The Art of Caretaking: Critical "Things To Do" For People Caring
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Questions and answers about caretaking and speaking up with those we serve, from a cancer diagnosis to dementia and all stops in-between.

Why is self-care critical for people caring and why is it so hard for many caregivers to ask for the emotional and logistical help they need?

As the airlines say, in the unlikely event of a change in cabin pressure, affix your own mask before assisting others. In the same way, if you're exhausted, your thoughts, actions, emotions, and spirit are all compromised.

It takes a lot of stamina to be alert and of service in a loving and constructive way. So take care of yourself so you can give with love and respect to those in need.

We have the illusion that we can shoulder it all and that not being able to adequately care for our parents or patients indicates we are weak or somehow lacking. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than one person to care for an elder or a person dependent on others for their survival. This is especially true because we must simultaneously maintain our lives and perhaps care for our own children. This is no small task. Asking for help requires practice, as with any new skill (keep reading).

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What is the main health impact of not dealing with stress or conflict and why is that bad for us?

Off the top of my head, I count seven but I'm sure I'm missing some!

1. Stress (physical, mental, or emotional), anxiety, and overwhelm make us more susceptible to illness ourselves.

2. When we don't express our emotions physically and constructively, we lose our balance and our ability to feel the emotions of joy, love, and peace.

3. Our words and actions convey impatience and frustration, and put a bummer vibe over our interactions.

4. Our efficiency and clarity take a nose-dive, putting ourselves and those we are caring for at risk.

5. Empathy and seeing the good in those we care for is at risk.

6. When we don't address and get help with the increased workload, we tend to neglect our other responsibilities, like our spouse, children, and work.

7. This scenario impacts our relationships and will eventually increase the amount of discord, animosity, and distance.

What are 3 easy-to-implement tactics we can deploy to reduce stress and how does that help?

1. Most importantly, find a support person. That means getting help caring for your in-need parent, relative, or patient. In terms of support, call on and get firm commitments from other family members, friends, neighbors, or hire additional help so that the responsibility doesn't land totally on your shoulders. If money is an issue, check with in-home care facilities or volunteer organizations in your area. Many offer drop-in activities for an hour or two.

2. To reduce your stress level, take good care of your own self. (Remember the airlines slogan). In terms of helping yourself, find someone who will just listen so you can vent and share your trials and tribulations. Don't abandon your self-care activities. Don't indulge addictions such as sugar, alcohol, coffee, or burning the candle at both ends. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Keep in touch with your friends.

3. Speak up constructively when encountering conflicts.

Deal only with the issue at hand. You must avoid bringing in past unresolved problems and stick to the present. Deal with one issue at a time and speak up about yourself.

The worst thing you can do is to "you" the other person by accusing or blaming. That means, don't tell others about themselves, what they did wrong or how they are at fault. Stick to talking about what is true for you. State what your opinions, needs, and wants are about the one specific topic.

In resolving conflicts, all parties need to have an uninterrupted opportunity to speak about what is true for them. This can pave the way towards finding a common ground on which you can begin to find a solution.

How to communicate about common conflicts that often arise

In all instances, follow the Attitude Reconstruction four rules of communication:

1. Stick to talking about yourself,

2. Stay specific and address one topic at a time,

3. Be kind, which means be positive and look for good solutions and good efforts,

4. Listen well, at least 50% of the time.

That means, resist "You-ing" them (telling them what they aren't doing well) and focus on kindly speaking up your "I" and a specific request.

If you follow the four rules, after understanding each person's position, you can then work together to find the best win-win solution. Here are some examples of how to speak up using "I"s and "specifics" and "kindness."

* A sibling or other family member who doesn’t participate in care or provide support: Speak up about your need, such as "I'm really burned out and need help in this situation that affects all of us."

* A parent needing care who is uncooperative: Speak up, saying something along the lines of, "I really need your help. I'm tired and frustrated and am trying my best."

* Frustrating situation with healthcare providers: "I appreciate how attentive and patient you are with my mother. However, it's important to me that she takes all of her medications regularly. So I'd appreciate it if you would adhere to the schedule we've written out."

* Our behavior is getting unkind: "I'm feeling really frustrated right now and so I need to take a break. I'll be back in ten minutes. I'm just going to sit out on the front porch."

If you could only give two pieces of advice to a paid or unpaid care provider, what would they be and why?

First, speak up what's true for you about you. That is, keep saying your "I"s about specific things (avoid generalities like always or never) with family members, friends, patients, and bosses, etc.

Second, go for empathy. The person you are caring for is doing the best they can under the circumstances. The best you can do is to try and understand them and what they are facing. It’s not productive to try to convince them that you know better than they do.

Ask them to tell you stories about their life, before you were born, their struggles and triumphs. And then listen attentively. (This is the fourth Communication rule.) Remember, that could be you!

©2019 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.

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About the Author

Jude BijouJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at

* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace

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