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Caregiving and Thankfulness: Cultivating Your Gratitude

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher

November, as you may know, is National Family Caregivers Month. It is a month to show our appreciation and support for the caregivers in our lives. And there are many. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that there are 44 million individuals in the U.S. who are caring for a family member, friend or neighbor.

For caregivers, the ongoing act of providing loving care for a family member can take an emotional and physical toll. Especially if you are caring for a loved one with dementia.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, many families will say a prayer or a few words of thanks to the caregivers in their lives. Thanks that is certainly well deserved.

However, if you are the one caring for a loved one who has dementia, finding your own things to be thankful for can be challenging. You may have had a bad day, or a string of bad days, when nothing seems to go your way. You may be struggling with your mom’s or dad’s inability to remember something as simple as the meal they just enjoyed. It is usually in moments like these that caregivers seek something positive to help them get through the day.

What you may not know is that finding your own feelings of gratitude can work wonders to restore your sense of wellbeing and reduce stress. Studies show that feeling thankful can even help guard against depression. Those who feel grateful are more likely to sleep better and have stronger relationships.

Still it can be hard to find things to be grateful for when every day seems to hold a new challenge or heartbreak. Where to begin? Here are some thoughts professional caregivers and therapists recommend to help you begin the process of cultivating “gratitude” and help turn yourself into a more thankful (and happier) person.

  • Focus on the people in your life that have a positive effect on you. Make an effort to thank a friend or relative who goes out of their way to help you. Take a moment to reflect on how fortunate you are to have him or her in your life.
  • Find small things each day that make you feel good. This could be as simple as enjoying a cup of steaming hot coffee or a short yoga session in the morning. Take a moment to be grateful that you are able to enjoy each small thing as you experience it.
  • Decide to choose “half full” over “half empty”. When things are not going well, adopt the “glass half full” strategy. Think of how much worse things could be and be grateful that you are coping with the challenges you are facing today.
  • Learn to put worry on the back burner. Practice living in the moment. Instead of worrying over something that might happen or someone who might do something, focus on how fortunate you are that you can enjoy the moments before you.

Does all this mean you should simply ignore all the bad things in your life? Of course not! There are times when even your best intentions are no match for a difficult day or people who let you down.

Cultivating gratitude is about finding some positive things in your life, regardless of how bleak your situation may seem at times. Consider keeping a “gratitude journal” so that you can record your thoughts. You will find this comforting at times when nothing else seems to work. Your own words can have a steadying influence that can help you regain perspective when you need it most.