Mindfulness and Meditation Practices May Help Caregivers Manage Stress

Happy home care provider in a living room viewing her iPad

Home health, home care, and hospice jobs are rewarding because caregivers report feeling togetherness, a reciprocal bond, spiritual and personal growth and professional accomplishment. Caregiving can also be demanding for families caring for a loved one and agency caregivers who work with multiple clients.

Finding Balance

Caregivers’ passion for putting clients first can cause an improper balance between duties and personal time, which can lead to caregiver burnout. According to a report by National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours a week providing care and 60% of them also work. A WebMD article titled “The Invisible Workforce” mentions that the stress of trying to handle the workload makes caregivers susceptible to fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression. Incorporating simple meditation into a daily routine can boost mood and lower stress levels and may be useful to caregivers.

There are multiple forms of meditation. Mindfulness emerged from ancient Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practices as a way of training attention, present moment engagement and self-awareness. In her book Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy, author Mallika Chopra shares how the low commitment practice of meditation has universal benefits:

“You don’t need to be spiritual to meditate. . . The benefits I’ve experienced with meditation—greater clarity and focus, reduced stress, enhanced insights into myself—have been fully validated by science in the past couple of decades. Research has shown that these aren’t blessings bestowed upon a lucky few. They’re available to anyone who takes the time to commit to the practice.”

Modern Meditation

Meditation is helping diverse groups of patients, from combat veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder to psoriasis patients, for example. In a recent Harvard hypertension study, patients who adopted an eight-week meditation routine had a change in the expression of 172 genes linked to regulating inflammation, circadian rhythms and glucose metabolism, helping decrease blood pressure. Publications have also linked functional and structural brain changes with meditation, and Harvard is currently tracking those changes for clinically depressed patients to push previous studies that have shown the benefits in treating anxiety and depression.

Meditation can be done by a caregiver alongside their family member or client. This report by U.S. News & World Report details that elderly patients who meditate can experience improved memory, cognition, circulation and stress management. In the report, Dr. Cheng, a palliative care physician for the University of California—San Francisco, uses short meditation exercises during patient visits when they are overwhelmed and stressed. A review completed by The New York Academy of Sciences of various meditation studies most strongly connected better cognition and executive function as the clearest benefits that emerged across studies for the aging.

Tips for Success

Caregivers can use simple five-minute breathing exercises with their family members and clients in a quiet place with no distraction. Over time, the meditation practice can be increased to between 20 and 30 minutes a day. Many meditation apps like Headspace, Mindworks or Biobase offer free beginner courses to guide listeners and encourage routine mindfulness practice with reminders. Some prefer to play relaxation music or nature sounds in the background. Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a nonprofit program that provides evidence-based educational programming for caregivers, has two free tracks here for beginners.

Burnout is common because caregivers often feel guilty in asking for help even though a study by NYU School of Medicine shows that family caregivers who used supportive services, classes or counseling to help ease their workload could keep their loved ones at home 557 days longer. Research by the Global Coalition on Aging and the Home Care Association of America shows that family caregivers who use home care agency services report better health, ability to hold jobs and fewer lost wages than those who do not.

Avoiding Burnout

Caregivers should be alert to common burnout symptoms like withdrawal from friends and family, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, irritability and lower resistance to illness. It is important for caregivers to de-stress with activities like exercising, vacationing or meditating.

Home health, home care, and hospice agencies can offer group meditation and relaxation sessions for their field staff to help avoid caregiver burnout. In addition to the resources listed above, agency owners can find online materials like this self-care guide created by the American Nurses Association to include in their staff training programs.