Caregiver Resilience: How to Stay Strong When Your Loved One Isn’t

Caregivers often feel isolated. Unable to talk about their struggles with others because putting the emotional weight into words feels futile. They feel like they are in it alone, and often feel like a victim of circumstance or blame themselves for their problems.  

I’m here to give you some tools to help build caregiver resilience, but I want to first acknowledge that this falls under the category of “easier said than done.”

I KNOW, because I’ve been there.

I am the daughter and sister of women who’ve battled addiction, I’ve cared for end-of-life family members, I’ve fostered teens from my own family, and I’ve been the primary caregiver for my elderly mother-in-law…those last three were all at the same time. 

Communication and social support are some of the best coping strategies that I’ve tapped into next to self-compassion, but I also realize those can be some of the hardest things to do.  It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break free from, but staying in the sorrow is a form of self-harm. 

I will circle back to those aforementioned strategies, but first here are a few that may feel more approachable when you’re running on exhaustion fumes and autopilot. 

Understand the person you’re caring for. 

You obviously know this person and understand their survival care needs, but understanding where they are developmentally, individually, or even culturally is completely different. 

If you have a well of compassion for the person you’re caregiving, it is much easier to stay out of resentment and overwhelm. 

For example, when I fostered teens, understanding where they were developmentally as well as individually, it became easier to understand WHY they weren’t doing certain things or grasping certain concepts. 

My elderly family members spent the majority of their lives in the military or government and lived during a time when certain beliefs were the norm. Additionally, both of them had/have cognitive impairments such as dementia.

I’ve spent time educating myself on understanding teen development, the end-of-life experience, addiction, and what the reality of a person with dementia is like. Not because I needed to know these things to care for people, but because I needed to understand their experience for my own sanity. 

Compassion softens your resentments and helps you build resilience when caregiving. 

Set predictable routines. 

I can’t say enough about the value of routines, especially when it comes to caregiver resilience. 

For the caregiver, it is easier to go through the motions when you aren’t living in a reactionary state of what needs to be done or addressed next. Knowing what comes next also reduces stress, which I KNOW you need!

When it comes to teens, special needs individuals, or the elderly with cognitive decline, routines create a sense of safety and predictability. 

Everyone is set up for success when routines are in place. When you aren’t in a constant state of “bouncing back,” you are better able to maintain your general resiliency. 

If you need help creating a routine, check out this article I found.

Stay connected to “why” you are doing this and what you want for your loved one/person you are caring for. 

I wanted to give the teens a loving home where they felt safe to express themselves. I also wanted to be a person they could learn from and someone who provided structure. 

For my brother-in-law with cancer, I wanted to make each of his final days as joyful as possible or allow him to feel emotions of fear and grief if that’s what he needed. 

With the elderly seniors, I want(ed) them to feel loved, valued, and as if the time they had left was worth living, even with pain and confusion. 

Of course, I’ve been frustrated, at my wit’s end, angry, sad, and even resentful at times. However, allowing myself to stay in the headspace of negativity for too long depleted my ability to be strong FOR MYSELF. 

It was reminding myself of my “why” that helped me build resilience. 

Practice self-compassion. 

Caregivers are so good at compassionate acts!! We aren’t always great at showing compassion to ourselves.

Meet your suffering with the same warmth and understanding that you would anyone else’s suffering. Caregiver resilience lives in self-compassion. 

  • Don’t stuff down your feelings. Take a mindful moment to acknowledge exactly what they are. “This is hard & it hurts,” “I’m tired and I, too, am suffering,” “this is stressful.”
  • Know that you aren’t alone. My husband and I asked each other so many times if anyone else was dealing with this much, and the answer is YES. We all struggle in life and caregiving doesn’t instantly make you feel like Mother Theresa.
  • Put your hand on your chest and take a deep breath. Don’t be surprised if the tears come. Caregivers are often so deprived of a warm, understanding, compassionate touch that this simple move goes a long way. 

Community, communication, and social support are crucial. 

I know that getting into community and accepting help are both really difficult when you are in the throes of caregiving, but THIS effort will afford you so much more mental and emotional bandwidth than simply numbing out. 

There are message boards that can be somewhat helpful. Codependents Anonymous (or Al-Anon if you are caregiving for an addict,) perhaps putting a word out on Nextdoor if you want to find someone local who may be struggling with the same, Facebook groups, and of course…a therapist or a coach. 

I just can’t emphasize enough how important it is to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re experiencing and are there to champion you as you navigate this difficult time in life. 

I have an upcoming VIRTUAL workshop that is 100% for the drained caregiver. 

It’s called DETACHING WITH LOVE and it is all about detaching from the emotional & energetic chaos that comes along with staying strong for your loved ones when they are unable to stay strong for themselves.

This is a great opportunity to get into a community, take some time for yourself and your healing, with very little effort.

In the workshop, we will explore detachment, what it is and what it isn’t, have time to journal and time to share. For those of you who aren’t ready to share or can’t find the words to express your feelings, Sydney Melnick, art therapist, and creative coach, will be guiding us through how to express emotions through art. NO ART EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. SHARING IS NOT REQUIRED.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the workshop!