As you care for your aging parents, what are you saying to yourself about it? It’s an honour to provide this care? A pleasure to give back? It’s a drag? A burden? Both an honour and a drag?
What we are saying to ourselves and how we think about something plays a critical role in how we experience something. Caregiving is mostly described in the media and in research as burdensome, stressful, and taxing—we all know it can be all of these things. What is missing are the ways in which it can be, satisfying, fulfilling, meaningful and yes, even joyful!
This is where my love fest with positive psychology comes in. It provides simple actions we can take to improve our sense of wellbeing, and provides tools that can bring balance to how we look at caregiving.
What is reframing?
Reframing is a technique to shift your perspective or point of view on a situation, person or problem. Usually the shift is from a negative perspective to a more positive one, to one that sees the good in the situation. When we are able to shift our perspective, we often feel better about the situation or the person, and are better able to find solutions to problems.
I find that wedding positive psychology with a technique called reframing, is an especially fruitful way to help those caring for others. I am sensitive to making suggestions that require your precious time—reframing takes what you are already doing and reframes in a way that helps you feel good about what you are doing (based on positive psychology research). Reframing can literally transform your experiences so that you are happier and more positive. What follows are some examples.
Reframe routine caregiving activities as acts of kindness
One of the exercises proven by research to increase people’s happiness is to do 3 to 5 acts of kindness per week. You don’t need to do anything differently except reframe caring for your parents as an act of kindness! Chances are, you are doing way more than 3 to 5 acts of kindness per week.
To drive this home, and help solidify a new way of thinking, consider writing down all that you do for your parents and think about these things as acts of kindness. Hint: Anything you do to help is an act of kindness. The trick is to see it this way, and this may require some practice.
You may see these things as obligations or you feel that it’s no big deal and you are just doing what you can to help. What is missing is looking at them as acts of kindness!
Reframe both positive and negative events as “it could have been worse”
Things can always be worse than they are. This is the good news! We actually stimulate positive feelings when we remind ourselves of how bad things could be. Bryant and Veroff, experts on savouring describe this as comparing the outcome to something worse.
You can apply this kind of thinking to both positive and negative events. Studies have shown that imagining a worse outcome increased appreciation of the existing situation. For example, if you have a clear sunny day to drive to a doctor’s appointment, you can imagine how the drive would have been if it had been snowing heavily that day. This can also be seen as a savouring exercise because it can make your experience seem even better.
Reframe caregiving as one of the most important ways you can give or give back.
Relationships and social connections are fundamental to our well-being. Connections to others can give life meaning and purpose and it is when we live a purposeful life that we feel happier. For example, if you make a call to your parents to see how they are doing, this is showing that you care and is fostering a connection with them.
Reframe caregiving as serving something bigger than the self.
There is a greater meaning and purpose to life when we do so. Seeing your caregiving this way can help you enjoy the tasks, however menial they may seem at the time, and you can become more satisfied and happier.
Reframe the activities and responsibilities you have taken on as skills.
A sense of accomplishment is important to our wellbeing. Whether it is coping skills, communication skills, organizational skills, or personal care skills, they are all skills that you have either brought to your caregiving or have learned. Either way, they are valuable and are valuable enough to be paid if you have been providing them in the workforce.
Reframe caregiving as part of the normal life cycle.
Obviously you are a caregiver because your mom or dad have an illness, injury, or have age-related declines. Resistance causes suffering. The opposite of resistance is acceptance. When you’re older, someone will be taking care of you—life comes full circle.
You get the drift! What is one thing you are doing right now for your parents that feels like the proverbial pain in your butt that you can reframe? What’s another thing? And another?