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Donna Thomson

Survival Tips for Stressed Out Family Caregivers

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I've just come from our family cottage in the north woods of Quebec. It's peaceful there - a place for reflecting and remembering. My Nana built our cottage in the 1920s and my memories are of her making my toast on the woodstove with the sunlight dancing through the wood-framed window.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhJlpo3hMk0

But the woods can be scary sometimes. Once, I got lost. I went for a walk by myself and followed a path I didn't know. I was surrounded by unfamiliar wild meadows and swamps I had never seen. Just the birds were my company and suddenly, I felt afraid. It took me four hours to find my way home. A caregiving life can be like that. One day, everything seems normal and calm. Suddenly, with a new diagnosis or tears that will not stop, we are lost without a guide.

Recently, I heard a wilderness survival expert on the radio. Caleb Musgrave is an aboriginal Canadian who runs a company called Canadian Bushcraft. He teaches professionals how to survive in the wild. Apparently, these skills easily translate to the chaos of trading floors and the frenetic pace of high tech startups. I sat down and began to listen more intently, thinking, "maybe there is something here for caregivers."

At about minute 23 in this episode of Definitely Not the Opera on CBC Radio, Caleb Musgrave offers his advice on how to move forward when things go terribly wrong. "Survival in all environments is all the same thing. It's 90% psychological. It's all about how your mind deals with certain stresses at certain times." When circumstances become hellishly hectic and challenging, Musgrave insists that in order to survive, you need to slow down and process what's happening.

So, what's Caleb Musgrave's secret to survival? It's the process called STOP - Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Stopping is the first key element in Musgrave's stress survival training. "Breathe, perhaps drink some water - your brain functions better with water," he advises. Observe the situation. What are the stressors? Look around to see what might help you in your situation. Then, plan. "Do I ask someone to help me? Can I manage this situation on my own?" Musgrave says that asking oneself all these questions helps to alleviate stress and lay the groundwork for helpful action.

Our aboriginal cultures can teach us many valuable lessons about family, survival and resilience. This week, our family will be trying to get to the bottom of our son's recent symptoms of pain and seizures. Just before we visit the neurologist on Wednesday, I'm going to stop, think, observe and plan. Wish us luck.
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  1. Earth Mother 2 Angels's Avatar
    ((((((Donna)))))) ~ Great advice and application to caregivers!

    I've just been employing STOP the past few days, as Jon began bleeding from his catheter, and then developed a fever for 2 days, and fluid retention.

    First, I have to physically remove myself from Jon's room, after I've stood beside him pondering what to do, and felt inadequate and unequipped with an answer. Walk outside, do some laundry, drink some water, whatever it is that will distract my mind for a few moments.

    Then, I start lining up the potential causes for his condition. Could it be this? Could it be that? Rule in/rule out.

    Next I apply all of those causes to Jon, as I observe and thoroughly assess him. I identify options to help him, then implement them according to which seems to fit his problem best. In this case, it was 2 Tbsp of MOM. His bowels were slow. It helped. His temp came down, as did some of the fluid.

    Ah, but then I planned! I wrote an email to Jon's nurse inquiring as to whether she thought Jon would benefit from a CBC/CMP blood draw, including thyroid and other checks. Since Jon has improved, we will likely wait until his next nursing visit in September for the blood draw. But it's on the table now, if I want to do it sooner.

    I've actually been doing this for decades, and I had no idea that it's a First Nation survival technique!

    Healing prayers for Nick, you, and your entire family ~
  2. Donna Thomson's Avatar
    Ahhhh Rose, perhaps somewhere in your background there is an Native American Princess! Or then again, it could just be the wisdom resulting from years of extreme caregiving. You've described a scenario of this technique perfectly! xoxo


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