A guest post written by Beth Phillips, blogger and Happy Healthy Caregiver Community member
As caregivers, we are vulnerable to stress, exhaustion, anxiety and a variety of other factors that can lead to depression and other types of illness. We know that paying attention to our own health and happiness will give us the energy to care for others but it’s hard to find the time or energy when there are so many other things on our plates.
Lucky for us, there’s a lot of new science on happiness and it’s role in success, productivity and high performance. Even better, researchers have identified simple practices to increase happiness. Many of them can be executed in less than three minutes a day and the tangible, physical and emotional benefits can be realized in less than a month, if practiced consistently.
If you want to read more about the science and psychology of happiness, I highly recommend The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The book is an easy read. Achor is thoroughly entertaining and he even cites some fascinating studies with elderly groups of people.
The Happiness Advantage mentions five happiness hacks but I’ll discuss three here that are the least burdensome for a caregiver to implement.
1. Practice gratitude
As I mentioned during my caregiver spotlight interview, taking a few minutes to jot down or think about something that you’re grateful for primes your brain for happiness throughout the day. I would choose a method that fits your situation and schedule but writing down three things every day and forcing yourself to come up with new things is even more effective. Other studies show that if you can combine the thing your grateful for with the feeling that it gives you, it’s even more effective.
What do I mean by effective? Studies show that gratitude heightens well-being across several outcome measures including positive affect, emotional, interpersonal and physical. Another study showed that writing just three letters of gratitude over a three week period increased happiness and life satisfaction and decreased symptoms of depression.
Again, committing to writing a letter or shooting off an email to someone expressing gratitude might be burdensome, so I would suggest a simpler practice while you’re caring for another person.
2. Go Outside
One study showed that spending as little as 20 minutes outside in good weather boosted positive mood, broadened thinking and improved working memory. These benefits are critical to caregiving which often requires patience, creativity and a good problem-solving. As any caregiver knows, new problems can pop up daily. Even though exercise also has a positive effect on mood, if you don’t want to put that on your plate right now, the simple act of stepping outside for 20 minutes can offer similar emotional and physicological benefits.
I know, I know, it sounds complex but it doesn’t have to be at all. Achor found that spending as little as 5 minutes a day focusing on your breath,literally counting as you breath in and out, leads to calm and contentment as well as heightened awareness and empathy (all valuable attributes when you’re caring for others). Research also shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress and improve immune function. Regardless of your status as a caregiver, mediation can change your life by changing the structure of your brain.
I realize that this looks like a laundry list of things to do on top of everything else you’re doing right now. The good news is, implementing any single one of these practices will increase your happiness. Not only will that make you a better caregiver, it will make you feel better. If you’re not convinced, I recommend that you watch Shawn Achor’s Ted talk. It’s funny and thought-provoking and I’m sure he can convince you that adopting a happiness hack will improve your life.