As a writer, I know that words matter. Words convey meaning and reveal character (in the case of a certain presidential candidate, for example). Words matter for caregivers too. The words we use and the things we tell ourselves can have a tremendous impact on how we perceive our caregiving experience. Research from the Department of Health and Human Services suggests people who take an active, problem-solving approach to caregiving are less likely to feel stressed than those who worry or feel helpless. One way we can access that action-oriented approach is through the words we use.
That is why it is important we choose our words carefully. And there are five words, that I believe, caregivers are wise to completely omit from their vocabulary: should, always, never, and what if.
Should. I’ve written about “should” before. I think it should be spelled s-h-u-d because it is a dirty word. When you start a sentence or a thought with, “I should,” that is an indicator that you have internalized someone else’s expectations and values. “I should be able to concentrate at work.” “I should be better able to handle this health crisis”. “My sister should help out more.” There are no shoulds in caregiving. There is no one way or right way to balance caregiving and career. There is only what is. Lose the word should. It is helpful to no one.
Always and Never. If you find yourself using these two words, chances are you are lying. So stop. Here’s an example, “I am always running late?” Really? All the time? Is that a true statement? More importantly is it helpful to tell yourself that? I will answer that question for you: it is not. Here is another example, “How come I never catch a break?” Is it true that nothing, never, ever, not once worked out in your favor? I have hard time believing that. You may be feeling frustrated, angry or exhausted in the moment and it’s okay to acknowledge those feelings. But don’t lie about them. A rough morning, is just that, a rough morning. It is not a rough life. A mistake is a mistake. It is not representative of every decision you have ever made. Remove the words always and never and move on. Better things are coming your way.
What If. It’s wise to plan; it’s paralyzing to “what if.” As working caregivers we are constantly making difficult choices. Travel for business or stay home with the family? Take Dad to the doctor or the kids to their soccer game? Visit your mother in the hospital or go to the client meeting? In order to make those decisions, we need to avoid that “what if” thinking and be as pragmatic as possible. Pragmatism is dealing with the specific situations in a reasonable and logical way and not depending on theories. Caregivers need to deal in facts, not a bunch of possible catastrophes. You know that guy at work who says at every meeting, “Let me play devil’s advocate?” The guy one nobody likes? Don’t be that guy in your own life.
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