I was so happy to be honored recently with the 2010 Innovations Award for Prevention from Mental Health America for the work I do educating caregivers about how to care for themselves while they’re taking care of others.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month and being mentally fit is certainly critical to being a strong caregiver; however, the mental stress of caregiving can take ten years off of your life! Caregivers are twice as likely to develop depression.

Having been a caregiver, and through going out and talking to thousands of others, I think a lot about all the different kinds of caregivers out there.  Some are caring for critically ill children.  Some have been handling caregiver roles for years.  Some are helping loved ones through end of life journeys.  All of these scenarios are horrible.  They really are.

It’s normal to feel bad about those kinds of things.  It’s wrong to think you must tuck those feelings away somewhere and put on a strong face for others. There’s a smarter way to care:  by protecting yourself through creating positive thoughts that will foster and maintain mental well-being.

I’m not suggesting by any means that you should go around smiling all the time. As a caregiver, you have every right to go ahead and be sad.  Be scared.  Be mad.  But, you can remain positive and balanced through it all. You absolutely have the power to retrain your brain and turn negative thinking into positive living!

It starts with honesty…being honest with yourself about what you are feeling. Allowing and acknowledging those feelings is all part of taking care of you.  Resisting, denying, and ignoring feelings won’t make them go away.  Don’t spend your energy there.

The wildly popular book, The Secret, put a spotlight on centuries-old concepts regarding the power of positive thinking.  Very simply, these theories suggest that our thoughts are like magnets. Negative thoughts attract negative thoughts.  Positive thoughts attract positive thoughts.  From physics we know like attracts like.  It’s the same with our thoughts.

You have the power to decide what magnet you’re going to pull out of that brain and use today. 

Your brain comes set with a whole lot of feel-good endorphins just waiting to be activated! You have everything you need to make this work.

Over the years I have interviewed several psychologists about positive thinking techniques and many have suggested that the fastest way to start the re-training process is to make an attempt to switch every negative thought that pops into your head with a positive one.  I know that’s easier said than done.  But try it with as many negative thoughts as you can, and focus on being quick and consistent. The more you do it, the easier it gets, until one day you won’t even have to make an effort.

If it seems too hard to make this exercise black and white and turn everything cleanly from negative to positive, work on changing negative to neutral.  Nurses do this with their patients.  Instead of hitting them with “How much pain are you feeling?” They usually say something more like, “Tell me about your discomfort.”  The idea here is not wanting to plant the seed for pain by saying the word “pain.”  

You can do this as you move through your day.  Instead of “I hate to wait this long at the doctor’s office.” Try “It bothers me to wait so long at the doctor’s office.”  See how that little change take some of the heat away?  Definitely a little less tension there.

I have always been a firm believer in the idea that knowledge is power.  I hope that this knowledge empowers you to start right now to fill that brain with more positive thoughts.  Without ever meeting you, because you’re a caregiver, I know you are special and you have been blessed with a beautiful, loving heart.  How’s that for one to get you started?


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