People in the UK are living longer, however, they are also having more years of unhealthy life than people in most of the other European countries [1].

Even if we do not need care ourselves, most of us will know a family member or friend who does. Some people need help to lead an active and independent life because they have impairments from birth, or have developed a health condition during their lives. As more than eight out of 10 people aged 65 will need some support in their later years, care is also fundamental when we become older.

As such, care and support are activities that everyone will experience and be part of at some point in life. In England, almost 5 million people care for a friend or relative at home, and 1.8 million are formally employed in the health care sector [2]. Those who are or have been carers know that it is a rewarding activity itself, but it is also stressful and emotionally demanding. As a carer it is of highest importance to learn how to manage stress before it gets the best of you. One effective stress-reduction tool is the practice of mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation. Supported by over 40 years of research across a number of sectors and applications; Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement [3].

Learning how to pay more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you, can have a big impact on your life as carer. By practicing mindfulness our tendency to relate to our experiences in automatic ways is neutralized. We learn to recognise our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. By doing so, mindfulness enables carers to better respond to the emotional and physical difficulties they encounter.

Why Mindfulness for Carers?

Although caring is a highly rewarding activity, it is also physically and mentally draining. Carers are more likely to report family conflict, to spend less time with other family members, and to give up vacations, hobbies, and other personal activities as a direct result of their responsibilities. This has a direct impact on their well-being and quality of life. Carers are more likely than non-carers to feel alone, anxious, depressed, and irritable.

Mindfulness has shown excellent results when practiced by carers [4]. At the personal level, mindfulness has been shown to be effective in improving mental well-being by decreasing stress and helping people cope with painful emotions. This is also beneficial for those who receive care. The practice of mindfulness by carers helps to create an effective caring environment, increase the capacity for empathy and appreciation of others, and to improve the ability of being present during interactions.

Several studies have confirmed the positive impact of practicing mindfulness by carers. For example, mindfulness practice positively impacts physical and mental well-being of informal family carers of patients suffering from chronic conditions such as dementia [5], cancer [6], and disabilities [7]. A study shows that the positive effects on the carers’ quality of life are still present three months after the formal mindfulness-based intervention [8].

How to Care Mindfully

Carers usually remove themselves from the equation when considering what it means to take care of someone. They put all their efforts into their responsibilities, forgetting that they also need support. Caring for somebody mindfully means using mindfulness not only to reduce stress and control emotions, but to recognise that the Carer is also part of the caring process.

In order to care mindfully, you can learn formal mindfulness practices. Formal practices are typically taught through a variety of meditation exercises that involve sitting quietly while focusing attention on one’s breath. When the mind wanders, which is normal, the learner is instructed to become aware, momentarily, of what is occupying the mind, and then return attention to the breath [9].

You can also complement your formal meditation practice with some informal exercises. This requires that mindfulness becomes part of your daily life activities. For example, you can practice mindful walking with the person you give care to. By doing so, it is possible to learn to pay attention to your steps while at the same time matching your pace precisely to the other person. This allows you to relax into the present moment, and to give your mind breaks from the habitual and sometimes stressful thinking. The same goes with sitting, helping with meals, assisting with personal care, etc [10].

How to Begin Your Journey

You can practice mindfulness by formal and informal exercises. The informal approach consists of practicing mindfulness in daily or routine activities such as eating, walking, etc. Any pause becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness. The purpose is to notice how the mind and body feel throughout the day in various circumstances. As well as practising mindfulness in daily activities, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice. The formal practice is what is normally called meditation. This involves setting aside a specific time to sit silently or to walk mindfully.

Getting Started

You can start your mindfulness journey by practicing a simple mindfulness technique.  The S.T.O.P. exercise can help you in times of high stress [11]:

STOP what you are doing for a moment.

TAKE a breath. Concentrate on the flow of your breath in and out.

OBSERVE your thoughts, feelings and physical state. Name your emotions. Notice your body, its posture.

PROCEED with something that will be helpful to you, whether that is finding a friend to talk to, or stretching to relieve body tension.

How We Can Help

Now Unlimited provides person-centred mindfulness-based interventions for individuals, communities and organisations. We base our interventions on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs and adapt these to generate specific learning outcomes relevant to each client. Our mindfulness courses include information about mindfulness, group discussions around the application and impact of mindfulness in caregiving, guided instruction in formal and informal mindfulness practices, gentle stretching and mindful movement, tailored instruction and home assignments supported by  CDs/mp3 downloads and a home practice manual. We have developed a distance learning programme that combines mindfulness-based interventions with an exploration of self-compassion.


References:
1 WHO. (2015). United Kingdom: WHO statistical profile. World Health Organisation. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gho/countries/gbr.pdf?ua=1
2 Secretary of State for Health. (2012). Caring for our future: Reforming care and support. HM Government.

3 EKabat-Zinn, J. (2003).Mindfulness-based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.
4 Escuriex, B. & Labbé, E. (2011). Health Care Providers’ Mindfulness and Treatment Outcomes: A Critical Review of the Research Literature. Mindfulness, 2, 242–253.
5 Whitebird, R., et al. (2013). Mindfulnessbased stress reduction for family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial. Gerontologist, 53(4), 676–686.
6 Wood, A., Gonzalez, J., & Barden, S. (2015). Mindful Caring: Using Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with Caregivers of Cancer Survivors. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 33(1), 66–84.
7 Minor, H., et al (2006). Evaluation of a Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program for Caregivers of Children with Chronic Conditions. Social Work in Health Care, 43(1), 17–32.
8 Kogler, M., et al. (2013). Mindfulness in informal caregivers of palliative patients. Palliative and Supportive Care, 1–8.
9 Weiss, A. (2004). Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness. New World Library.
10 Manteau-Rao, M. (2012). How to Best Help Alzheimer’s Caregivers? Teach Them Mindfulness. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/0YE684
11 Goldstein, E. (2013). Stressing Out? S.T.O.P. Foundation for a Mindful Society. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/g7gci5


Mindfulness For Carers

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