Gratitude and Caregiving

Caring for an elderly loved one can be hard work. Did you know that focusing on what you’re grateful for can make things easier?

First, let’s take a closer look at the term "gratitude." The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as the feeling or quality of being grateful. Gratitude is more than something you say or do, it’s how you feel. Interestingly, the word is derived from the Latin gratus, which means showing thankful appreciation for a person’s kindness. You may have noticed that the word gratitude also contains the word attitude, and anyone can cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

How can you make gratitude a regular part of your day? Are there habits that you can develop? The answer is yes, and these four simple gratitude practices will get you started.

Write in a Journal

Probably the most common technique for expressing gratitude is to write about it. Make a list each day of three things you’re grateful for. If you’re a caregiver, it may be that you had an hour to yourself, that someone brought you a homemade meal, or that you received a smile from your loved one. If it seems like too much to come up with three things, start with just one.

Acknowledge Yourself

If writing in a journal isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Create a practice where you sit quietly for five minutes each day to reflect on your blessings, including your own strengths and the way you contribute to the care of your loved one. Combine it with deep breathing exercises, which are shown to lower blood cortisol levels due to stress, which can lead to positive health outcomes.

Acknowledge Others

Caregivers can’t manage 24/7 care for another without help. It takes a village to look after elderly loved ones, so express your thanks out loud to the people who support you. Let them know that you appreciate everything they do for you. Do this and they’ll likely return to help you again. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Send a Weekly Thank-You Card

Beginning a gratitude practice shouldn’t be overwhelming. It shouldn’t feel like one more chore to check off the list. If a daily practice seems like too much, start with a tangible task that can be easily completed in just a few minutes such as sending a thank you card to one person each week.

Expressing gratitude won’t be the magic bullet that makes your life effortless and joyful every moment of the day. However, the regular practice of gratitude has been shown to help reduce feelings of anger and negativity. Scientists have discovered that people who practice gratitude reap all sorts of benefits. They sleep better. They have less stress. They eat better and have a lower risk of depression. The feel less pain from chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. These are all outcomes that will make your life better.

If you’re a busy caregiver, beginning a gratitude practice is perhaps one of the easiest and most effective steps you can take – for yourself, the person you care for, and the people who support you. Why not give it a try? You’ll be grateful you did!