This has been a year of unpredictability for everyone, but even in normal times, unpredictability is often the constant companion of caregivers.

Health emergencies may strike in the middle of the night, or the evolution of a loved one’s disease might cause new concerns or sudden schedule changes. Worry about what might happen can mean that even when things seem to be going well, it can feel as if they aren’t. Unpredictability can mean that one never feels safe or settled.

In unpredictable environments, both anxiety and stress tend to rise, which may lead to increased depression, mental illness, and physical ailments.

So what can you do when unpredictability has become your unwelcome friend? How can you find a way to live with frequent upheavals without sacrificing your mental and physical health?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. But here are some ideas to help you find your way through the often unpredictable world of caregiving.

1) Let Go
A lack of control can be part of why unpredictability feels so unnerving. As a caregiver, you can give medication, take your loved one to doctor’s appointments, and provide healthy dietary choices. However, you often can do little to alter the underlying health conditions that may be growing and altering you and your loved one’s lives. It’s important to let go of the desire to control things that aren’t controllable. So, if you’re experiencing a worry or unpredictable event, maybe check in with yourself to see whether there is anything about the issue that you can control. If not, let go of the outcome and just be with your loved one as they experience it.

2) Breathe
One of the easiest ways to let go is by focusing on your breathing. If you notice that stress is rising as you wait in the hospital or struggle to adapt to your loved one’s dementia, bring your attention to your breaths and count to five as you inhale, hold that air in your lungs for five more seconds, and then exhale over five seconds. Do this a few times and check in to see how you feel. Just paying attention to your breath can calm your body’s anxiety response and improve your ability to handle whatever stress life has just thrown at you.

3) Go Outside
Even if you can’t leave the house due to coronavirus concerns, you can still step onto your doorstep or lean out the window to better hear the birds. The simple act of venturing outdoors can be both calming and nurturing. Perhaps download a bird app like Smart Bird ID or eBird to help you identify birds outside your home. Birdwatching not only feels good, but it may be something fun you could enjoy with your loved one by just looking out your window.

4) Phone a Friend
If all else fails, call a friend. If you can manage it, share a laugh about how difficult everything is. If not, complain for a few minutes. Venting about the stresses of caregiving can be a needed outlet. You might even forewarn a friend or two that you would like permission to vent every so often as a way to release the stresses caused by the current unpredictability of your life. If you need extra support, caregiving associations across the country now offer online support groups, so if you are worried about overburdening your friends, go online to find a group where you can share your struggles.

Sometimes simply noticing that life has become unpredictable and is thus stressful can make a difference. So maybe when another unexpected thing happens, think, “Ah yes, Mr. Unpredictability has knocked on my door again. That’s okay. I’m used to him. Some day he might even become my friend.”

Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well! —Kathi Koll

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