Let’s face it: As the caregiver for your aging parent, some level of anxiety comes with the territory. It’s not an easy thing to do day in and day out, especially if your parent doesn’t always want your help.
That’s why it’s so important that you remember to take care of yourself. Part of this self care is physical, and part of it is mental — not letting your anxieties overwhelm you is an important step toward being the best caregiver you can be. This is especially crucial if you’re caring for someone who has anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways for caregivers like you to calm these stressful feelings, notice or watch your thoughts, and remain in the present moment. And you do it all while accepting the moment for what it is, without judgement. That’s not only beneficial to you, it’s beneficial for Mom or Dad because you will be able to stay fully focused on whatever task is at hand.
So what exactly is mindfulness?
Being mindful means slowing down and focusing on the present moment — it means being as aware as possible about the current sensations, thoughts, and bodily states that you’re experiencing. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author, professor, and creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, defines it this way: Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
Think of it as turning down the volume in your mind. It’s a great way to refocus on the activities of daily life and not let your mind get ahead of you.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of mindfulness for anxiety and what kind of simple practices you can try right away.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation can help to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms and even depression — and it’s not just us saying it. The research proves it. Practicing mindfulness for anxiety helps you to focus on the present moment and keeps you from dwelling on the past or stressing out about the future.
It’s very easy for caregivers to think about the past in a negative way (i.e. I should have remembered this, I should have done that…) or worry about the future (i.e. What am I going to do if my siblings don’t agree with me about caring for Mom and Dad?). But these kinds of anxious thoughts simply aren’t productive.
Mindfulness training helps to calm the mind and eases feelings of angst about the past or future, ultimately helping you perform better in the moment.
It’s important to note that mindfulness meditation isn’t helpful for everyone, and could actually prove harmful for those with severe anxiety or mental illness. If you’re struggling with these issues, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional before giving mindfulness meditation a try.
If you do not have severe anxiety, the benefits of mindfulness can include:
- Increased body awareness: Mindfulness meditation can help you to notice subtle changes or sensations within your own body, allowing you to recognize when anxiety is occurring and then regulating yourself.
- Improved self-perception: Mindfulness can also improve your own image of yourself, leading to increased self-esteem and acceptance of your own thoughts and actions.
- Better physical health: Mindfulness techniques have been shown to have many physical health benefits for those who practice them, including reduced blood pressure and better sleep.
Another great thing about mindfulness in general is that it can apply to almost anything. Take eating a meal, for example.
You can mindlessly eat your meal without even thinking about it, or you can slow down and consider the tastes, textures, and smells of the different foods that make up your meal. You’ll feel much more relaxed while eating, and you’ll find that you enjoy the experience as a whole. You may also be less likely to fall into a pattern of stress-eating.
So, what can you do to start being more mindful? Let’s take a look at a few simple mindfulness exercises you can do right away. And remember: You can also suggest a few of these to your mom or dad. Mindfulness can benefit them as well.
Simple mindfulness practices to try today
You don’t have to hire a counselor or search out a personalized meditation guide to become more mindful. There are many things you can do during the tasks of daily life to practice mindfulness and help center yourself.
Take a breath
The first and simplest mindfulness-based stress reduction practice is to stop and take a few deep breaths. Focus on your breathing for a few moments, and pay attention to the way your chest rises and falls. If your mind wanders to something else, refocus on your breathing.
Go on a walk
Few things can improve your state of mind and overall well-being like a walk in the great outdoors. Getting outside and concentrating on the sights, smells, and sounds around you is a great way to focus your mind in the present. It doesn’t have to be a long walk; just a quick pass around the block will work fine to reap the benefits of being in nature.
Setting aside time on a daily or weekly basis to journal is another good way to practice mindfulness for anxiety. You can journal before going to bed at night or first thing when you wake up. It’s entirely up to you, and it’s a great way to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
Remember: Journaling can be an incredibly helpful tool for greater self-awareness when done correctly. Check out our guide to journaling to make sure you get the most out of your efforts.
Unplug from social media
Social media can sometimes trigger negative thoughts and contribute to an overall stress response that you don’t want. Try “unplugging” and logging out of all your social media accounts for a day, a week, a month — it’s up to you. Simply turning off notifications on your apps can free up your mind and allow you to stay focused on more important things in your life. You might be amazed at how calm and centered you feel after only a short time.
Pause in the car
Sometimes anxiety can start to build up in the car, especially if you’re running late, stuck in traffic, or traveling toward a stressful situation. At stoplights, take a few slow and deep breaths, focusing on the process of moving air in and out of your lungs. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes during your travel time and how you feel once you’ve reached your destination.
Put aside a few minutes every day to doodle or color. Adult coloring books are a great choice. The physical act of doodling or coloring with your hands helps to focus your mind and give it a break from the worries of daily life.
Meditation practices such as guided meditation don’t require working directly with a counselor or signing up for a class. Today, you can find many free guided meditations online, and there are smartphone apps to help you as well. For many people, it’s a great way to practice mindfulness on a daily basis.
Keep in mind that you might not feel an immediate release of anxiety when you first try these techniques. Like most things, mindfulness requires practice and consistency to unlock its greatest benefits. It may take days, weeks, or months to really feel as though your efforts are making a difference. So don’t give up — continue practicing mindfulness every day, and eventually you’ll see results.
Remember: While mindfulness meditation can work wonders for many people, it’s not always enough. For those with severe anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or other serious mental health conditions, solutions like professional health care, counseling, medication, or other methods might be necessary. If you or your parent is experiencing any of these more serious issues, seek help.
Using mindfulness for anxiety
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment and being aware of your thoughts and body, and accepting the moment without judgement in order to reach a higher level of self-understanding and clarity. It’s especially useful for dealing with moments of anxiety. Practicing mindfulness exercises is a healthy technique for just about anyone, and it can be especially helpful for caregivers.
The great thing about the simple mindfulness practices described above is that they’re not just useful for you — they can be of great help to your mom or dad, too. You can even try incorporating them into your routines together.
Have you used mindfulness for anxiety? What do you do to reduce stress and stay in the present moment? We would love to hear more about your experience.