Mindfulness: A New Tool for Caregivers

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There’s a lot of talk about “mindfulness” these days. In fact, if you search the term on the Internet, you’re likely to get millions of hits. Mindful-based approaches are being applied, taught and practiced across a wide spectrum of clinical and behavioral health; from pain relief and management to caregiving.

Yes, caregiving. As most of us are aware, caregiving can be all-consuming, potentially draining, enormously challenging and terrifically rewarding—all at the same time.

Nancy Kriseman, LCSW, was the first thought leader I know of to meld mindfulness with caregiving in her 2014 book The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiver Journey.

Kriseman, a geriatric social worker with 30 years of experience working with seniors and their caregivers, highlights two major approaches here:

1. Adopting a practice of mindfulness, which helps caregivers become more self-aware and fully present with the person for whom they are caring

2. Honoring “the spirit-side” of caregiving, which offers new ways of connecting to one another. These approaches take into account not just the needs of the care recipient, but also the needs of the caregiver and other people in his/her life.

“Mindfulness reminds you that you matter!” says Kriseman. “It nudges you to be kind and gentle, nonjudgmental and compassionate with yourself. It can help you prioritize, set limits, stay true to yourself and ultimately feel more at ease during the caregiving journey.” Mindful caregiving means being intentional.

“Being intentional requires that caregivers learn to ask themselves the following about how they provide care:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Am I doing too much?
  • Am I expecting too much of myself?”

As a longtime caregiver advocate, whose mantra was, “Take your oxygen first!” I am happy to see this concept taken to the next level. I believe that mindfulness is the next, best practice to fight burnout and compassion fatigue, so prevalent in our midst.

One of the words commonly associated with the practice of mindfulness, a side effect, if you will is equanimity.

Derived from “aequus,” a Latin adjective meaning “level” or “equal,” equanimity comes from the combination of “aequus” and “animus” (“soul” or “mind”) in the Latin phrase aequo animo, which means “with even mind.” English speakers began using the word early in the 17th century with the now obsolete sense “fairness or justness of judgment,” which was in keeping with the meaning of the Latin phrase. “Equanimity” quickly came to suggest keeping a cool head under any sort of pressure, not merely when presented with a problem, and eventually it developed an extended sense for general balance and harmony.

It’s exciting to me that the act of learning how to pay attention and live in the moment just as it is can lead to more relaxation, more balance, more confidence in our actions, and a peaceful and skillful way of working and being in the world.

Seize the moment!

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About the Author

Dr. Jamie Huysman

Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW is Vice President of Provider Relations and Government Affairs at WellMed Medical Management, a UnitedHealth company. He has almost 30 years of medical and behavioral health experience in nonprofit and for profit corporate leadership roles in both hospital and managed care environments. He co-founded the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation that created a new level of care for caregivers around the country and received Florida' Social Worker of the Year Award for that work in 2008. Since 1992, his program, TV AftercareTM has provided millions of dollars worth of follow-up care for talk, court and reality show guests. He co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today's Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

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