Working caregivers can’t clone themselves to be in two places at once. Instead, they need to learn to compartmentalize the working and caregiving sides of their brains to keep the internal chatter of one from intruding upon the other. That isn’t easy. Our minds tend to scamper from one worry to the next. But unless they can shut out caregiving concerns for a little while at work and working concerns while caregiving, then they will never be able to excel in either role.
How can working caregivers become effective compartmentalizers and immerse themselves more completely in the different moments of their lives? Here are some ideas.
Learn to shift your mind-set We put on uniforms when we are assuming our duties as a military officer, fireman or retail store greeter. Th e uniforms aren’t just a signal to others of our official positions but a trigger for a shift in our own mind-sets. We become the roles externally and internally when we change garb. I’m not suggesting that family caregivers have an official uniform. But working caregivers can more effectively leave work at work and step fully into caregiving through some symbolic act — for example, removing a tie, throwing on jeans or letting their hair down. Th is is not just a matter of creating more physical comfort but of ushering themselves psychologically into their family roles. Th ere are many other ways of demarcating work from caregiving to trigger an internal shift : Leave briefcases and tools at the office or work site. Turn off cellphones. Don’t bring projects home. Also, consider bringing closure to a workday by writing a to-do list for the next day and leaving it in your cubicle or locker before heading out.
Being fully present in caregiving or any endeavor is not a simple choice; it’s the result of practice. Many such practices are now lumped under the common heading of “mindfulness” — that is, increasing present awareness rather than being preoccupied with worries about the future or regrets about the past. A mindfulness practice that can be adopted by working caregivers is called “5 Senses.” Caregivers can pause in their many duties to note, one sense at a time, what they are hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling and smelling. Even if thoughts about work or other worries pop into their heads, they can bring their focus back to the sensing. This exercise tends to briefly ground caregivers in their immediate environment and takes them out of their zig-zagging thoughts.
Take an observer’s stance
In a similar way to noting their senses, working caregivers can intentionally observe and perhaps record their care receivers’ behaviors and symptoms. Th is can help them prepare for a medical visit, say, at which they will be asked how their loved ones are responding to treatments. But it is also an exercise that forces caregivers to be present and attentive