER! — It’s work now, not Mother Love and family." Read Nancy’s full story.

14 Tips for Caregivers:

Resilient survivors find meaning, purpose, and value in difficult circumstances. I encourage caregivers to think beyond self-care activities for coping with stresses and strains. Here are some useful questions to reflect on: "Is there anything good about this experience for me? How is this changing me? What can I learn from this?"

We humans are born with the ability to be made better by life’s difficulties. Wisdom and new strengths do not come from the adversity itself, however, but from the struggle to heal and make sense of what one has gone through. Research into the inner nature of life’s best survivors has led to an understanding of emotional resiliency and how it develops. How much is the following list descriptive of you?

Accept and embrace what life has handed you. People most likely to cope well with rough challenges are the ones who fully accept what has happened. People who don’t want to do what they are doing are more likely to become psychologically drained and exhausted.

The mother of a friend of mine developed Alzheimer’s disease. He moved her into the basement of his home because she refused to be placed in a care facility. He accepted a contract to work for a year in a foreign country leaving his wife to care for his mother. His wife felt forced into an unwanted caretaker’s role, but accepted it. His mother died shortly after his return home. His wife feels drained and is emotionally distant from him. Not a good situation for either of them.

In contrast, Nancy Linday fully embraced her mother’s Alzheimer’s illness, and made it an enriching, loving experience for them both.

Maintain a playful, curious, spirit. Play with new developments. Enjoy things as children do. Have a good time almost anywhere. Be curious. Experiment, make mistakes, get hurt, laugh. Ask: "What is different now? What if I did this? What is funny about this?"

Constantly learn from experience. Ask "What is the lesson here? What can I learn from this?"

Adapt easily. Be non-judgmental and emotionally flexible. Be both strong and gentle, sensitive and tough, logical and intuitive, calm and emotional, serious and playful, and so forth. The more counter-balanced inner qualities you develop, the better.

Enjoy solid self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. It allows you to enjoy praise and compliments. It acts as a buffer against hurtful statements. Critical care nurses, for example, must handle extreme verbal abuse from some patients and families of patients. Self-confidence is your reputation with yourself. You expect to handle difficult situations well because on your past successes. "These are my reliable strengths…."

Have good friendships, loving relationships. People are more stress resistant and are less likely to get sick when they have a loving family and good friendships. Lonely people are more vulnerable to distressing conditions.

Express feelings honestly. Resilient people express anger, love, dislike, appreciation, grief–the entire range of human emotions honestly and openly, while also being able to choose to suppress feelings when they believe it would be best to do so. These are signs of emotional intelligence. Expect things to work out well. Research by psychologists shows that optimistic people have better health, are more stress resistant, persist longer, and have more personal success.

Develop open-minded empathy. See things through the perspectives of others, even antagonists. Ask "What do others think and feel? What is it like to be them? How do they experience me? What is legitimate about what they feel, say, and do?"

Trust intuition. Accept intuition and hunches as valid, useful sources of information. Ask "What is my body telling me? Did that daydream mean anything?"

Question authority. Dr. Bernie Siegel says "cancer survivors are not good patients." Ask questions about medications. Resist manipulations that others attempt. Avoid "games" people play. Defend yourself against attacks and fight back when you must.

Have a talent for serendipity. Learning lessons in the school of life lets you convert a situation that is emotionally toxic for others into something emotionally nutritious for you. A good indicator of deep resiliency is when a caregiver talking about a difficult situation says "I would never willingly go through anything like that again, but it was the one of best things that ever happened to me." Ask "Why is it good that this happened? What is the gift?"

Deeply resilient people let themselves be transformed by their experiences. When life handles you a challenge that you didn’t want or ask for, you will never be the same again. You will emerge exhausted and perhaps bitter, or you will emerge strengthened and better. You have it in you to determine which it will be.

The Resiliency Center was founded by the late Al Siebert, PhD who studied highly resilient survivors for over fifty years. He authored the award-winning book The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.