8 Tips for Increasing Caregiver Patience

8 Tips for Increasing Caregiver Patience

Have you ever met someone who seemed incredibly serene? Someone so calm, cool, and collected that it made you wonder what they did to achieve that Zen-like attitude? How did they get that kind of patience?

Contrary to what you might think, patience is not something we are born with. Take a look at any toddler who has been asked to wait for two seconds to get what they want and you’ll quickly realize that patience has to be learned – and sometimes, it’s a lesson that must be learned over and over again as we go through the stages of life.

As a family caregiver, your patience is likely tested on a very regular basis. No matter how much you love a person, you might have to bite your tongue and dig deep for patience and compassion sometimes. Many tests of patience happen when you are dealing with insurance companies, trying to figure out proper medication dosages, wondering how in the world you’re going to get everything done, or simply getting frustrated because you haven’t had a single moment all day to step outside, get some sunlight, and breathe.

Patience must be cultivated. It must be nurtured. And yes, there will be times when you fail in your pursuit of patience. But the good thing about patience is that there is always another opportunity to try.

Greater Good Magazine points out that cultivating patience can lead to better mental health, including less depression and negative emotions.1 The Journal of Management Development says the same thing, but goes further by presenting studies that show those with more patience also have more empathy, are quick to forgive, and seek fairness in all things. Those with more patience tend to be more cooperative with others.2 All of those things can benefit you as a family caregiver dealing with insurance companies, doctors, difficult schedules, and so much more.

8 Tips to Become More Patient

These tips for building patience can help you not only in being a family caregiver for the person you love, but in helping you through any life situation that can set you on edge. Best of all, you can get started right now in increasing your stock of patience. Here’s how.

1. Be Aware of Your Body

When you begin to get frustrated, certain things happen in the body. Your heart rate goes up. You breathe faster or feel short of breath. Your chest becomes tight, you feel a heavy weight in the pit of your stomach, or you might even feel chest pains. You might clench your fists as if you are ready to fight. Physiologically, other things are happening that you can’t see, like a sudden dump of stress hormones into your bloodstream and a rising body temperature.

These are warning signs that you are getting frustrated to the point of doing things you might regret later, such as shouting at your loved one. By paying close attention to what your body is telling you, you can recognize you are about to lose your cool and take a pause, making more effective use of the remaining tips.

2. Take Deep Breaths

It’s almost a cliché about patience – to calm down by taking deep breaths. But it works.

According to UW Medicine, deep breathing calms your sympathetic nervous system.3 That’s the part of your nervous system that controls your fight-or-flight response; in other words, it’s the part of the nervous system that responds instantly to that hormone dump mentioned earlier.

Deep breathing quiets that instinct to fight or run. And that can leave you feeling calmer, more relaxed, and less anxious.

When you feel your patience slipping, pause right away and take the moment to inhale as deeply as you can. Take in a breath that expands your chest and fills your whole body. Then exhale slowly, completely, through the count of 10. Then do it again. Experts recommend three deep breaths to get the initial stress response under control. Take more deep breaths if you need more time to get centered and feel calmer.

3. Learn to Listen – And to Speak

Listening to someone vent about something when you are feeling impatient is usually a good way to ramp up your frustration and annoyance. But if you can take a step back and engage in active listening, you might find that you can drum up more patience.

Active listening means being in the moment, listening to what they have to say and really taking it in. You aren’t waiting for them to stop speaking. You aren’t already thinking about your rebuttal. You’re simply listening and letting them talk, allowing their comments to settle before you respond.

And when you do respond, focus on doing it appropriately. Empathize by repeating back to them what they said. “I understand you are feeling frustrated by the situation right now.” Offer up solutions as gentle suggestions, not demands.

If you are talking about your own feelings, always use “I” statements. “I feel upset when this happens.” This brings a very different tone than saying, “You upset me when you do this.” A calmer, more productive conversation can help increase your peace of mind as well as your patience.

4. Take a Time Out

Getting away from the situation for at least 10 minutes or so can help you bring emotions under control and find more patience. Take a step outside and breathe in the fresh air. If you need something more physical, take a brisk walk around the block or backyard. Allow yourself a few minutes to feel whatever you’re feeling.

Then slow it down. Take those deep breaths. Pace slowly, one foot in front of the other, focusing on the motion of your body. Stop and look at flowers, at the clouds moving across the sky, or even that beetle trundling across your shoe. It is easy to focus on the moment and forget the bigger picture. Remind yourself that as with all troubles that have come before and all that are yet to arrive, this too shall pass.

This is a good time to have a fall alert for your loved one. This safety tool lets you take time away to breathe and calm yourself while not worrying so much about whether your loved one is safe. Medical alert devices, or emergency button alarms, allow your loved one to access live help, 24/7.

If you can’t get outside and get away “properly” you can still get away in the house. Go to a quiet room or even just a quiet corner and focus on something else for a brief period of time. Maybe you will listen to music, play a silly game on your phone, or go through the ritual of making your favorite coffee or tea. Eat a little something, such as a handful of almonds, and chew slowly while you focus on the flavor. You can even close your eyes and focus on a place that calms you down.

5. Empathize and Be Kind to Yourself

It’s a strange part of human nature: when we are afraid of something, we often express it with frustration or anger. The reasons for your frustration might seem obvious. “I can’t handle how stubborn she is when it’s time to bathe!” But what isn’t so obvious is the fear and grief underneath that statement. “I’m so sad about what is happening to her and afraid I can’t help her enough.”

Thinking through these emotions can feel dreadful. After all, it’s much easier to deal with anger than it is to deal with sadness. But if you can acknowledge what you are feeling, you will not only be kinder to yourself, but you might also better understand what your loved one is going through.

Think about that: if what they are going through frightens and saddens you, they must feel the same way. Their stubbornness and anger is likely covering up a true sort of existential terror.

Given that, be kind to them, and to yourself. When you allow the true emotions to come, it just might be license for them to allow their emotions to show, too. And that can lead to serious breakthroughs that not only foster patience, but make life easier in every other way.

6. Accept the Circumstances

Radical acceptance means that you are in the present moment, recognizing that a particular situation is happening, and not trying to solve it or change it. This can be difficult to do. But it’s amazing what can happen when you accept the circumstances and learn to work within them.

For instance, if your loved one can’t get out of bed without help, don’t see it as their fault. See it simply as the circumstances you are both in at this moment. Acceptance allows you to help them with more patience and understanding.

The gold standard of acceptance is The Serenity Prayer. You’ve probably heard of this prayer. It is a statement that focuses on understanding what you can and cannot change. And though it has a religious connotation, it can easily resonate with anyone, even those who don’t address a higher power. It’s very simple to memorize:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Understand what you can change and what you can’t. For instance, you can’t change the fact that your loved one can’t get out of bed on their own any longer. But you can change some aspects of the situation. You can use transfer seats or slings. You can work with a physical therapist to find the easiest and safest ways to lift them. You can make sure they have an emergency alert system in case they try to move out of bed when you are in another room and lose their footing.

Once you have changed what you can, accept what you can’t change. Knowing you have done your best can go a long way toward giving you more patience, not only toward your loved one, but toward yourself as well.

7. See the Big Picture

Serious frustration is often the result of a short-term issue. For instance, you might be upset over the traffic that is going to make you late for a doctor’s appointment. But keep in mind that the traffic is a temporary issue. Yes, you might be late, but you will still get there. And there’s nothing at all you can do to change the traffic patterns.

You might be incredibly frustrated as you sit behind the wheel and honk your horn. But an hour later, you will be out of that traffic and the situation will be in your rearview mirror. Look at the moment as just that – a moment, one that will be overtaken very soon by another, easier moment.

It might also help to look at the situation in an even longer-term way. Right now, your loved one is here with you. And while the circumstances might be annoying, frustrating, upsetting, or any other host of negative things, there will come a time when your loved one is no longer there. By looking at this time as making the most of what you have left together, you can alleviate some of the impatience you might be feeling.

8. Accept Help

Finally, make a point of accepting help when it is offered. Sometimes family caregivers might avoid that because they don’t want to burden anyone else. But by accepting help, you leave more room for your own needs, and that can make patience easier to come by.

That help can take many forms. It can be something like choosing medical alert systems for seniors that work well for your loved one. Or it can be something that requires hands-on attention, such as allowing someone to bring you a casserole for dinner or walk the dog during those days when you can’t leave your loved one’s side. It can even include professional caregiving, from respite care to skilled nursing help.

By following these tips for learning patience, you might find that you become much more like those Zen-like folks with the cool and collected attitudes. But even if you don’t, every bit of improvement helps. And as your patience grows, you’ll find that so do the rewarding moments of being a family caregiver.