Finding Joy in Caregiving

Finding Joy in Caregiving

As caregivers we are so focused on health care, safety, finances and logistics that we can easily lose sight of quality of life — both for those we care for and for ourselves. Experiencing joy while caregiving isn’t always easy, but I believe it’s more than just a nice thing to do: It’s a crucial survival skill. Every moment of joy fills our tanks a bit so we can keep going. And a little bit of fun can go a long way to relieve stress, motivate, activate and connect.

After years of working with Lee to understand and deal with her health challenges, I am still learning how to better prioritize both noticing the inherent joys throughout the day as well as proactively creating joyful moments. Here are some ideas for infusing joy into your loved one’s life, as well as your own.

Music. Lee and I both respond so positively to our favorite uplifting music — from 1960’s and 70’s Motown to 80’s dance music and even some rock. Listen on the radio, or set up a playlist on an MP3 player. You can use Pandora, iHeartRadio, Amazon Prime music and Sirius XM to play songs that bring peace, ease pain, energize, distract from anxiety, induce memories or trigger a spontaneous sing-along.

Adventures. We approach every outing as an adventure — whether it’s to a medical appointment, shopping, dinner, a movie, or just a car ride to get out of the house. Outings are more difficult for Lee some days than others, but we go out on good days.

Physical activity. Get moving, and make it fun. This is obviously a challenge for someone with CRPS, much less the other conditions with which Lee deals every day. But we are starting to go swimming, take short walks, or even do a little shopping together. It all helps. What else? There’s yoga breathing and poses, and Pilates for core strength.

Games. Think about games your loved ones can play, like familiar card games, board games or word games. We play Scrabble with family members, and on longer drives we do quizzes to test our memory and knowledge. Work on crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles together, or even play “I spy….” Games can help pass time in a waiting room and distract from boredom or pain.

Celebrations and holidays. Make any excuse for a party. Celebrate all anniversaries and birthdays. Every holiday, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or the first day of spring, offers the opportunity to decorate their home or room Look for any reason to celebrate an accomplishment or milestone.

Humor. Lee and I consciously look for opportunities to laugh. Just be silly. Laugh at yourself, tell jokes, retell old family stories, watch funny movies or videos on YouTube, read funny stories. Laugh about the everyday mistakes and foibles we all experience (like when I regularly don’t see something right in front of me).

Nature. We love to be outdoors when we can. For many people, simple nature brings the most joy. Bring fresh flowers, or visit a garden or nursery.  You can also plant flowers, walk outside, build a snowman, cuddle up with a pet, watch an animal play or go for a car ride to see the spring blooms, the snow or the fall leaves.

Home videos and scrapbooks. We are in the process of going through thousands of old family pictures. Put the old home movies on DVD or digitize them, and watch them together. If your loved ones don’t have scrapbooks, make some together — just sorting through old photos can be fun. Use your camera phone, too — take snapshots and selfies and share them, or look at family and friends’ photos on social media sites.

Intergenerational exchanges. We have some close friends with fairly young children, and we have some young grand nieces and nephews. Being around them is always energizing for us both. We go to soccer games, school events, family meals and events and every time we come away refreshed

Massage and other bodywork. Lee has gotten some of the greatest benefit, physically and mentally, from her chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy. I have learned enough to provide a little relief at home on our own massage table Taking time for yourself and the one you care for to take advantage of these therapeutic means for relaxation, relief and release.

Notice the inherent joy in every day. Make an effort to be mindful of the joy that you might be missing when your mind is racing and your tension rages. The knowledge that Lee loves me, that we have each other and that we are still standing together after all these years is an amazing gift. The small victories like finishing the house chores together when we can, the gift of holding Lee’s hand and watching another beautiful sunset from our home. Don’t miss a precious subtle moment.

Being creative and open to the humorous, joyful moments will help you face the tougher aspects of caregiving. You might consider keeping a “joy journal” and noting the joyful moments. They will bring you comfort in the future.

Lee Greenan