Caregiving: How to Take the Wobble Out of Our Minds

Woman meditating

I listened as workshop participants extolled the value of meditation. When one person spoke of the spiritual awareness he experienced, the monk leading the discussion smiled. “There’s nothing magical about meditation. It’s a psychological game we play in our minds—it’s just a tool.” He explained meditation allows the mind to de-clutter itself; to get rid of negative lingering thoughts and stop anticipating future events.

We Are All Full of “Stuff”

The minds of caregivers are chuck full of “stuff.” We wonder how what we did yesterday will affect our loved one tomorrow. We fret over our indecision or if a caregiving choice was the best one. We listen to the laments of a loved one and wonder how to alleviate their anxiety, and as we do, our mind takes on their burden.

Our mind is the equivalent of the old time fun house where goblins and ghosts rush at you in the dark alternatively terrorizing and producing glee. But unlike events in the fun house, the thoughts and images don’t end. They’re present as we care for a loved one, prepare a meal or watch television for an hour hoping to reduce the stress. And over time, they accumulate.

Suggestions for Reducing Stress

Many suggestions appear in the caregiving literature for reducing stress, ranging from napping to walking to doing a favorite activity. The reasoning is taking a break from a demanding activity will provide the peace necessary for calming the mind.

But according to many of the caregivers I counseled, stress-reducing activities did little other than provide a new setting in which stress can occur. “I thought quietly sitting and reading a novel would give me a break from my 24/7 caregiving responsibilities,” a caregiver said. “But, not even a captivating story stopped me from thinking about what my wife was experiencing.”

I find simple meditation is a better solution than many typical stress-reducing activities. There is nothing inherently religious or spiritual about meditation. As the Buddhist monk said, “it’s just a tool,” but I’ve found it to be one that is beneficial.

What Happens in Meditation?

There are various forms of meditation, but all have the same purpose: to de-clutter the mind of thoughts having nothing to do with the present moment. You may have read about the importance of “being present,” or “cultivating awareness.” Sometimes the phrases are clothed in spiritual meaning. Other times the concepts are explained as the ability to focus on what you’re doing at any particular moment. In the area of caregiving, it involves focusing on the specific activities you are doing. Nothing complicated about that. Children not yet saddled with a personal history are proficient at staying in the moment. It is an ability lost as we experience life through memories and “shouldisms.”

An old Buddhist saying is, “If you walk, just walk.

If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don’t wobble.” Meditation can take away your mind’s wobbling.

Don’t Expect Too Much Too Soon

As a culture, we expect every change to occur with speed and with minimal effort. Some people who try meditation complain it didn’t make any difference after their first, second, or third session. With no miraculous results, they abandoned it and went back to accepting stress as a part of life.

What they didn’t realize is the effects of meditation are cumulative. Think of a garden ignored for six weeks those plants are overgrown with thistles, chickweed, and groundsel. The nutrients necessary for keeping your plants healthy were gobbled up by the weeds. Every day you clear out a few more of weeds and wait for the plants to recover. Meditation works in a similar manner. After a few weeks of consistent practice (e.g., 15 minutes twice a day) you’ll ability to focus on caregiving activities will increase.

Who Benefits From Meditation?

The most obvious answer is the meditator. However, that’s too simple of an answer. Many of the caregivers I counseled felt guilty when people suggested they take time for themselves. After all, it was their loved who is in need, not them.

Think about meditation—and other stress-reduction activities—as something you should do for your loved one. Yes, meditation will help calm your mind, but  it will also help you be a better caregiver. Instead of thinking about six different things you need to do as you listen to your wife discuss how she feels, you’re able to focus on her emotions.

Choosing a Meditative Practice

There are many forms of meditation. Each does the same psychological trick: sweeping away unnecessary thoughts from your consciousness that interfere with caregiving activities. Meditation may lead to increased spirituality, but there is hard evidence it de-clutters the mind.

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