Resilience: How to Bounce Back from Caregiving's Bad Days

Sarah has had a rough day. Even rougher than yesterday--and she thought a day couldn't get worse than that one.

Her father has been with her for three years. He's living on borrowed time, at 88-years-old he's suffered three strokes and was recently diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.She knows that he won't be with her for much longer and tries to draw strength from that. She can be with him now, she thinks, because this is the last time they will be together.

If only her sister would help her more! Her sister seems to be someone new, someone she's never met before. Her sister used to be such a caring person, always available to lend a helping hand, to listen with an open heart. But, these last few weeks... Her sister can only be described as, well, awful.

And, yesterday, her husband was rushed to the emergency room from work. A slight heart attack. Scared them both to death. He's home now and expected to recover, as long as he makes changes in his lifestyle. On Tuesday, he was a strong, virile man. Today, two days later, he's a baby who can't heat up his own soup.

How in the world will Sarah make it through these next few weeks, with her husband home recovering from a heart attack and her father in the spare bedroom dying of cancer and her sister, well, angry at the world?

Sarah stares at the television, at the Oprah show, which usually cheers her up. She's too spent to cry. How am I going to do this? How am I going to survive this?

Ah! Resilience is a caregiver's secret weapon. It's what will get Sarah up the next day. It's what will keep her going. Every caregiver knows the feeling of those low points.And, we know we somehow wake up the next day, get out of bed, and face it again. We don't know any other way.

Staying resilient also means staying healthy. And, when you're a caregiver, your mental and physical wellness may sometimes be jeopardized. If you don't feel good about one area of your life (especially an area such as caregiving), how you feel about the remaining areas (your job, your marriage, your children, your friendships) may be at risk. Keeping your caregiving role in check is imperative so that when life's darts get thrown, you're in shape to handle the hits.

Some reminders to maintain your wellness as a family caregiver:

1. Welcome help. You're probably the best caregiver in your family--but you're not the only one. Your spouse can read to your care recipient on a Saturday afternoon so you can get out with friends. Your siblings can provide financial support so you can hire home health aides--and give yourself a regular break from laundry, cooking and cleaning. Your adult children can spend an evening with your care recipient so you can enjoy dinner and a show. Your out-of-town relatives can telephone your care recipient regularly so you're not the only one providing social interaction with your care recipient. And, ask for help--don't wait for others to offer. You'll wait forever.

2. Define your caregiving role--don't let it define you. Enjoy activities on a regular basis that remind you of you--your interests, your ideas, your opinions and your values. And,make adjustments in your caregiving duties that allows time for those activities--daily, weekly, semi-monthly--whatever you can manage.

3. Make sure caregiving in some way affects your life in a positive way. Reap some benefits, rather than just making sacrifices. Has caregiving taught you about the positive power of giving? Have you gained an understanding about your care recipient that you never had before? Have you learned about patience and virtue? Have you learned how strong and successful you can be--no matter what the obstacles or stresses?

4. Seek a support system--and nourish it. Does a relative, friend or caregiving acquaintance support and validate your efforts? Everyone needs a empathetic ear and sympathetic shoulder--especially caregivers. In turn, be supportive to other caregivers. Our online support groups at offer both support and comfort. In addition, our family caregivers who blog on tell us the process of writing and releasing their worries and anxieties is very cathartic. You can start your own blog on a variety of websites.

5. Make sure your motivation as a caregiver is honest and healthy. For instance, in your caregiving role, are you hoping to right the wrongs of past relationships? Is that realistic? And, most important, is that healthy? Or, are you a caregiver because you understand and appreciate its importance--to you and your family? Keep on top of your motivation--and if you find yourself slipping into the motivating ways of a martyr, pull up and re-examine your role. Is it best for you, your care recipient, your family? Counselors and life coaches can a resource for you as you work to stay in a healthy place.

6. Educate yourself about your care recipient's illness or disease. Learn how to handle difficult behavior, provide hands-on care and administer treatments. Ask your care recipient's physician, your home care workers and organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association for suggestions and information to make you a well-informed, trained caregiver. Knowledge is the best way to minimize your frustration and uncertainty.

Resilience holds its power. The better you get at bouncing back, the easier it will be to recover from caregiving's bad days.