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Choosing Joy: How Family Caregivers Can Practice and Cultivate Gratitude

Since Thanksgiving is the main focus of November, this month is the perfect time of year to think about all the things we’re grateful for. November also happens to be National Family Caregivers Month, which has an added, special meaning for families with senior loved ones who are being cared for. 

“Who deserves appreciation more than the 44 million Americans who are caregivers to their senior loved ones?” asks Christine DeConcilis, Executive Director of Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, an Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Support community in Prospect Heights, IL. “These people are like guardian angels for seniors with health issues. They help them deal with doctors, manage medications and healthcare, perform hands-on caring and provide companionship, transportation and financial support. They do so much each and every day, and ask for very little in return.”

We all know that expressing gratitude is a wonderful gift to those we appreciate, and if you have a caregiver in your life, showing them how much they and their work mean to you is a wonderful thing. However, gratitude isn’t just something you can show. It’s also something you can cultivate for yourself in your daily life. 

“Choosing gratitude, in some ways, is a lot like choosing to be positive or optimistic, even in the face of difficulty,” says DeConcilis.  “While we often cannot affect what is happening to us, especially when it comes to health issues for ourselves or a loved one, we can affect how we react to it. Studies have shown that choosing to be grateful and practicing gratitude is a fantastic and effective stress- reduction technique. Besides lowering your stress, it can help protect you from depression, help you sleep better, improve your relationships, boost your immune system and make you happier overall.” 

Best of all, DeConcilis says, by choosing to cultivate gratitude, caregivers can reap the benefits through their own actions instead of waiting for external forces (like other family members) to validate them. Whether the gratitude comes from others or from yourself, the benefits remain the same for improving your quality of life. 

 

Six Tips for Cultivating Gratitude

The role of family caregiver is very similar to the other roles we play in our lives, like “mother” or “spouse” or “neighbor” or “co-worker.” The one major difference, however, is that caregiving isn’t a “happy” role or a role we necessarily choose. There’s nothing inherently celebratory about your loved one being diagnosed with dementia or developing Stage 4 colon cancer. 

Being grateful doesn’t mean ignoring or pushing aside negative feelings or realities. Instead, it means flipping your perspective and choosing to focus on the positives of life – and there are always positives, no matter how trying or difficult a situation can be. Doing this helps caregivers achieve two things:

1. It instills optimism by training your brain to notice the good things, both small and big, which improves your overall mood and attitude. 

2. It focuses your attention on what you have instead of what you don’t have, which helps you focus on the things, people and situations that make your life better.

Here are six tips caregivers can use to help cultivate gratitude in their daily lives.

Tip 1: Maintain Meaningful Relationships 

Studies have shown that the happiest and healthiest individuals maintain quality relationships in all aspects of their lives. For caregivers, it’s easy to lose touch with the people that matter to them because of their overwhelming responsibilities. This leads to isolation, loneliness and depression, which affects every aspect of our health from physical to emotional to mental. That’s why it’s so important for caregivers to maintain those relationships that matter the most. Make time for your friends and family, even if it’s as simple as a weekly phone call. 

Tip 2: Ask For Help

Asking for help isn’t a weakness (although we seem to have been conditioned to feel this way). The people who love us and support us the most in our lives want the best for us and are willing to step in and help when we need it. Oftentimes, all we need to do is ask. By relying on the people we care about to help us when we need care, we’re not just giving ourselves a break – we’re allowing those who love us to express their caring. 

Tip 3: Practice Positivity

Thinking happy thoughts isn’t just some hippy-dippy philosophy. Researchers have found that thinking about happy events or situations for just a few minutes each day can result in positive feelings for weeks. Call it meditation or daydreaming or whatever else you like – however your label it, taking some time to think about your “happy place” will cause ripples of happiness to spread throughout your daily life. 

Tip 4: Focus on What You Can Control

There are lots of things we as caregivers can’t control: our loved one’s disease progression, health issues, accidents and emergencies – but there are also many things we can control. Although they may seem small – like loading the dishwasher, or making sure dinner is on the table, or even making our bed in the morning – focusing on the things we do have control over can help caregivers establish a flow and a sense of accomplishment. Embracing your strengths and the little victories can be just the push you need to help you get through challenging times. 

Tip 5: Enjoy Hugs and Humor

Physical contact, like a big bear hug, releases oxytocin in our brains, which makes us instantly feel better, helps calm anxiety, boosts immunity and even improves brain health. In fact, neuroeconomist Paul Zak prescribes at least eight hugs a day of 20 seconds each to attain peak health! And don’t forget the power of humor. We often say that laughter is the best medicine because it relaxes muscles, decreases stress, protects the heart through increased blood flow and boosts immunity.  

Tip 6: Write It Down

Grab a pen and paper and write down the things that make you feel grateful. The practice of gratitude journaling – no matter how formal or informal you want it to be – is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce stress for caregivers. By actively detailing the things that make you feel grateful, they become cemented into your mind more than they would by just thinking about them. Keeping a journal also gives you a tangible reminder you can look to when you’re feeling down or need a little extra boost. 

 

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also welcome you to visit www.aspiredlivingprospectheights.com/news to read our recent blog articles on current caregiver and Memory Support topics.  

 

Live Well Beyond Ordinary at Aspired Living®

Offering Independent, Assisted Living and A Knew Day® Memory Support, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights is a distinctive senior living community designed to offer seniors residing in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs area a fresh alternative to “typical” senior living communities.

Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights provides residents with the ideal balance of personalized support, dignified privacy and enhanced independence complemented by luxurious amenities and our life-enriching, award-winning VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®.

Managed by Pathway to Living®, an innovator in senior living, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights offers the choice of a private studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment and the beauty of a brand new community, stunningly appointed and decorated for unsurpassed comfort and style by the award-winning senior living design firm, Thoma-Holec Design, Inc.

For more information, please call us at 847-243-6920. 

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.