Our theme for this conversation on Wednesday 10 June 2020 was “The Art and Science of Caring”.
In this conversation we discussed information about how human neuroplasticity is a valuable asset for everyone including those of us in the family carer role. We learn from our experiences and over time we can establish skills and mastery in our approach to the carer role. Our inbuilt biology for being adaptive also contributes to our resilience in the role too.
We talked about how one of the challenges in the care role is around regulating our own emotional reactions in care situations when perhaps we feel impatient or frustrated. These emotions can escalate, especially if we feel we are having a bad day ourselves with low emotional reserves. We agreed that we are not pleased with ourselves if we flare up and become reactionary rather than maintaining a calm presence and caring approach.
Understanding the neuroscience of emotional regulation can help us. Cherie described the relative roles of higher cortical brain areas and lower cortical brain areas in emotional processing. There was agreement that preparing ahead to avoid emotional escalation in caring situations is a good idea. Research has shown for example that learning to meditate (eg the loving kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation etc) can help us to prospectively maintain a calm emotional state with physiological benefits throughout our own body. This supports our own happiness and positivity levels.
Another preparatory method we can use ahead of time is shifting our mindset for how we think about anger. There has been some research that shows benefit from shifting our interpretation of “angry” feelings from being an involuntary inescapable emotion but rather as an indicator of not feeling adequately resourced for the situation at hand. Adopting this interpretation of the feeling of anger, has been shown to improve physiological (physical) markers of cardiovascular distress within the perceiver’s body.
We can also do things in the moment to calm ourselves too – what we are wanting is a simple way to cue our attention from the perceived “trigger” – to create the mind space for choice to become possible. A simple verbal mantra can help bring our higher cortex online to inhibit the emotional surge – you can develop a favourite phrase to repeat silently eg “This moment shall pass” or “I choose to remain calm” etc; and the long tradition of yogic practice would remind us to connect with our breathing and focus on calming that eg silently cuing ourself with a phrase like “I breathe in for 4, I breathe out for 4”. The shift in our focus of attention and the silent use of words can allow the space and mechanism for our self regulation and choice to come back ‘online’.
To become robust in our ability to respond rather than react in care situations takes practice and we agreed that it is appropriate to regard ourselves with some self-compassion as we learn from our fails and mistakes along the way. With self-compassion we can extend encouragement, patience and trust to ourselves on the path to bringing good quality care to our loved one.
Overall we agreed that there is definitely an art to being able to maintain a caring approach in the many situations we can face in our family carer role. It was good to remind ourselves that there is science-based information that we can use to guide us in choosing a positive approach.
We continue to be ready to warmly welcome other family carers who may be available to join a Zoom conversation on any of the Wednesdays during June and July – simply register for free for your available dates via Eventbrite (where you can read more about the conversational series); so that I can email to you the Zoom link to connect into the conversation on Zoom on Wednesday 17th June, when we will be discussing “Compassionate Caring”.
These conversations are hosted by Cherie Rowett of Heart Choice Enterprises. Cherie’s commitment is to lead a themed conversation online every Wednesday during June and July, in this series titled “Talking about Caring – Family Carers in Conversation”.