Wholehearted Caregiving

There are so many practical things that take up caregivers’ time, especially for those taking care of aging parents while still parenting young ones at home. These caregivers have a vast to-do list that includes balancing careers, setting up doctors’ appointments for the whole family, and possibly being the decision maker for the future. As the demand for caregiving rises with an aging population, there is an opportunity for the public and private sectors to work together to develop solutions to support families. 

More than anything, caregivers have said their own emotional well-being has suffered as they took on this new role. Emotionally, caregiving can be draining and can encompass your whole world so much so that you may not even have the capacity to think about self-care. 

Even on the good days, when your loved one is having an upswing and is engaged and happy, there could still be struggles. In the moment, you are able to laugh and enjoy the day together, but then another feeling creeps up. You fear that these positive feelings will be taken away, you start to foresee difficulties that are likely to come. It overpowers the present joyful moment, and you may be unable to stop thinking about the rough patches that you’ll face. This feeling is called foreboding joy, a term coined by Brene Brown, a world-renowned social work researcher who is an expert on emotional health. Foreboding joy is common among caregivers as they experience the emotional highs and lows of caring for a loved one.

To combat foreboding joy, Brown focuses on wholehearted living and shares guideposts on how to navigate letting go of certain emotional gremlins while cultivating better emotions. She advises that the best practice is to express gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for in the moment. As those creeping negative emotions start to appear, she recommends taking a deep breath and sharing whatever you are grateful for, even keeping a journal to write those things down. Gratitude for your positive experiences will place emphasis on the joy you are presently feeling, and there is no better time to start practicing gratitude than on the upcoming holiday this month, Thanksgiving.

More than anything, caregivers have said their own emotional well-being has suffered as they took on this new role. Emotionally, caregiving can be draining and can encompass your whole world so much so that you may not even have the capacity to think about self-care. 

Even on the good days, when your loved one is having an upswing and is engaged and happy, there could still be struggles. At these times, you are able to laugh and enjoy the day together, but then another feeling creeps up. You fear that these positive feelings will be taken away. You start to foresee difficulties that are likely to come. It overpowers the joyful moments, and you may be unable to stop thinking about the rough patches that you’ll face. This feeling is called foreboding joy, a term coined by Brene Brown, a world-renowned social work researcher who is a renowned expert on emotional health. Foreboding joy is common among caregivers as they experience the emotional highs and lows of caring for a loved one.

As those creeping negative emotions start to appear, just take a deep breath and start sharing what you’re grateful for in that moment.

To combat foreboding joy, Brown focuses on wholehearted living and shares guideposts on how to navigate letting go of certain emotional gremlins while cultivating better emotions. She offers, the best practice is to express gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for in the moment. As those creeping negative emotions start to appear, she recommends taking a deep breath and sharing whatever you are grateful for, maybe even keeping a journal where you write it down. Gratitude for your positive experiences will place emphasis on the joy you are presently feeling, and there is no better time to start practicing gratitude than on the upcoming holiday this month, Thanksgiving.

Another negative emotion caregivers commonly face is shame, which Brown famously addresses in a TED Talk. The feeling of shame in caregivers pops up as guilt for not doing enough or being enough, desiring perfection and always failing, or maybe even those really scary feelings of resentment that you may never talk about. These unattainable expectations that caregivers place on themselves only lead to a self-shame spiral. 

To fight against shame, Brown says, the first step is to be vulnerable and share how you’re feeling with a loved one or a caregiver support group. Find someone who will be able to listen and be empathetic. Another way to remove shame is through affirmations. Take some time to acknowledge how you’re feeling and combat negative emotions with a positive affirmation. For example, you missed an appointment with the doctor. Instead of spiraling, acknowledge that we all miss appointments then say out loud, “I am still a good caregiver, and this is not the end of the world.” Affirmations may seem silly or uncomfortable at first, but they really do help over time.

We know caregivers are the true superheroes of the home, but sometimes that may get lost amidst the emotional turmoil that comes with this role. However you work to find emotional wellness, just remember it’s a journey that comes with many twists and turns. Give yourself grace, and find joy in the small moments.