Using mindfulness to ease the stress of caring

Patsy Westcott / 01 November 2013

Mindfulness can help you to calm down and cope with the everyday stresses and strains of caring.

Sometimes caring for a parent, spouse or relative drains you of every last drop of patience and mental energy.

This is where mindfulness may help. But what does it involve?

And why is something so apparently alternative attracting so much interest?

Mindfulness simply means becoming more aware of and accepting your thoughts and feelings in the present by focusing on your breathing. Anyone can do it, any time, anywhere.

A clutch of studies has shown that mindfulness can ease problems ranging from stress, anxiety and fatigue to high blood pressure and pain from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) gave it the thumbs-up for treating depression. And comedienne turned psychotherapist Ruby Wax credits it with helping her to overcome a lifetime of the blues.

Struggling? You are not alone. A daughter shares her experience of caring for an elderly mother with dementia.

Here’s how to regain your inner calm…

The basics

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Don’t try to change anything. Just be aware of each breath coming in and going out.

If thoughts crowd in, acknowledge them, then let them go and refocus on your breathing.

Practise this for five minutes a day, gradually increasing the length of time.

Eight unusual ways to practise mindfulness.

Feeling tense? Do a body scan

1. Lie down on your back somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Spend a few moments becoming aware of the physical sensations in your body.

3. Focus on your breathing, feeling your stomach gently rise and fall.

4. Gradually move your attention from the top of your head down to the tip of your toes. Let your whole body sink into the floor, bed or wherever you are.

5. Now focus on your whole body. It will feel heavy and relaxed.

6. After a few moments, wiggle your fingers and toes, and have a good stretch.

7. Gently roll over, sit and then stand up and return to whatever you were doing.

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Feeling anxious? Ride the worry waves  

Worries, fears and anxieties are like waves; they build up and ebb away. Instead of fighting anxiety, imagine you are a gull floating on the sea as a wave approaches.

It’s steep and tall and hasn’t broken yet. Now imagine it getting closer. Don’t fly away; simply ride up the facing slope, round the top and drift down the long back of it.

Low in energy? Go for a (mindful) walk

Take five or ten minutes to walk outside. As you walk, notice the weather and the sights, sounds and colours around you.

If your thoughts stray, gently guide your mind back to an awareness of your surroundings.

Don’t let bad weather put you off – a walk in the wind or rain or snow can be just as good mentally as a stroll in the sunshine.

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Thoughts all over the place? Pop into a gallery

1. Find a painting you like and stay with it for five, ten or even 20 minutes.

2. Absorb it, enter into it.

3. When you leave the gallery, you’ll feel refreshed as your mind has not been chattering for a spell – it has left you in peace while you focused on something else.

Ready to snap? Relax, relax...

Do this quick breathing exercise when you need to focus and calm down.

1. Breathe in while mentally counting to six.

2. Hold your breath for two counts.

3. Now breathe out slowly while counting to eight.

Adapted by Patsy Westcott from The Little Book of Mindfulness by Tiddy Rowan

For more help and support for carers, browse our articles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.