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Enhancing caregiver resilience

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Caregivers of wounded, ill, and transitioning Warfighters need to stay resilient in the face of immense stress. Read on to learn a few strategies.

Caregivers are a pillar of strength for Warfighters who struggle with trauma, illness, or injury, but caring can come at a cost. Perhaps as many as 1 million spouses, siblings, parents, and friends are former or current caregivers for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans alone. Military caregivers serve a critical role—from managing day-to-day activities, to being a legal advocate, to helping navigate a complex health system—all the while juggling career and family responsibilities. If you’re a caregiver, here are a few ways to build and maintain your resilience:

  • Grow a robust support network. Just because others rely on you doesn’t mean you don’t need your own support system. The kinds of support most helpful for caregivers include sources of medical information, training opportunities, and networking with other caregivers. Within your family, be sure to regularly strengthen ties with each other and find opportunities to experience positive emotions.
  • Set collective goals. Caregivers often abandon their own personal goals and aspirations to care for others and feel guilty when doing things for themselves. Creating shared goals that you can reach for together can shift the perception from caregiver and care-receiver to a partnership. Overcoming obstacles in areas outside of recovery can increase teamwork and boost morale and motivation.
  • Embrace the suck. Cultivating optimism offers many benefits in the recovery process, but unrealistic optimism can impede effective problem solving and lead to feeling disappointed. It also can feel oppressive having to “always be positive” on days when nothing seems to be working. When you have bad days, practice acceptance and compassion. Suffering makes way for meaning, and if today isn’t a good day, reflect on what you might learn from it, and let it go.

Caregivers enable Warfighter resilience, but they often need to bolster their own ability to bounce back. You also can try these other helpful tips for caregivers. November is Warrior Care Month. For more information, visit the Office of Warrior Care Policy.

Tips for caregivers

Caregivers play an essential role in the recovery of an injured, ill, or wounded service member. The emotional, physical, and psychological health of the caregiver is also important in this process.

When a wounded, ill or injured service member returns home, his or her life has significantly changed, and so have the lives of the caregivers and family. DoD recognizes the importance of the caregiver and family in the recovery process. However, caregiving can be stressful, and you run the risk of burnout when you focus solely on others without time to recharge. So it’s important to take time for yourself too. Read on to learn HPRC’s top tips for caregivers and families.

Care for the caregiver

Caregivers of wounded service members experience stress too. Learn some strategies that may help.

The wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.

  • View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
  • Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
  • Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
  • Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
  • Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
  • Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
  • Seek professional help when needed.

For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).

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