How to Feel Better as a Caregiver (Episode 30)
In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about how to feel better as a family caregiver right away. It might surprise you, because it doesn’t require a lot of time or energy, and it doesn’t rely on making any changes to your life or your situation. You don’t even have to tell anybody that you are doing it. All you need is courage and a little bit of knowledge. It’s not easy to do, but it is a simple step you can take. That’s what this episode is all about.
Transcript is below.
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Transcript: How to Feel Better as a Caregiver (Episode 30)
Hi there, I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to, “From one caregiver to another”, this is episode 30.
So I called this episode, How to feel better as a caregiver. And I want you to know that the secret to how to feel better as a caregiver is not really a secret. People have been writing and teaching about this for a lot of years and the secret is that it’s mindfulness and self-awareness. If you think you’re sick of hearing about self-awareness and it just feels like it’s too much for you, or like it’s too woo-woo, or out there for you, please hang with me now. I’m not talking about meditation.
Now, meditation is a fantastic practice and I believe in it and I do it, but that is much further along in this journey than what we’re talking about today. And I’m also not talking about signing up for a yoga class or for acupuncture. I love yoga and I think acupuncture works, but we’re not going there.
What I’m talking about is creating an active practice of taking ownership of your thoughts and your feelings and of managing what’s already taking up space in your mind. What’s already in there and doing all of this without judgment and that how you get immediate relief and how you feel better now as a caregiver.
I know that you’re wondering at this point, what is she talking about and how can this possibly work? It sounds really hard, doesn’t it? Okay. I know you don’t need to be any more overwhelmed than you probably already are because I’m a caregiver too. And I understand what it means to be overwhelmed as a caregiver. And I know it sounds like a lot, but please just stick with me and don’t give up yet. Because by the end of this episode, I’m going to get you to a specific place in understanding where mindfulness and awareness isn’t so overwhelming as it seems right now, and a place where it can help you right away.
So let’s talk about how this practice of owning and managing your thoughts and feelings could apply and give you relief. And I’m going to talk about three of the most common caregiving scenarios. So these are just examples because the mindfulness and the awareness steps that I’m going to talk about today can actually give you immediate relief in really any circumstance in your life, whether it’s related to caregiving or not. Keep in mind here that I’m not going to use the term loved one to refer to the person you are taking care of. I’m going to very deliberately use the term care-receiver instead. And if you want to know why you can go back and listen, episode 26, where I explain why I’ve chosen to use that terminology.
So first scenario, I’m going to describe to you. You had to make the hard choice to put your father or maybe your mother, but let’s use your father. In this example, you had to make the choice to put him in a living facility and you feel very guilty. Sometimes your father cries, when you go visit him because he is lonely and it breaks your heart every time.
Second scenario then, your mom and dad lived together, or maybe just one of them lives alone in a house that’s not appropriate for them anymore, given their needs right now. One of them is frail because of age or maybe showing signs of dementia or possibly is in later stages of dementia. You don’t live with them, but you spend a lot of time there. And you also spend a lot of time managing a few part-timers who have been working around the house for a long time, like maybe lawn care services and maybe even a housekeeper, but your parents refuse to accept any help other than yours, with personal tasks or daily living.
Third scenario then, you live with your mom or dad in their home, or maybe they came to live with you and everything about your life has changed. Your mom or dad regularly expresses their opinions about everything you do and how you do it. If you do have a family, your parent also states their opinions about them and to them. Your siblings and your parent siblings have a lot of opinions about your life and about your parents. And they tell you too. If you have kids living with you in this scenario, it’s very possible that your care-receiver is interfering in your parenting choices as well.
So I will tell you that my personal situation doesn’t look exactly like any of these. My mom lives in a flat that is attached to our garage and it’s actually called a granny flat. I know how cute is that. We made sure that this flat was designed and built for accessibility, and that has come in handy lately. So we don’t have to worry about that on a regular basis, but I will tell you that as I’m recording this, my mom’s water heater broke a few days ago.
And so for several days I have been worrying about her not having hot water. And also I’ve been coordinating the repair of her hot water tank. And that’s on top of all of the other things she and I usually do together. So in all of these scenarios or whatever your situation looks like, you do have a choice about what thoughts take up real estate in your head. I know that’s hard to believe, but listen to this definition of a thought, what if we could define a thought as just words you put together into phrases and sentences, isn’t that totally wild to even consider that a thought could be just a string of words, but it’s really true. And so then a belief would be just a very specific type of thought that you’ve chosen to make an important part of how you live your life every day.
And since thoughts are just strings of words, just words, you do have a choice about which ones live in your head and get priority in your head. And this is what I was talking about when I started to describe this earlier, this recognizing that you have ownership over your thoughts, even though it’s a really hard to believe you can take ownership of your thoughts. And yes, you can take ownership over your beliefs too, since they’re just specific kinds of thoughts. I think it’s easier to believe this about thoughts then the next piece of this, which is to realize that you can also take ownership over your feelings. This is all true, but I want you to notice here that I did not say control your thoughts or control your beliefs and your feelings. So please don’t hear what I haven’t said. I didn’t say that. Eventually you’re going to be able to manage or maybe a better term for it is supervise the things that take up real estate in your head, including your feelings, but we aren’t there yet.
That is not the job in this mindfulness step that we’re talking about today. This is step one. And your only job in this step is to see what’s in your head. I have to repeat that. Your only job right now in this step is to observe what’s already in your mind. And I’m calling this taking ownership here in this episode. And it is literally the first step in my three-step process to creating the life you really want to live. In my book I call this step, observe, but it’s the exact same first step as I’m inviting you to think about here, in terms of taking ownership over what’s in your head and you do that by observing. Okay, so you observe or take ownership over your thoughts and feelings and beliefs. And for a lot of people, there’s a real relief in just seeing and acknowledging what’s in your mind, but not everyone gets as much relief from simply doing that because a lot of us are really wired to judge ourselves for what we see in our minds.
So the trick is for us to notice those thoughts and beliefs and feelings, and then stop right there. Don’t allow yourself to go down that rabbit hole of analyzing and judging yourself for what you see in your mind. Don’t give judgment that kind of power over you, not even the judgment that comes from your own head. Don’t let it have that power over you. And then when you can see the thoughts and beliefs and feelings without judging yourself, or without giving that judgment, any power over you, that’s when immediate relief becomes possible for you. When you stop pushing your thoughts and feelings away, when you stop insisting that you shouldn’t think or feel certain things, and instead you simply allow those things to exist inside you, you can feel better right away, even as a caregiver. The weight that lifts off of you is enormous.
When you can stop denying the truth of what’s just going on in your mind. And this becomes available to you as a practice, as a first step, when you can become curious and compassionate about what you see inside of you. So instead of judging yourself, you might say to yourself, Oh, I see that thought, no wonder I’m feeling this emotion. Isn’t that fascinating? And this is literally releasing yourself from the toxicity of self-judgment. That is what makes the relief possible. Acknowledging what you see in your head without punishing yourself for it. Doesn’t that sound amazing? I have to take the second to remind you and to remind myself even that it really is okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s okay for me to feel whatever I’m feeling. And I know we’ve heard that before, right? Here’s the thing it’s true. But you have to be willing to look into your head to observe your feelings first.
We can’t accept them and feel them until we can actually see them and name them. So now let’s go back to look at those three scenarios I talked about a few minutes ago to see what this first step of observing and releasing yourself from the toxic judgment would look like from a place of compassion for yourself and curiosity.
In scenario, number one, where you’re feeling guilty about the decision to move your parent into a living facility. It’s easy to see that the guilt has got a strong hold on you. No doubt. There are other things too underneath of that guilt. That’s the way it works for those of us around here who are human, me included, but let’s just look at this one, low hanging fruit here. Guilt is easy for all of us to picture. So once you can observe that guilt, getting curiously compassionate about it might sounds like this.
And I mean, curiously compassionate instead of judgmental, it would sound like this. Oh, okay. I’m feeling guilty. And I also really have this thought that I deserve to feel that guilt. That’s what judgment looks to me right now. Okay, yes this feels pretty awful, but I know that’s a normal human reaction. Nothing has gone wrong with me and I’m allowed to think and feel all of these things.
So then in scenario, number two, where you have to spend a ton of time figuring out how to keep mom or dad living at home safely. This is a place where I think that overwhelm is probably a dominant thought and feeling. I know I’ve felt that, and I’ve heard that from my clients. And again, there are likely a whole bunch of other thoughts and feelings here too, but let’s just stick with overwhelm for our purposes today.
And here, observing that overwhelm with compassionate curiosity could look like, Oh, I can see now how much energy I’m focusing on overwhelm. Of course, my worry makes sense now because I’m putting so much into thinking about my overwhelm and I’m getting stuck in a loop here, and this is normal for me. Nothing has gone wrong in my head.
And then in the last scenario where an aging parent lives with you or you live with your parent, I think it would be reasonable to see that frustration would be coming up a lot in your mind and in your feelings. So observing this from a place of compassionate curiosity would be, Oh yes, I am frustrated and I can see it now. I am an adult and no, I don’t like it when dad corrects my parenting in front of my kids. This all makes sense to me and these emotions are a very human response. Okay, I’m not a bad person to feel this way.
So I don’t know if you could see that there, how the turnaround was from blaming and shaming yourself for having guilt or frustration or overwhelm or pushing those thoughts away to saying, Oh, yes, I see this here. And this is normal because I’m human. But what if you can’t even see your thoughts and feelings yet? Well, I want you to know that it’s okay to be there too. We all are there at some point, it’s a big step to take, to observe your thoughts and your feelings. And it’s not easy to do. And because it’s not easy to do. That’s why I wrote my book. My book is called, From one caregiver to another, overcoming your emotional grind. Because in my book, I really pull back the curtain on why this is so hard and how exactly you do it.
In the book, I give a thorough explanation of a mindfulness or awareness tool that I use a lot with myself and with my clients. And this tool gives you immediate relief from the weight of all those feelings. So you can begin to feel better right away. And this tool is called a thought download. And it’s more of a focused process than journaling. Although it probably will look a lot like journaling to you if that’s something you already do.
You will see links to all of this on my website. And there’s a link to that in the bio. So just to recap here, because I think I’ve covered a lot of ground in this episode. I’ve been telling you that how you feel better as a caregiver right away is to become aware of what you are thinking, believing, and feeling. And that is what I mean by taking ownership. That is what I mean by mindfulness. That’s as far as we need to go today and to the really good news is that’s step one, and you just get to stop there.
You see it, you acknowledge it. And then you stop before you get to the part where you analyze yourself and end up back in the pain. You stop before you judge yourself and you stop before you give that judgment power over you. I know all of this sounds radical, doesn’t it? Maybe even, it sounds a little impossible to you right now. And I agree that it’s radical. It is radical. Who would think that you could possibly get relief from some of the heavy pressure of what’s in your mind, without even making any changes. All you have to do is look into your mind. And so, yes, that is definitely radical, but it is not impossible, no way.
It is very, very possible. No matter how stuck you think you are right now. And if you’re stuck, let me assure you that you are normal. You can even go back in the list of the podcasts, you can listen to episode 28, where I make some pretty educated guesses about the exact thoughts you might be stuck on right now. Being stuck is a pretty typical human reaction to being in a caregiving situation with a lot of stressful circumstances, but you don’t have to continue to be stuck. If you want to stop being stuck on how awful you feel, you become mindful of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. And I can almost guarantee you’ll feel some relief right away. This is the specific understanding of mindfulness that I promised I’d get you to, by the end of this episode. Just observe, just take that step of mindfulness and stop there.
And I’m going to go even further and say to you that at that point, take a break. Now whether you only take a break for just a breath or you take a week or a month, you take a break before you begin the next step of this work. And then when you have had a break and when you are ready to face, whatever you found in your own head, you can then take those observations of what you’ve seen in your mind. And you can begin to get some help handling those things.
And this next step, the second step is processing what you’ve seen in your observation step. And I do want to recommend that you get some help with this next step. So in this step, you actually bring your observations to someone who can help you process them and do it in an emotionally safe setting.
You can bring your observations to a coach like me. You can email me if you’d like to talk about what you have observed in your mind. And my email address is available at my website, or you can take your observations to a therapist or a counselor that is always, always a good idea, or you might even find that it’s helpful to take your observations to your support group if it’s safe for you in that way. And I just really want to emphasize here to make sure that you begin to process your mindful observations with someone who feels safe to you. Okay? So if your aunt Frannie is going to ridicule you for taking this very brave step of looking into your own mind, don’t ask your aunt Frannie to help you process this stuff. Find someplace that is safer for you. Find someone who is safer for you.
So yes, what I’ve been talking about today is radical mindfulness, but it works. And it’s only one step to get there. You can begin to feel better as a caregiver immediately, you do have to be willing to believe that you can take ownership over the words in your head, that form those thoughts and beliefs and even feelings that you have.
Eventually you will even be able to manage or supervise the things that take up room in your head, but you have to start by simply believing that you can, and by doing the work of step one of observing, but make sure you stop yourself before you get to that part, where you judge yourself for what you’ve seen, you will get the relief right away from just taking step one, which is the step of mindful observation.
Thank you so much for listening and being here with me today. You can learn more about me and about this work at facilitatoronfire.net and that’s facilitatoronfire.net. And there, you can also sign up for my newsletter, which is also called, From one caregiver to another.
Please follow me on Instagram. There’s a link in the show notes. If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who are tired of feeling trapped by the traditional definition of being a so-called good caregiver. If you liked this episode, please consider leaving a review which will help other caregivers find their way here too. And definitely consider telling a caregiver friend who also needs a boost in their confidence to design and live their own best life, which oh, just happens to include their caregiving responsibilities, but does not have to be centered solely on those duties as a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode.
Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.
“Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to overcome the emotional grind of caregiving.