Mindfulness & Presence: Tips for Caregivers

adrouin September 26th, 2010, 10:35 PM
Amy Dixon, BSN, RN
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(photo by Craig ONeal)

(photo by Craig ONeal)

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a type of awareness meditation. The purpose is for you not to focus on anything but the thing you are doing at the moment.

That may sound simple in theory but we all know life is full of distractions. A walk in the park may be interrupted by a text from a spouse, a phone call from work, or even your own thoughts may be a distraction. Mindfulness encourages you to just take a walk. And that’s it.

Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote The Miracle of Mindfulness suggests that one way to be aware of the moment is to be aware of your breathing.

I recommend to begin your mindfulness practice by taking three to five deep breaths and focusing your attention on the breath itself. Notice how when you breathe in the air, it passes through your nasal passages and into the back of your throat, down your chest and bronchus and into your lungs. Become more aware of the expansion of your lungs and the movement of your diaphragm. Hold the breath for a moment, then exhale while noticing the muscles surrounding the ribcage assisting you in the exhale and the sound of the breath as it exits the nares.

You will increase oxygenation to your cells, promote relaxation and hopefully feel a clearer mind in the process, while doing focused breathing exercises.

What if I get distracted during mindfulness?

Ok, so you feel distracted or restless or worried through the exercise. Acknowledge it (”I am worried”) and return your focus to the breath. Try not to judge your thoughts. Your thoughts are a part of you too. Instead, attempt to return to the movement of your breath. The more you do it, the easier it will become to center yourself.

What other ways can I practice mindfulness?

In Avoid Caregiver Burnout!, I suggested that if you’re unable to take a period of respite away from caregiving obligations then you may need to find creative ways such as drinking chamomile tea, listening to a favorite song or lighting a candle as opportunities for self-care. Thich Nhat Hanh proposed that each of our activities are opportunities to strengthen our awareness in the moment.

If you have time to sip some tea, then do just that. Start with a few deep breaths; then, take a sip noticing the temperature of the cup between your hands, the rise of the steam from the surface and the taste of tea leaves as it absorbs in your mouth. Do nothing but what is you’re doing.

What is presence?

Presence is an outward focus of awareness. You are going within to center yourself in mindfulness in order to stay in the moment, whereas presence requires your attention to be turned toward the person you are caring for as a caregiver. It is to be fully aware for someone else. This is an especially helpful practice if you are providing physical care to a loved one, as it promotes patience and compassion.

Again, remove yourself from possible distractions as you provide care. Turn off your cell phone or the television as you feed your ill parent. Make eye contact as you administer medications. Listen to your loved one’s words, hear his or her sounds, notice the temperature of the skin as you turn or transfer a loved one. Listen to what it is he or she is saying to you. Try not to interrupt. Be in the moment of the connection and set an intention of love.

Mindfulness and presence inspire you to slow down. You can only do so much at one time. Each can be effective ways to deal with the stress of caregiving while promoting your own health and wellness.

Have you used mindfulness or presence as a caregiver? I would love to hear from you.


  • Your tips for promoting mindfulness in caretakers are very helpful! Caregiver burnout is a very real thing, and as you said a great way to fight it is to be in the “now” as much as possible, and take everything one day at a time. I think your post will be very helpful for people experiencing or trying to prevent such burnout.

    How can we make your life better?

  • Thank you, firstSTREET! It’s true, any techniques to assist caregivers on ways to lessen the effects of stress are crucial to their ability to continue to care for their family members. The philosophy of ‘one moment at a time’ is one way to not feel so overwhelmed.

  • [...] an environment of mindfulness while preparing food. This will lessen the stress of meal [...]

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