November, the month of Thanksgiving, is an ideal time to consider how giving thanks can improve our lives.
As caregivers, gratitude comes in many flavors. Our loved ones may thank us for our loving care of them or they may feel thankful while no longer being able to speak to share those feelings. Alternatively, perhaps our loved ones are suffering and forget to thank us. Maybe they are not even aware of the thank yous in their hearts waiting to be shared.
The same may be true of us as caregivers. Who would you like to thank today or do you wished you had thanked in the past? Your loved one, who is suffering and sharing these private moments of caregiving with you? Family and friends who help support you? Perhaps doctors, nurses or other professionals? Maybe an organization or government agency that has provided assistance? And why is it vital to step out of your busy life and take time for gratitude?
Strangely enough, expressing gratitude often provides more benefits to the person voicing thanks than to the one receiving the thank you. Even simply writing down feelings of gratefulness in a journal without ever sharing them can enhance one’s life. Gratitude is scientifically proven to improve physical health, aid sleep, enhance empathy, reduce aggression, and promote psychological health, including better self-esteem, stronger mental fortitude and improved relationships.
So how can you bring more gratitude to your caregiving life?
1) Make a List
Take a moment this month to brainstorm all the people who you appreciate in your life. Go beyond the obvious and really search for people who brighten your days. Maybe it’s a neighbor who always inquires about you or your loved one’s health. Maybe it’s the cashier at your local grocery store who is invariably friendly. Look around during the coming days, add people to your list. Maybe just take a few minutes before bed each night to feel gratitude towards these people or perhaps make the effort to see how you feel when you thank them for the brightness they provide.
2) Change Sorrys to Thank Yous
This may seem like an odd thought, but often statements like “I’m sorry to impose” or “I’m sorry if I’m talking too much about this” can be switched to expressions of thanks, such as “Thank you for helping” or “Thanks for listening.” Check in on yourself this month and see if you are voicing apologies (or even self-pitying thoughts) that could be reconsidered as expressions of gratitude. Both you and the recipient of your words may feel much better with the switch.
In your caregiving journey, you may not often receive thanks, but take the time to thank yourself for your valuable contributions. The caregiving work you do may seem unnoticed at times, but you can take note of it even if no one else does. Thank yourself for your tender care of your loved one and recognize how important that has been. Your work is vital. Thank you!
Remember gratitude reduces unhealthy emotions like envy and resentment. Giving thanks boosts happiness and reduces depression. So take a moment to bring good cheer into your life this November and let it spread throughout the holiday season and into the coming new year.
Kathi Koll is the founder of The Kathi Koll Foundation and author of Kick-Ass Kinda Girl: A Memoir of Life, Love and Caregiving. Please visit KathiKollFoundation.org or KathiKoll.com to learn more and read an excerpt.