By Dr. Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW

Being a primary caregiver can be a thankless job – particularly when you’re doing the best you can, and it’s still not enough. Family dynamics can be treacherous. Other family members may have very strong opinions about how they think things should be handled. Fortunate is the family that can work together for the greatest good without breaking the ties that bind.

“Be kind to unkind people; they need it the most.” – Robin Williams

It’s helpful to remember that everyone handles emotionally charged situations differently. Well intentioned, but thoughtless comments can wreak havoc on the psyche of a primary caregiver and/or their caree. While everyone should have a say, when you’re the one in the trenches coordinating all the moving parts daily, the last thing you need is dissension and undue pressure. That’s why having your own place to vent your feelings in a support group or to a trusted friend is so important.

It’s been said that 10% of conflict is due to a difference of opinion, and 90% is due to the wrong tone of voice. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Choosing words wisely, thinking before speaking, and speaking in a manner you would like to be spoken to are important communication skills; some say considering the source is an art.

There are some attitudes, feelings, states of mind, and personality traits that can impede being kind and genuine communication – these may belong to the caregiver, the caree or anyone else in the mix. They are human. I’ve identified the ones that seem to cause the most damage.

First and foremost is Fear. Fear prevents action and many times has its roots in unresolved anger. Self-judging thoughts of “What if I make a mistake” and “I can’t do this” keep us stuck. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Frustration is a manifestation of undirected negative energy; it will wear you out and can cause you to make errors in judgment and other mistakes. Practicing kindness toward yourself can mitigate the toll frustration can take on your health and happiness.

Guilt is a tyrant. It saps not only energy but also the confidence needed to be your best as a caregiver. Why are you guilty? Making amends for the past does not require guilt as an incentive. If you are present and doing your best, let the rest go; you are enough.

Impatience is frustration’s sibling. Its energy can fill a room and make everyone uncomfortable. There is time to do what you need to do without animus. You can always apologize for being in a hurry and just get on with it. Kindness is an unselfish act and only takes a minute.

The arch-rival of self-esteem is Perfection. The notion that things need to be just so is self-defeating, making nothing good enough, ever. It’s not a perfect world; get used to it.

Allowing for people, places and things to be perfectly imperfect will make the world a happier place.

Lastly, Resentment breeds contempt. Feelings of resentment are the #1 obstacle to effective caregiving. If you are resentful about being a caregiver, perhaps it is not a job you should undertake. It’s okay to know that about yourself. Not everyone is made for the sacrifices or level of responsibility.

In the end, kindness can prevail, in spite of the presence of fear, unresolved anger, frustration, impatience, perfection, and even resentment when practiced diligently.

My favorite mantra is, “BE KIND. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Dr. Jamie is a popular keynote speaker, media expert, and author. He co-authored the acclaimed “Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss.” Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Connections, JoanLunden.com, Huddol.com, and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

By Dr. Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW

A heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to all cancer survivors! We are fortunate that we have access to so many unique stories of personal triumph. From the Norman Cousins classic, “Laughter is the Best Medicine” to Joan Lunden’s courageous “Had I Known,” each of these inspirational stories give hope and help to those who follow in their footsteps.

While the “official” survival celebration took place on June 3, every day marks a personal anniversary and victory over this too common perilous life journey. It’s hard to imagine that there is anyone in America that has more than a couple of degrees of separation from its effect on the one battling it or their friends and family.

Cancer is a very personal disease. I have spoken to many who have battled it and many whose job it was to care for the wounded. They all say the same thing; they all say, “It changes you.”

And so the walks, the 5K and 10K runs and relays, the dinners, and the pledge drives continue because we have to do something. We fight the good fight for all of those who lost their battles as well as those who have not yet seen combat.

The exact origin of cancer is not known, but there is evidence of cancer in the bones of a dinosaur found from 150 million years ago (American Cancer Society). Regrettably, it did not die out with them.

According to a 2014 article in Discover Magazine, an ancient Egyptian medical text, called the Edwin Smyth Papyrus that dates back to 1600 B.C., is widely believed to contain the earliest known reference to a cancerous tumor and a description of what is now accepted to be breast cancer.

There’s evidence of cancer in roughly 200 individuals in the human fossil record. In 2013 British researchers recently uncovered the oldest example of human cancer in a 3,200-year-old male skeleton found at an archeological site in northern Sudan.This is widely known as the oldest complete skeleton of a human displaying metastatic cancer.

Literally, billions of dollars are spent each year on cancer-fighting drugs with horrific side effects. The cost of new drugs approved to treat cancer is itself life-threatening for many Americans. Not to mention the myriad of drugs prescribed to combat the side effects. Is it any wonder that the word “cancer” can send shockwaves of palpable fear through a room?

Current environmental concerns and considerations aside, cancer has been part of our evolutionary journey throughout the Ages. It had its place in the primordial ooze and has now become a deciding factor in the human gene pool; it is part of our human DNA.

It is DNA research that holds the best hope for, if not finding a cure, at least abating the progression of the seemingly endless ‘kinds’ of cancer that have been identified and diagnosed. There is research pointing to the role of infectious diseases as precursors to cancer.

What is lost many times in the treatment of this 21st Century plague is the human element. While clinicians need to avoid the stress of having to deliver a dreaded diagnosis, patients need to know that they will have access to all available resources of support, the least of which is their own attitude toward being sick in the first place.

Celebrating cancer survivors forges hope; for without hope, all is for naught.

Dr. Jamie is a popular keynote speaker, media expert, and author. He co-authored the acclaimed “Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss.” Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Connections, JoanLunden.com, Huddol.com, and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

By Jamie Huysman
PsyD, LCSW

Learning is a lifelong process; at least it is to me. I can’t imagine living in a static world without being able to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of “life on life’s terms.” To me, the well-known adage, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” missed the mark. Change is certain; it is the touchstone of living a full and productive life.

Can you imagine being stuck in one place in time with your understanding set in stone? It is the fear of change that has always caused controversy and discord among the people in this world.

It is also important to discern “order” from “control.” It’s good to have “quality controls,” but when control becomes a power one can wield at will, it can be very destructive to growth.

Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

As a medical professional I was taught the value of staying connected with my colleagues to exchange ideas and learn from each other. As a man, I am grateful for the connection I have with friends and family. My life would not be complete without them.

Connection, Curiosity, and Committing to Change

These 3 C’s are vital to maintaining a balance between our being and doing.

1. Don’t be afraid to connect with other caregivers through support groups – online or face-to-face. Connectedness keeps us human.

2. Stay curious. Attend or listen to learning sessions, seminars, podcasts that will help you be a better caregiver. Developing outside interests is a motivator of learning. The point is to learn something new from which you can expand your horizons.

3 Commit to change. Is there something you might do differently to make your caregiving experience for yourself or your loved one better? New insights lead to new thinking that leads to different behavior and results.

I am certain that when we learn to apply self-care protocols using these 3 C’s, we will be actively learning more about ourselves. Self-awareness counters naiveté, which can lead to transformation and, finally, understanding.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer,” Einstein said.

I came across a fascinating article titled, “4 Reasons Why We Should Never Stop Learning,” in Inc. Magazine recently. I highly recommend it!

Dr. Jamie is a popular presenter on Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue. He co-authored the acclaimed “Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss” and was featured in “The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism.” Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Connections, JoanLunden.com and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

“Nothing is permanent in this world, not even our troubles.” — Charlie Chaplin

Physicians, and emergency, surgical and hospital staffs, are trained to work under pressure. Many thrive on “red alert” and “code blue” emergency situations. They train to exhibit grace and cool heads under pressure because they know that the emergency will come to an end and they can disengage from being on high alert and the immediacy of the moment. For family caregivers, this is not the case.

Family caregivers are many times on their own, navigating rough and uncharted waters as both captain and crew. Although caregiver training was authorized through the Affordable Care Act, many hospital providers did not meet their obligations and implement these much-needed programs. Caregivers were once again left without a lifeboat by not being trained to perform basic medical procedures to boost their confidence and effectiveness.

When we experience extended levels of stress in multiple aspects of our lives, our ability to be present and efficient in everyday situations is at risk. There are warning signs that we need to be mindful of to prevent long term circumstantial and/or clinical effects related to stress.

Are any of the following familiar to you?

1. I am bored and sometimes resentful about being a caregiver and have little to no patience to listen to my loved one’s concerns.  

2. I discourage conversation by asking unengaging questions and replying with yes or no answers.

3. I am falling behind and have little interest in fulfilling my responsibilities.

4. I am losing or have lost my sense of humor.

5. I feel tired most of the time.

6. I dread going to work and/or coming home more than usual.  

7. I haven’t had any fun for a while now.

8. I feel stuck and tend to avoid others, and increasingly spend more of my free time (like I have any) alone.

9. I ignore what I know would make me feel better and make excuses to not take care of myself.

If you can relate to three or more of the above statements, you might want to consider making some adjustments to your attitude and activities. Wouldn’t you suggest the same to a friend?

It’s unrealistic to think that a work/life balance can be achieved without some tipping of the scales on occasion. Busy lifestyles can cause us to overlook or gloss over things that can build up over time and blindside us. Certainly, it is true that the first step toward solving any problem is admitting there is a problem!

Stress can manifest itself in a variety of physical symptoms as well, including headaches (tension and migraine), shortness of breath, back pain, high blood pressure, stiff neck, constipation/diarrhea, insomnia, upset stomach, depression, fatigue, relationship problems, weight gain/loss, and fatigue. While these symptoms may point to other maladies, a stress assessment may be the first line of defense in getting down to causes and conditions in ourselves. Learning to reduce stress and its related effects on your happiness and quality of life is caregiver gold!

Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.

The world is a scary place these days, moving faster, changing, threatening to take away that which we depend on to “get by” in many cases. Those of us who have taken on primary caregiving duties may feel like we’re under siege, causing anxiety and depression in the face of those responsibilities.

We may feel hopeless or powerless, like we are out of control, which can create panic in those most vulnerable to these feelings. We truly have no real control and may try to create some somewhere just to feel OK. The problem is that when we try to exert undue influence over people, places and things, our actions are often met with resistance, discord or feelings of resentment. Also, when we get stuck in bemoaning the past or projecting our angst into the future, we waste our energy and exhaust ourselves. How can we possibly be happy or effective under these circumstances?

The truth is that our attitude has everything to do with how we weather the storms around us.

The first step is to accept everything as it is; much like creating a restore point on a computer. Applying an attitude of gratitude reprograms our nervous systems, calms us and rebalances us so that feelings of doom and gloom dissolve with the positive energy of gratitude. As human beings, these feelings come up. It’s ok to have unwanted feelings; they are our teachers. How wonderful that we can transform the worst of our feelings by embracing gratitude!

In her book, “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” Sonja Lyubomirsky breaks down how and why gratitude works. They are outlined here from her article, ”Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness,” on www.gratefulness.org:

1. Grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences.
2. Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem.
3. Gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma.
4. The expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior … grateful people are more likely to help others
5. Gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones.
6. Expressing gratitude tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others.
7. The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.
8. Gratitude helps us thwart hedonic adaptation.

I urge you to practice expressing gratitude whenever possible. Whenever your feel overwhelmed or overtaken by negative thoughts, stop and make a gratitude list. Mentally note or even take a moment jot down several (3-5) things for which you are grateful. It will change how you perceive and move through the world.

Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of that question.Tennessee Williams

Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.