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Combating Caregiver Burnout with Psychological Flexibility

Updated: Aug 11, 2022


"The only constant in life is change". ~Heraclitus

"Freedom and happiness are found in the flexibility and ease with which we move through change.”~Buddha


Both of the above quotes demonstrate that change is constant and living peacefully can, in part, be done by accepting change with openness and flexibility. The harder we fight against change, the more difficult our path will be. That is the idea behind psychological flexibility. In Todd Kashdan's paper, "Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health", he states that "Psychological flexibility spans a wide range of human abilities to: recognize and adapt to various situational demands; shift mindsets or behavioral repertoires when these strategies compromise personal or social functioning; maintain balance among important life domains; and be aware, open, and committed to behaviors that are congruent with deeply held values.". Things change. Expectations change, opportunities change, weather changes, money changes, people change, relationships change, everything...changes. If we spend our days railing against all of the inevitable changes, that is resigning ourselves to a life of battle instead of enjoying all the great things life has to offer us. Learning to find beauty in the unexpected, approaching life, and sometimes challenging circumstances, with a sense of adventure and curiosity will serve you better than trying to fight that inevitable tide of change. This does not mean we need to always be happy, there are no rainbows without rain, right? We just need to accept those feelings as they come along. ACT uses a lot of metaphors, one that I've used is riptides. Have you ever spent any time at the beach? Do you know how to survive being pulled away from the shore in a rip current? The trick is NOT to fight against the ocean; you will never win. Instead lifeguards teach us to swim parallel to shore out of the rip current and then swim in. If you fight the rip current, you will likely tire rather quickly and no longer be able to keep yourself above water. Your goal is to get out of the rip current and safely make it back to shore, not to win against the rip current. Wasting your energy on fighting a losing battle is a dangerous game and you may pay with your life. Sometimes life as a caregiver of a high needs or special needs child may feel like fighting a rip current and trying to stay afloat. If you stop to think about what your values are and take committed actions in the direction of those values, THAT is how you flow with the changing tides of life.


In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) there are 6 core processes that work to establish psychological flexibility; acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values and committed actions. Working to learn and implement these six core processes will assist in gaining greater psychological flexibility. This will result in better outcomes overall due to increased happiness, decreased stress and better relationships. Psychological flexibility is important for well being in the general population, but even more so as a caregiver for a high needs or special needs child. The ability to be psychologically flexible will help combat caregiver burnout and stress.


Many people balk at "accepting"something that they find unpleasant or aversive; it could be their child's diagnosis or the difficulties their child and family face. Acceptance does not mean giving up and doing nothing. Acceptance means you accept what is going on, you accept that any and all feelings are reasonable, you accept that the only constant is change and you continue to gently move in a valued direction. This might mean accepting that your child has a specific diagnosis, accepting that you may feel anxiety, anger, grief, fear of the unknown, but also evaluating your values and behaving in a manner consistent with those values and moving in that valued direction.


Will you be the solid oak that cracks in a heavy wind of change? Or will you flow with the winds of change like the bamboo and grass so you don't break?


If your child struggles with communication, social skills, tolerance and cooperation...reach out and schedule a FREE, Breaking Down Barriers Call to see how I can support you as soon as NEXT WEEK!

Check out my private Facebook Group: Empowered Parents, would love to have you join us!

Be well,

Ashley





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