Question: I am a live in caregiver to a lady who is going to be 90. She can’t see--only shadows and lights. I lose patience with her sometimes and I feel so sad when I do. She is very needy. I just want help on how to handle her and some key ideas on how to have more patience. Thank you.
Dr. Amy: It’s true--caregiving can be very challenging! Sometimes I wonder if we accepted that it is likely to be challenging, whether we be more patient with ourselves and with the people we are caring for? For example, if you were planning a vacation and you knew the weather was likely to be rainy, you would prepare yourself both by packing clothes that were suitable to the weather--and by mentally accepting the fact that you would probably not have much sun during your trip. It would probably be easier to accept bad weather if you were expecting rain than it would be if you thought you were going on a beach vacation and it rained the whole trip!
My point is that I think we sometimes underestimate the challenges that come with caregiving. As a result, we are not prepared for the difficulties we face. And we sometimes lose patience. I am not saying that if we prepare we will never be frustrated or impatient. But when we acknowledge that caregiving brings both joys and frustrations, we can prepare ourselves for the difficult times.
Having said this, here are 10 tips that may help you when your patience is being tested.
Breathe! When faced with an annoying situation, force yourself not to react until you have taken three really deep breaths. You can do this quietly. Just inhale until your whole chest and stomach expand with your breath, and then exhale slowly and completely. It sounds so simple—and it is. But deep breathing really does help to settle your nerves.
Count to 10: The magic in counting to 10—or more if you need to—is that is distracts you from the thing that has annoyed you. It also gives you time to calm down. Time heals all wounds. Sometimes it just takes a minute to get past a small irritation. Counting gives your body time to settle down after it’s been aroused by irritation.
Remember what you want from your relationship with this woman: If you can stand back for a minute when you are feeling impatient and remind yourself what you want from your relationship over the long term, this can help you do the loving thing when your patience is being tested. Take time when you are feeling calm and in control to write down what you want. For example, you may want your relationship to be one of trust, respect, and support. If this is true, remember this when you feel ready to say something that might be hurtful or disrespectful. Since the woman you are caring for does not see well, you could write yourself little notes and tape them to the fridge door, on the bathroom mirror, etc. These little reminders can help you remember what you value most.
Think about what you want to say about this period in your life: you will not be a caregiver to this woman for many more years. One day, she will die and your work with her will be complete. Today, while you have time, ask yourself what you want to be able to say about this period of her life—and yours—once she is gone.
Remember the golden rule: Treat this woman as you would like people to treat you if you were in her situation.
Take inspiration from someone you admire: Do you know someone who has the patience of a saint? When your client tries your patience, think about this person. Ask yourself what he or she would do.
Look at the situation through her eyes: When you feel impatient, take a minute to imagine what the situation looks and feels like through the eyes of the woman you are caring for. If it helps, say it out loud: “I imagine you must be feeling ….” Or “If I were in your shoes, I bet I would think that …” The more you can really feel what she is feeling, the easier you will find it to act with patience.
Take a break: If you find yourself highly frustrated or impatient, excuse yourself for a few minutes. Leave the room and do something different. Go to the bathroom. Drink a glass of refreshing, cool water. Wash your face. Read a short prayer or inspirational poem. Separating yourself physically for a moment can help you gain control over your emotions.
Take care of yourself: We all feel better and more able to cope with life’s challenges when we regularly get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. I can’t stress this enough. Without these three, you will not be at your best, and you will be more impatient.
Make sure you have social support: It really helps if you can talk about your challenges with people who are on the same path as you are. You may benefit from joining a support group if there is one where you live. Or keep a journal. Share your feelings with a friend or family member.
At the end of the day, remember that you are human and will make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Be as gentle with yourself as you would with others. Good luck!
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