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Personal Resilience for Caregivers: What Is It and How Do I Strengthen It?

Why do some caregivers experience high levels of gratification and positive return, but others experience burnout and stress from caregiving? When examining these two outcomes, it is important to recognize an important factor: resilience. Caring for a loved one comes with unique challenges. Disruptions in your expectations can happen at any moment, and can range from being very minor to traumatic. When these disruptions occur, caregivers use their energy to mend the challenge. After all, Chris MacLellan, the founder of the Whole Care Network, says it best: “No one has caregiving on their bucket list.” Between exhausting your physical, emotional, and spiritual energy, it can be hard to resist the urge of giving up. By practicing these tips, you can strengthen your own resilience muscles and help those you care for do the same.

What is resilience?

This morning, Sammy had hit a pothole on her way to work, and is now on the side of the road with a flat tire. That same morning, Mary got a call from the doctor’s office that her husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While both of these scenarios are very different, they both have a common factor: The characters are experiencing a sudden change and have to practice resilience. Resilience is the capacity to adapt or overcome a negative change and recover from it as quickly as possible. It involves adapting to high levels of stress, uncertainty, trauma, and adversity. As a caregiver, you are using your resilience every day. Between facing unexpected events of a loved one and dealing with your own personal worries, it can be difficult to manage long term. While some might practice it more than others, it is a muscle that can infinitely be strengthened. 

How exactly do I strengthen my resilience?

To simply put it, resilience can be thought of as a “muscle” that you are using each time you come across a disruption. However, just as you would strengthen any other muscle, it requires exercise. To exercise resilience, some change in circumstance must happen. The idea is to understand your confidence and belief system. Your beliefs impact your feelings, your feelings impact how you think about things, and your thoughts ultimately impact how you act and respond. Caregiving can be filled with many ups and downs throughout a loved one’s treatment journey. Here are some simple tips to exercise next time you come across an unexpected hurdle:

Tip #1: Approach a situation with confidence

By believing that good things are coming and hard work will yield success, you will find yourself approaching situations with a much more positive outlook. Remind yourself of the strengths you have used to get where you are today, and that any new challenge is an opportunity for growth. Caregivers tend to be more resilient when they have confidence in their caregiving abilities and have strategies in place to cope with stress.

Tip #2: Be forgiving of yourself

There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. Expect to make a mistake during your caregiving journey. A strategy that worked for somebody else might not work for you, and a strategy you used earlier in the week might not work the next week. Mistakes and change are part of life and that is okay.

Tip #3: Surround yourself with a support group

Creating positive relationships with others can be healing and rejuvenating. It can provide you with the needed support, acceptance, and direction. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and listen to you strengthens your resilience. If you are seeking support, some good websites that connect you with other caregivers are The Caregiver Action Network, The Alzheimer’s Association, and Working Daughter.

Tip #4: Take the time to take care of yourself

While this seems self explanatory, many people overlook it. In order to provide a loved one the needed care at your fullest potential, you must also nourish your own needs and feelings. Find a time during the day to indulge in an activity you enjoy. Make sure to get plenty of sleep as well.

Tip #5: Accept & embrace change

Change can be scary when it has to deal with a loved one. However, life is dynamic and ever-changing. Focus on your sphere of control, significance, and belonging. Caregivers play such a vital role in the treatment of a loved one.

Tip #6: Be creative

When caring for a loved one, it is important to creatively work with what is currently happening instead of trying to fight the uncontrollable. Some things in life can’t be changed. Come up with new and unusual ways to address your issues and how you are feeling. Doing so can only improve your outcome.

Tip #7: Let yourself feel your emotions

All of your emotions, good and bad, are allowed, valid, and important. Not giving your emotions attention can lead to poor sleep, stress, illness, poor diet, etc. When you face your emotions head-on, you can find efficient ways to express and deal with them so that you and your loved one can cope better in the future.

Your resilience muscles are built on your physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. No matter how strong those muscles are, they cannot grow and operate if there is no available energy. With this idea, it is vital to take care of your own well-being in each area. Being a caregiver has immense opportunities to build your strengths and resilience. By practicing these simple tips, you will become more aware of the power of resilience and will be able to use it to face life’s challenges no matter how big or small.

About the author:

Jennah Worthington is a Brand Ambassador Intern for and is a rising senior studying Healthcare & Business at Butler University. She has a passion for the pharmaceutical industry and gaining a deeper understanding of the roles of health providers, insurers, and administrators. She strives to help find ways to increase accessibility in various areas of healthcare. Jennah resides in Indianapolis and enjoys going on walks with her Dalmatian.

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