Witnessing my Mother’s eight-year decline through dementia was one of the toughest things I’ve ever experienced. I struggled to cope with grief and depression while I juggled business, family and caregiving responsibilities. Without my family’s love and encouragement I never would have made it through. Some especially powerful moments from those days:
- Melting-down, I cried to my husband, “My life feels totally out of control!” He lovingly replied, “Given the situation, it’s understandable.”
- Distraught about missing another soccer tournament, my son reassured me it was OK. In that moment I knew future generations were learning how our family cares for each other.
- Upset and unsure about how to respond to Mom’s latest crisis, my sister and brother-in-law calmed me by saying, “We can handle this.”
How about you? Have you struggled with juggling work, family and caregiving? Have you felt like you were drowning in depression or anger or anxiety? My family members were encouraging partners who helped me persevere and come out stronger in the end. If family caregiving is stressful for you and your family, try these ideas on bolstering family beliefs. They helped me and may help you, too.
The Resilience-Building Power of Family Beliefs
Resilient families possess strengths that help them positively handle the stressors and crises of life.
Dr. Ruben Hill, father of family stress theory, tells us that all families experience stress. Whether responses are positive or negative; and whether crises are manageable or insurmountable depends on two factors: 1) Resources: finding and using them to meet the crisis; and 2) Beliefs: viewing the situation as manageable, or even as an opportunity for growth.
The work of Dr. Froma Walsh that was cited in last month’s blog on family resilience lists nine ways that resilient families handle adversity. She agrees that linking with resources and empowering beliefs enables families to better cope with stress. This is of critical importance for caregiving families who face so many challenges. Review Walsh’s nine family resilience factors and recommendations for gaining energy from helpful resources found in that blog.
Finally, researchers from the RAND Corporation show that drawing on faith to handle adversity improves physical and emotional health, even for those with little or no religious affiliation. Because suffering is a spiritual issue, both personal spiritual beliefs and support from a faith community help caregiving families to be more resilient.
Read more about how spiritual beliefs build resilience here.
Find Meaning in Family Caregiving Experiences
Faced with family caregiving challenges, what you and your family believe is a powerful predictor of how resilient you’ll be. When exhausted, depressed or out of control, thoughts can often turn pessimistic. To overcome negative beliefs and tap into positive energy, resilient caregivers look for the meaning or benefit embedded in stressful family caregiving situations. Thoughts matter. Strengthen your family’s resilience and ability to cope by using these effective thought patterns.
- Positively re-frame difficulties: Envision painful experiences as opportunities to learn, grow, or build character. Label crises as manageable challenges shared by all in your family. Recognize negative attitudes and behaviors as “understandable, given the situation.” Accept human limitations by letting go of what is beyond your control. Picture future generations being inspired by how well you handled family caregiving. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hold an optimistic outlook on life. Respond affirmatively to Albert Einstein’s famous question, “Is the universe friendly?”
- Adopt a “can-do” attitude: Think of difficult situations as challenges. Say, “We can handle this.” Pull together as a family during difficult times. Seek opportunities to develop competence and confidence. Find ways to prevent problems. Reflect on poor choices that have caused problems and learn from your mistakes. Acknowledge growth. Praise honest attempts to handle family caregiving challenges. Celebrate successes. Believe in your family’s ability to learn, grow and move beyond difficult experiences. For more on how beliefs build resilience, check-out an earlier blog in this series here.
- Cultivate your spirituality: Strengthen your family’s resilience through well-known religious practices. Pray alone and together. Read scripture or inspirational materials. Worship with and become active members of a faith community. Talk with clergy or people of faith to help sort through troubling feelings.
Beyond religious practices turn to the arts and nature. Connecting with great beauty can be a transcendent and healing experience. Recognize what stirs your souls and make a space for that in your lives. Listen to music. Read inspirational words. View beautiful or inspiring images or drama. If you are able, express yourselves through artistic creation and share those creations with one another.
Spend time outside in any natural setting that is nearby and pleasing. Be physically active outdoors, playing, gardening, running or walking. Be silent in that environment; let the beauty, grandeur and natural order feed your souls. Feast on the beautiful natural images and inspiring words found in the work of James Miller.
Family Beliefs for Resilient Family Caregivers
While family stress may be inevitable, how you handle it is your choice. Remind your family that empowering beliefs build good health and resilience; they will help you cope with family caregiving challenges.
Because your family and your family caregiving experience are unique, no one set of recommendations will work for everyone. Cultivate those beliefs that will nurture your family. Add them to all the other physical, mental and social strategies you use to build family resilience.
Whatever you do to help your family find meaning in your family caregiving experience will be good for all of you. As you do so much for others, remember to take good care of yourself, too…Jane