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Quieting the mind: Stress reduction practices for hospice caregivers

Quieting the mind - stress reduction for hospice caregivers

By Valerie Hartman

Hospice caregiving brings about stress and sadness of a life-altering nature. As the holidays bring even more stress and emotional expectations, finding a day, an hour, or even a moment of peace and relaxation is essential. I can’t say this enough- “Worry and fear are what define stress as a hospice caregiver”. Calming the nervous system for a short time each day is an important self-care plan that will enable you to cope from day to day, or week to week.

Complementary therapies used in the healthcare setting are meant to calm an overtaxed nervous system’s response to worry, concerns, and fears. Whether it is a visit with a massage, music, or pet therapist, or a Healing Touch session, each modality shifts the effects of tension into a feeling of peacefulness and sense of security. Therapeutically, this means that the nervous system has been calmed.

Having short periods of relief for the nervous system allows you to keep up with the physical and emotional demands of caregiving. This brief time of relief enhances our ability to cope during long and enduring times of stress. We all likely know what it is like to feel “on the edge”, or “about to lose it”, or like we “can’t do this anymore”. Learning ways to take control of your nervous system and finding ways to calm tension for a brief time each day can help us to find the strength to continue on in our caregiving role.

As a complementary therapy nurse, I teach about the importance of self care and stress reduction. My prescription for the stressed caregiver is this:

Find thirty minutes each day, or even ten minutes three times a day, to calm your nervous system.

We have talked in prior posts about treatments or therapies that work on the nervous system: massage, reflexology, acupressure, lavender essential oil baths, hand or foot rubs, deep breathing, or a walk in the park (or around the block).

Another approach is to quiet the mind. Quieting the mind by eliminating thoughts that worry you will stop the stimulation of the stress hormones that cause the anxiety, sleeplessness, and muscle tensions. Although it can be challenging to learn how to stop these thoughts, once you practice and learn how to do this you can do it anywhere and anytime being ‘calm’ is called for.

Three mind calming practices that are used often to relieve caregiver stress or the stress felt after a loss are: meditation, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation exercises.

Meditation involves sitting in a comfortable position, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, and emptying your mind of all thoughts. When a thought comes into your mind, let it float past. Learn to observe the thoughts that come in and let them flow out, until your focus on breath clears all thoughts. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Programs are often available to healthcare professionals and community members. Mindfulness meditation tapes and CDs and other resources are also available to assist you in learning this practice.

Guided Imagery involves sitting or lying in a warm comfortable environment and position. It requires a CD player or MP3 player with purchased guided imageries of personal taste and choice. The voice guides the listener through a visualization using sounds and descriptive passages (for example, a walk through a forest or the sounds of ocean waves) that will mindfully bring your nervous system into a calm state.

Progressive Relaxation involves listening to a calm, directive voice that brings your mind’s attention to each part of your body to relax it. The progressive relaxation starts at the feet and works the mind up and through each tension area until you reach the head and neck. Many people do not even remember getting to the end of the guided relaxation because they fall asleep before they complete the progressive relaxation exercise. Like guided imagery, progressive relaxation exercise programs can be purchased on a CD or tape, or can be downloaded on a MP3.

Most hospice social workers, pastoral counselors, or bereavement coordinators can provide a live guided imagery reading or progressive relaxation session during regular visitations. You can also ask if there are any tapes or CDs available to you through the hospice program. Tapes or tools for any of these practices can usually be purchased at your local bookstore or on the internet. YouTube also has free guided imagery videos online.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. i still have so many questions in my mind if i did the right thing for my husband he died 8 months ago but my stress is terrible i sometimes just can not get through the days rose deam

    November 30, 2012
    • Valerie #

      Rose, I spend time with our bereavement groups. As a guest speaker, I consider myself just that, a guest. I say that because I am always humbled as I listen to those in attendence talk with raw, fresh emotion. So many newly bereaved family members say the same thing, they have anxiety. Cannot sleep. Appetite changes. Fatigue. We discuss and practice some of the techniques mentioned here. They can be done at home, but many find solace coming to the group environment where others can share and understand each other. Sometimes practicing a guided imagery as a group is the best time, and perhaps the most comfortable way to actually try it. Our bereavement councilors often send the group home with assignments to practice breathing techniques, use a guided meditation on tape, until the next meeting.

      You may want to contact your hospice’s bereavement program and ask about more help, more resources that can assist you in your healing.

      December 1, 2012
  2. Reblogged this on The Purple Jacket and commented:
    Great advice for all Caregivers: “Find thirty minutes each day, or even ten minutes three times a day, to calm your nervous system.”

    November 30, 2012
    • valerie #

      Chris, Thank you for reblogging this post so it reaches more caregivers. I agree that the take away from this writing is just that, .. “find 30 minutes each day, or ten minutes three times a rest the nervous system.” Easy to say, harder to do. Especially if there is a lack of knowledge about how to rest the nervous system, or even why we should! In some cases a day can be so stressful, feel so overwhelming, a few minutes to stop and reflect on the sunshine, the changing colors of leaves, the warmth of the coffee cup in hand.., can be enough. For me, trying to ‘self care’ seems like a lot of effort, and when I am very time pressured I often think to myself, “Yeah, right, how can I self care when so many other things of more importance demand my attentions?”. When I say to myself instead,” I need to take care of my nervous system today.”, that makes a lot more sense and it is something I can find the time to do.

      In times of grief, fresh grief, there is so much fatigue and a temporary lost interest in living. A quiet day curled up in a favorite blanket mindless, seems to heal. Not depression so much as fatigue and a need to be nurtured. I often think of that time as the body’s innate instinct to rest the nervous system after such a time of transitioning.

      I hope this is of interest to your readers, thank you again! Valerie

      December 1, 2012

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