When caring for your partner, building resilience–the ability to continue forward in the face of adversity–is essential. Caregiver resilience is not just about surviving; it’s about finding strength in vulnerability, joy in the midst of sorrow, and courage in the face of adversity.
When my husband passed away from cancer, I attended a grief recovery class. During the first meeting, I sat in a room with 25 other people. We went around the room and shared why we were there. Only a few of us were suffering a recent loss. Many of the others were dealing with loss that had occurred years, even decades, before. Some shared how their loss had been a shadow over their whole life, so they finally decided to deal with it. One 60-ish-year-old man said he just didn’t feel like himself. He was short-tempered and angry with his spouse, which wasn’t usual for him. He wanted to finally address the loss of his brother. His brother’s death was 50 years ago! I was stunned.
He and many others had lived years of their lives broken, not fully whole. My heart ached for them. They had been knocked down by adversity and hadn’t yet risen again. But that’s not everyone’s story. Others find ways to manage and cope. They tap into their strength and deal with the challenges as they come up. These people are the ones we label as resilient. They can bounce back after hardship and often become stronger because of their struggle.
But caregiver resilience isn’t something you either have or don’t. It’s a skill, and you can develop it. Keep reading to learn the three pillars of resilience and how to build this skill to live entirely whole now, even as you care for your sick spouse.
What is Caregiver Resilience?
Resilience is traditionally defined as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” and “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”
For caregivers, this looks like being able to navigate and adapt to the challenges and stressors associated with caring for a loved one, especially those with chronic or debilitating illnesses. It’s about maintaining psychological well-being, physical health, and emotional stability despite caregiving demands. Caregiver resilience involves several components, including emotional strength, flexibility, the ability to find meaning and purpose in the caregiving role, self-care, social support, and effective problem-solving skills. It’s an ongoing process that enables caregivers to balance their own needs with those of the person they are caring for, leading to improved outcomes for both parties.
Resilient people may get knocked down when something bad happens. But they also get back up. They find their mental reservoir of strength to call on that carries them through without falling apart. They work to maintain perspective, even in the worst of it. They look for things to be grateful for even when all seem dark. They ask questions and seek help. As a result, they get through it stronger, wiser, and more resilient.
Why Do Caregivers Need to Be Resilient?
Building the skill of caregiver resilience is for you. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. It’s not just beneficial; it’s essential. As a caregiver, your well-being directly impacts the quality of care you provide. By cultivating resilience, you’re better equipped to handle the ups and downs that come with caregiving. It helps you manage stress, reduce feelings of burnout, and maintain a positive outlook. But it’s not just about weathering the storm; resilience also empowers you to find joy and fulfillment in your role as a caregiver. It allows you to draw strength from challenges, find meaning in adversity, and ultimately, provide the best care possible for your loved one without losing yourself.
It is also for your partner for whom you’re caring. When you’re resilient, you’ll be more present, patient, and emotionally available, which can significantly enhance your partner’s well-being. Additionally, your resilience can be contagious. Seeing you come back from adversity stronger than before could inspire your partner to cultivate their own resilience. In this way, your resilience ensures you’re providing the best care possible and fosters a supportive environment that benefits your partner’s overall health and happiness.
How Do Caregivers Build Resilience?
While most of us would just elect to bypass our hardships, we usually don’t get that choice. When life puts an accident, disease, or some other difficulty in our path, there is little enjoyment in it. However, how we view these challenges in the first place can help set us up for using them to become resilient.
Here is the thing: adversity provides the classroom for building your resiliency! When you start viewing your challenges as the path to becoming stronger, you will shift to a growth mindset. From there, you can find ways to marshal your strength and not just survive in the face of hardships but grow and eventually prosper. Doing this requires an understanding of the three pillars of caregiver resilience.
3 Pillars of Caregiver Resilience
Building resilience as a caregiver is all about your mindset, emotional management, and social connection and support.
Developing a resilient mindset involves understanding the power of our thoughts and how they shape our experiences. By gaining perspective and recognizing that challenges are not our identity, we create a separation between the challenge itself and our reactions to it. This shift allows us to tell a more empowering story rather than becoming trapped in a victim narrative.
Practicing awareness of our thoughts enables us to consciously choose how we respond to adversity. This awareness promotes personal growth, a sense of control, and the ability to find opportunities within challenges.
2. Emotional Management
Emotional management is integral to resilience, as it enables us to navigate the emotional landscape that caregiving and life’s challenges can bring. Recognizing, naming, and accepting our emotions are crucial to understanding our triggers and patterns. This awareness helps us proactively address emotional responses in the future.
Caregiving can involve feelings of guilt, shame, or self-pity. Accepting emotions without judgment validates our human experience and prevents us from getting caught in self-blame or negativity. Lastly, processing emotions involves allowing them to flow through us rather than suppressing or ignoring them. This helps us release emotional tension and regain a sense of equilibrium, preventing emotional exhaustion.
3. Social Connection & Support
Human beings are inherently social creatures, and having a strong support network is crucial for building resilience. Healthy relationships with friends and family can provide a safety net during tough times. These connections can provide perspectives, insights, and solutions you might not have considered on your own.
Resilient individuals know how to ask for help when needed and are willing to offer their support to others as well. Having people who can provide practical assistance and emotional support is invaluable during tough times. Whether it’s a friend helping with tasks, a family member providing a listening ear, or a colleague offering guidance, these gestures demonstrate care and strengthen your ability to cope. Feeling supported by others reinforces your sense of worth and that you’re not alone in your journey.
Getting support from a caregiver coach or therapist can also build resilience. A coach will offer emotional validation, help you gain perspective, and guide you to find your own answers. Having regular support for yourself helps you show up powerfully for everyone else.
Ready to Build Caregiver Resilience and Come Back Stronger Every Time?
As a caregiver coach who has been a spousal caregiver, I can’t stress enough the importance of building resilience. It’s your shield in the face of adversity, your buoy in rough waters. But remember resilience isn’t just about enduring; it’s about coming back stronger every time. And to build caregiver resilience, you need to manage your mind and process your emotions effectively. It’s not about ignoring or suppressing your feelings but understanding them, allowing them, and learning from them. It’s about developing coping strategies that work for you and being willing to ask and receive support.
These are skills we aren’t taught in life but become critical to staying strong in the face of your challenges. And they are the skills I teach my clients during 1:1 coaching sessions for you when you’re caring for a sick spouse. If you’re ready to build caregiver resilience, start today by scheduling a free coaching consultation.