This is a guest blog written by the CEO of AffirmiCare, Paula Enrietto. AffirmiCare is one of our partners who provides home care services in the Boulder County area. You can find more information on AffirmiCare’s website about their personalized care options. The information and opinions shared here are Paula’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Cultivate.

Paula Enrietto
Paula Enrietto, of AffirmiCare

In my last two blog posts (which you can find here and here), we talked about tools to help you survive as a caregiver in the face of constant change. Today let’s talk about how to thrive throughout your caregiving journey. If you look up the definition of thrive, you’ll find words like prosper, flourish, and to vigorously grow. These are words that aren’t normally used when describing caregiving, but they can be if you take care of yourself while taking care of someone else. Let’s explore a little more!


Prosper

First and foremost, do your best to remain healthy and strong both physically and emotionally. Caregiving is described as a marathon, not a sprint. Get to know your body and what it needs to remain healthy. Eat right, get exercise, reduce your stress, and above all, pace yourself.

The Center for Disease Control guidelines for a healthy diet suggest eating generous amounts of fruit and vegetables, using healthy fats like olive oil in cooking, reducing salt intake and eating small amounts of red meat and more fish. Finally, drink in moderation. There is a wonderful resource at Choose My Plate that provides detailed information to easily maintain a healthy diet. This is the fuel you need to prosper.

Exercise is critical for reducing stress and maintaining your health. Do what is right for you! Your fitness level is different than others but it’s important to do a combination of weight-bearing and aerobic exercise at least two days per week (guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control).

A good diet and exercise both contribute to stress reduction, but more may be needed. Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation are good stress reducers. These targeted practices quiet the mind, increase focus, reduce negative emotions and may increase both physical and psychological strength. Remember, remain healthy and strong for the marathon run!


Flourish

Continually try to refresh your spirit by maintaining active social engagement. Significant research has shown that strong social networks have a huge impact on our psychological and physical health. Our minds are sharper and work better when we spend time with good friends. Not only that, people with strong social connections don’t get ill as often, have better blood pressure and stronger immune systems. The effect is equal to decreasing cholesterol levels or quitting smoking!

There’s a wonderful story about a man named Charles Plumb. He was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and was shot down. He ejected and parachuted into enemy hands where he spent 6 years in prison. One day Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant and a man approached saying, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam and were shot down”. Plumb was astounded and wondered how he knew. The man explained that he had packed the fighter pilots’ parachutes on the aircraft carrier. Plumb now lectures and asks his audiences, “Who packs your parachute?” He points out that everyone needs someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.

Know who “packs your parachute”. Your social circle will help you flourish!


Vigorously Grow

Vigorous growth is another way to describe resiliency. Much like life, the caregiving journey is one of constant change. Thriving during this journey requires constant adaptation and resilience. What are some of the characteristics of resiliency? When faced with a crisis, we respond with optimism and see the “silver lining”. We have a sense of purpose, something that gives life meaning. This may be the act of caregiving itself. Finally, we have the ability to handle our own problems, to be advocates for ourselves and our loved ones. If we respond in these ways, we recover more quickly from crisis and stress. We maintain a sense of purpose and the will to more forward, engaging with friends in our social circle. We emerge stronger from stressful experiences and gain more tools to handle whatever comes next.

The caregiving journey can be difficult but can also come with enormous gifts if we take care of ourselves, build strong social networks and see the silver lining every step of the way!

Come back next week for the last post in Paula’s How to Survive and Thrive While Caring for Others series, which will talk about community resources that can help you continue to thrive as a caregiver.