What’s the million-dollar question for anyone who spends a significant amount of time and energy caring for someone else? The question that I help people ask themselves (myself included) daily is this: How do you care for yourself while caring for another person? While the answer to the question is as individual as a fingerprint or a snowflake, there are some practices and tools that work well for many people.
In our day-to-day busy lives, we get used to living in our heads. We have thoughts, and then those thoughts become words to communicate and connect with others. This pattern is the norm for most of us. As the brain changes for a person with dementia, this type of communication isn’t as accessible. It not only affects the person with dementia, but it also changes the way that he communicates with you. It changes the relationship. It can be challenging for both people to know how to connect. It’s easy to get frustrated with each other when you’re navigating unfamiliar territory. The old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore. People often get stuck, not knowing how to relate differently.
Easy Tool You Can Do Right Now
The silver lining is that there are other ways to connect and communicate. Instead of connecting through thoughts and words, we can connect through feelings, body language, and facial expressions. The truth is that we are always communicating non-verbally. We just tend to pay more attention to words. So instead of connecting with your head, connect with your heart. When a person’s brain is losing its ability to form and articulate words, the connection to their senses and feelings becomes stronger. This inability to communicate becomes more dominant. When we are intentional about tuning into our senses and emotions, we become more centered and can connect more deeply with our loved one as a consequence.
A powerful way to attune to your feelings is to focus on savoring a moment, whether it be a memory, a present moment experience, or the anticipation of a moment in the future. Savoring is ”the capacity to notice, appreciate, and intensify the positive aspects of our lives.” While many challenges require us to develop coping skills on the dementia journey, savoring is a practice that can help us appreciate the good moments in the present and the positive memories that we have with our loved one. Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University of Chicago, has found that savoring can build stronger relationships, increase mental and physical health, and help you develop more creative solutions to problems.
The practice of savoring a memory is called reminiscent savoring. Let’s try it now.
Soften or close your eyes. Think of a positive experience that you had with your loved one in the past. Allow it to be a specific moment in time, and let it play out in your mind like a movie. As you watch the experience, notice that the feelings you had at that time are now present. Allow yourself to feel those feelings in your heart and your body. You might even notice that you start to smile. Stay with the experience and place one hand on your heart. Let the feelings linger. Open your eyes and notice how you feel.
This practice allows you to connect with positive feelings within yourself and change your state of mind and heart. It’s an inside job first. Then, you may be in a place to connect with your loved one from the heart. After savoring the memory yourself, I encourage you to try this practice with your loved one. Sit down together, tell the story, sharing what you remember about the experience, how you felt at the time, and how you feel now as you remember it. Notice how your loved one responds. I hope that it allows you to connect through your heart, feelings, body language, and facial expressions.
How to Practice Savoring the Present Moment
Does your loved one have a favorite song or genre of music?
A favorite chair in the house where he likes to sit and drink coffee?
Does she enjoy walking around the block (if able) to breathe in the fresh air?
When you are together, experience and savor these moments when you can.
If your loved one lives in a care community, share these interests with her caregivers. Ask them to kindly take a moment to play the song. Walk around the block with her or sit and drink a cup of coffee with her. Ask the caregivers to share with you about the experience.
Savoring as A Caregiver
Play your favorite song.
Sit in your favorite chair in the house where and drink your favorite beverage.
Walk around the block (if able) to breathe in the fresh air.
Reminisce about the things that you love about yourself, your loved one, and your relationship together.
Place your hand on your heart and notice how you feel. Savor the experience. Come back to this practice, again and again.
Caring for yourself while you care for another person gives you the capacity for the unexpected and things that are out of your control. Tell us how you care for yourself and savor the moments in the comments below.
Leslie Marchand, LCSW is a therapist who gently guides people toward their sense of health and wellness amid life’s joys and challenges. She specializes in working with family caregivers, people with a terminal illness, those who have recently lost a loved one, and mental health and health care professionals. She is the Bereavement Counselor for Silverado Hospice of North Houston and an author and online course creator at www.SoYoCo.org. Leslie was also a presenter on grief in our instant access live from Houston free retreat. Listen to her speak about ambiguous grief here.
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