Mindfulness: Being present for yourself, others

Mindfulness: Being present for yourself, others

MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency has an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s column on mindfulness for caregivers is presented by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. 

If you have flown on an airplane recently, you probably recall the flight attendant instructing passengers to put their own oxygen masks on before assisting children or other travelers in case of an emergency. This well-known rule can be applied to life in general: if we do not breathe and tend to our own needs we will be incapable of taking care of those who depend on us. This is particularly true for family caregivers who are responsible for the ongoing care of loved ones. All too often, caregivers suffer burnout and physical and emotional health problems, making it impossible for them to properly care for themselves or their loved ones.

Effective and sustainable caregiving depends, in part, on the caregiver’s ability to meet his/her own needs and to find ways to restore his/her energy. Mindfulness meditation, which seems to be gaining in popularity throughout the country, is a valuable method to reduce stress and rejuvenate oneself. This technique can be especially helpful to family caregivers who are dealing with on-going physical and emotional demands.

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts and pioneer of bringing mindfulness into medicine and society, states that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality.” In addition to stress reduction, mindfulness can help caregivers be “present” for their loved ones, ultimately making caregiving a rewarding experience. Mindfulness is about slowing down enough to connect with ourselves and our loved one, moment to moment. 

Learning how to be present with a loved one who is ill and/or suffering helps us adapt to the constantly changing, often demanding and unpredictable nature of the loved one’s experience. Mindfulness helps us choose the wisest words and actions. It slows us down and takes some of the edge off our tendency to react and try to fix situations that are often beyond our control.

MetroWest CARES recently completed a video project to introduce mindfulness to caregivers throughout Greater MetroWest. These videos, which are tapes of live sessions, include an overview and explanation of mindfulness, guided exercises (including the body-scan, awareness of breath and body, and feeling compassion), and discussion about several of the demonstrated exercises. The sessions are facilitated by Beth Sandweiss, JFS social worker, cofounder of the Jewish Meditation Center in Montclair and director of mindfulness programs at the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey. Beth has been trained in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has worked with family caregivers through her work at JFS. These experiences enable her to highlight how mindfulness is particularly relevant and beneficial to family caregivers.

Accessing these videos on the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ website, jfedgmw.org (click on 60+ and eldercare), will allow caregivers to practice these exercises at any time. Even a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can be rejuvenating, allowing caregivers to meet their needs and the needs of their loved ones while bringing joy to the caregiving experience.

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