The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Building Your Caregiver Toolkit to Stress Better

April 02, 2024 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 207
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Building Your Caregiver Toolkit to Stress Better
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
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Years of rushing to catch flights and balancing a career with raising children taught me a crucial lesson: adversity breeds resilience. Today, I'm inviting you on a heartfelt exploration of how a well-stocked caregiver toolkit can turn the daunting into the doable. Reflecting on the anxiety that once gripped me before every work trip, I share the transformative 'three I's' technique that reshaped my approach to life's turbulence—Identify, Implement, and go All IN—and how this can be a lifeline for anyone immersed in the world of caregiving.

Venture with me into the depths of managing stress and the art of simplification, as we navigate the complexities of caregiving. I'll take you through the process of creating a consistent routine, much like my trusty packing list for travel, and how this anchors us amidst the chaos. This isn't just about overcoming the hurdles of life; it's about embracing them, learning from them, and emerging more empowered with a toolkit tailored to our unique experiences. From anger to worry, to strategizing care, I unveil how we can all find solace in the collective wisdom gathered from our shared journeys.

I encourage you to craft your very own resilience toolkit so you can Stress Better—one that's as unique as your fingerprints and as robust as your spirit. I share snippets from my personal collection of tools, hoping to inspire you to reflect on the instruments you've already mastered and those you might wish to acquire. Let’s connect on Instagram at @cathylynnvan and exchange stories, tips, and encouragement. Let’s not just survive the caregiving expedition; let's thrive within it, filling our cups first so we can pour into others with generosity and love.

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Speaker 1:

Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. I want to start with a question. Have you ever looked back at your life, especially those challenging times, and find yourself both grateful and think about all of the lessons that were taught in that challenging time? And you now can take some of those experiences and some of those resources and tools and lessons learned with you now into caregiving and you find yourself using those. Think about it. It may be a time where you were raising teenagers I'm rolling my eyes. Raising three teenage boys at different times were definitely challenging, although I've heard girls are just as bad or even worse. Or maybe it's like my little grandson Curtis, who is now in his terrible twos to three stage. Or maybe it's dealing with a job or a difficult boss and having to go ahead and navigate those waters. Well, today I want to talk about those challenging experiences and, most importantly, how you build this toolkit and how you can use this toolkit in your caregiving journey. I'm going to talk about my job.

Speaker 1:

I was in a corporate job and I was in my corporate job for 33 years, but there were a few years, especially in 2013, where my corporate job required me to travel one to two times a month. I was this frequent flyer with lots and lots of travel points, and so I got upgraded in my seating most of the time. But I traveled to Phoenix and Cincinnati and Dallas and Daytona, miami and Tampa and Louisville and Kansas City and Austin and Chicago and much, much more. It was all in the United States, but I traveled a lot. I stayed in four and five star hotels. I ate pretty darn good and my job required me to facilitate both small and large groups of people on their first day at my corporate company. But I also mentored and coached leaders. I facilitated leadership trainings and I spent a lot of time collaborating with different teams across the organization.

Speaker 1:

I worked in a Fortune 100 company and at that time it required me to travel a lot. It sounds and looked glamorous, with me wearing my business suit and dragging a rolling suitcase, but it wasn't in my eyes. It was so lonely. I missed so much of my son. My youngest son was still in high school, so I missed a lot of his events. I was so stressed and burnt out all the time running here, running there, trying to go ahead and work in between my travels, and I missed my family and I'm an introvert and I love my home time. As I look back at that time in my career, I look and compare it now to caregiving and it looks a lot like caregiving challenging seasons that I've had. Maybe it was the universe, maybe it was the universe's way of prepping me for the role of a caregiver. And maybe you think back to some of your experiences and saying, yeah, they are a lot alike and you know I can use a lot of things. Or, if not, my hope is that when you think about it now you will recognize that you are using a lot of your experiences in your caregiving journey. Or can A little bit about me from a traveling perspective perspective, I don't like to fly.

Speaker 1:

I had so many fears, emotions and overwhelm about flying. And how could I travel so much and be so afraid to fly? Well, I did it because that was what I had to do, because when I got there I liked presenting and meeting with groups and working through their challenges and collaborating and mentoring. I loved all of that kind of stuff. But there was so much anxiety of those hours before I got to the airport. My stomach would do flip-flops, my mind would go crazy with all these stories, let me share just a couple. I worried about what if we get delayed and I can't make it to the event on time? What if I lose my suitcase? And all of these? I'm telling you all of these came true. What if I get someone sitting next to me that makes me feel uncomfortable? Or the worst part is, with somebody that just talked all the time, especially when you just want to lean back and relax. What if I get sick? If it was turbulent, because I would get motion sick? I actually had the little bag in front of you. I've used it several times. What if I miss my connections? All of those things are racing in my mind.

Speaker 1:

Then there was the landing and finding my rental car and finding the hotel and getting to my venue and then having to rely on the venue. Did they have all of the equipment there? Did the catering get there? Did they have everything set up right? All that kind of stuff. Will the venue have all my supplies there when I live, and I could go on and on and on.

Speaker 1:

My head was just worrying, worrying, worrying, and it was affecting my stress and overall energy and all that kind of stuff. I learned pretty quick how stress and overwhelm can get the best of you. Doesn't that sound familiar with caregiving too? I learned pretty quick how stress and overwhelm can get the best of you. Doesn't that sound familiar with caregiving too? I found myself so exhausted, not eating well and just trying to stay afloat In December of 2013, which I traveled the entire year. An example of this is in December. I spent 18 days traveling or away from home in December, and by the time I got home, I was numb. I felt like I was at autopilot and I just wanted to run away from life. I looked down at my carry-on bag and I looked at it throughout the year, but, most importantly, at the beginning of December, and it was filled with bags of mints, tylenol, tums, anti-nausea meds, anti-diarrhea meds, candy and a whole bunch of junk food. Is this crazy? Yeah, I think. If you think about your life right now, and if I look at the life back then, the emotions, the words and actions are exactly what my caregiving life was like. At the very beginning, I was a mess, and I noticed that I was that way, especially when things were really busy and my busiest season were at the end of the year.

Speaker 1:

What's a toolkit, though, and let me talk about first of all, one of the biggest lessons I got out of traveling in 2013 of my life was to build a toolkit, and I really started really honing in on it at the end of the year, and the practice was carried and duplicated now into caregiving. So what is a toolkit? You say, what is it? So what is a toolkit? You say what is it? Well, for me and for you, it's this imaginary toolbox with all your tricks, your hacks, your resources, your habits that you collect and use. It's those things you've experimented and tried, and, if they work, they go into this imaginary toolkit and you use them. Going forward. I want you to think of things that you have in your toolkit right now and keep thinking about it as I go through this episode. I bet if you think hard enough, you can see your toolkit is pretty full. You have practices and go-to things that you do every single day or anytime. There's a challenge, and you go to this, and I'll give you some ideas and some things as I go through here.

Speaker 1:

As a caregiver, you learn new ways to do things and it's successful, and you add that to your toolkit. I can just think of like from a caregiving perspective. You know, my sister taught me how to use that gait belt for my mom and my dad because they were weak on their feet so they wouldn't fall. My sister taught me how to go ahead and rotate my mom's body in her last days of her life so that she wouldn't get bed sores. I learned how to go ahead and record medication down and have a place to ask questions. I had a notebook next to me. Those are all things that you put in your toolkit because you've learned those things, and so let's share my toolkit that I use during my crazy travel season, and I think some of these you can relate to when it comes to caregiving.

Speaker 1:

There were so many, but it took me a very, very long time to get in front of my stress and overwhelm and shift my mindset, and so I want to talk about the major stressors. For me, something as basic as stressing out about having to pack, because I would get home sometimes on a Friday evening and I'd have to travel back on a Sunday afternoon. And there were some times, especially in that December, and I hated to pack, and so I would procrastinate until the very end, and then I would find myself stressing in the airplane, saying did I pack this? Did I pack this? Did I pack this? Oh my gosh, I forgot this. And then I would be scrambling looking to see where I could get. For example, at the time I was training we had to wear pantyhose or nylons, and if I would forget an extra one, I would stress what if I snag it? And then I don't have an extra one? And it would be all these silly things, but you would stress about it.

Speaker 1:

So I learned hacks in simplicity. In my bigger rolling bag I learned to create. I created a list of the things that needed to go in my bag consistently all the time, and I took this list and I stuck it in that zippered flap in the front. And so every time I got home I would throw the things that I needed to do in the wash machine and then I would take that list and I would just go ahead and pack it again, and most of the time I would just wash the things. I had put them right back in my suitcase. People didn't see me the second week because it was a different group of people, so I could wear the same thing all the time if I wanted to. And then I learned, like my health and beauty aids, I bought this handy hanging bag with pockets on it and I bought little sample bottles and I filled those and labeled those and I could hang it in my bathroom when I got home and then refill everything up, roll it back up and pack it in my bag. And so I learned to go ahead and be really clever with it. And I talk about my grab and go bag and I've talked about this before. I use the same concept in caregiving. My grab and go bag always has the same thing and it's almost always packed, except for a few things, and all I have to do is throw in my laptop and an extra charger and everything else is in there and I can just grab and go and it reduces that stress.

Speaker 1:

Another one when I was traveling was anxiety. It was a biggie for me. I would have many panic attacks or my face and everything would just start flushing because I was getting nervous. I would stress and not sleep the night before, which didn't help, and my fear of flying and worrying. And this one took me a while to get over. But I had to learn how to stress better. I was still going to stress, but I was going to learn how to stress better. I couldn't avoid the stress, but there were always, there's going to always be challenges, but I could control some things, and so I incorporated this three I's, the three I's that I needed to go ahead and do First of all. The first one is identify the issue. The second one was implement and the last one was go all in and put mean putting it in your inbox because it has worked. So let's talk about this anxiety issue that I had. I had to identify the issue, and being aware of what was causing the anxiety and stress was the first step. Once you know the root cause, you can start looking for solutions and experimenting to find ways to stress better.

Speaker 1:

The whole action of traveling, the whole act of traveling, stressed me out, from checking into security to boarding the plane, to the turbulence, to connection flights, to the arrival, meaning getting my luggage and my rental and figuring out what type of rental I had and do I know how to use everything to finding my hotel. And I wouldn't, like I said, I wouldn't sleep the night before and my nerves would be shot worrying about everything. So I had to figure out how to stress better. So the second one of the I's was implement, meaning trying things to stress better, and so I started working on that. So, instead of thinking about this as a huge issue because I tried to figure out how could I you know, could I do breathing techniques? But I couldn't, I could not get beyond it until I thought about it as this one step at a time game, and this is really silly, but it took me probably four flights to try different things before this one step at a time happened.

Speaker 1:

It's like a roadmap or a checkoff list and, for example, I don't even know how many steps there are. Let's say there's nine steps in the travel process. I would only worry about one step at a time, or think through one step at a time, like getting to the airport and checking in, got that one done, check it off, waiting in line and getting through security. Let's just focus in on that. Let's think about that. I could do breathing techniques and I could do looking at things and distracting me Once I got through security, check that off, and that's how I would do it. And so it felt like a game and it felt like, wow, I'm two ninths of the way through, or I'm one third of the way through, and I could go ahead and tell myself these things. And I could go ahead and tell myself these things and then once I tested this and I tested this a couple of times it was already in my inbox and I was all in on this technique. And not only did I use this for travel, I carried this over into my caregiving day.

Speaker 1:

If I had a rough, challenging day, like, for example, when we were at the dentist's stem cell transplant, he had a day where he had labs, doctor's appointments he had to have this not a port, but a line put in. He had to have an EKG done and then he had to go over and have his chemotherapy and then we had to do lunch. It was a huge, huge day, and it was so massively huge that my mind was blowing up inside and this is how I think. And so I went ahead and I said, okay, how many steps do we have? Let's think through each step at a time. And then I implemented things that I could do along the way to help me distract me from it being such a long day, because once he was getting his line put in, well, that was a good time for me to go ahead and pull out the lunch that I packed, and I could sit there and eat my lunch when the lines were, when surgery was done. That was a good time for me to go ahead and message the kids and tell them that dad made it through successfully, and so I use that as my piece, and so that's one of my toolkits.

Speaker 1:

I want you to think about the challenges you have. Have you identified? Let's go to the eyes. Have you identified the issue? Because anxiety was it. But what was the root cause? The root cause for me was there's so much happening in one day and it was just causing me to stress like boiling water, overwhelming.

Speaker 1:

So let's say for you, let's do another example. Let's say it's no energy, since you are trying to juggle your work, your home and your caregiving right, maybe that's the issue is you've no energy? Sure, that's an issue, but ask yourself what is the root cause of the no energy? What's happening because you have no energy? Is there anything that you could control, like nutrition? We just got done with Easter with my kids and I can tell still today and I'm recording this on a Monday I didn't eat well, and so I feel that sluggish feeling, and so is it your nutrition. Are you drinking enough water? What's your sleep looking like? Is it your worry or is there something happening at work? What is it? And then, once you can do that, you can identify one thing and start working on one thing to go ahead and help your energy. So let's say you identified nutrition and that's at least one thing you can control.

Speaker 1:

And you're going to say I'm going to use the eye to implement a trial or an experiment and you're going to focus on just one week or two, on your healthy. If one week doesn't work, you're going to try different things. And so what you're doing is you're going to go ahead and make yourself a meal plan. And where am I going to be tomorrow? Can I go ahead and eat something healthy? Maybe I'm going to make myself some soup, or I'm going to have a healthy salad, whatever it would be. What can you do? Or you're going to cook some protein and you're going to eat some protein and green beans and you're going to reduce your junk food and your sugar. Because maybe you identified, when you're stressed which I do I love to go to yogurt covered pretzels. Right now. That's my go-to and it's like salty and sugary. Sure, the yogurt's good for you, but yeah, the rest of it isn't. And so what can you do? Instead of grabbing for that, maybe you went ahead and cut up some vegetables and made yourself an awesome dip, and if that's, you're going to at least try that. And so now you are on the second eye, where you've implemented, you've created a meal plan, you did some prep work. Maybe you cook some things in advance and you're giving it a try, and if so, then you can put that in your toolkit. If not, then you go ahead and saying, well, what else could I do differently? Because the meal planning isn't working for me, because it's just an extra thing, what else could I do differently? Is there something that I can make in the evening and just make extra, and so I have it the next day? Whatever, it would be Okay. So that's an example.

Speaker 1:

As I did my corporate traveling, I'm going back to it. As you can see, I started watching for me what I ate and, getting back to the meal thing, did research where I could stop for a salad or a protein shake or grab and go healthy options. So that was one thing for me. I talked to my boss about my energy and explained that I need to watch my nutrition more. So for you, too, it could be something simple as that, saying you know, I'm going to go ahead and talk to a friend and see what they have and what ideas they have.

Speaker 1:

I also added for me while I was traveling, I also added a healthy meal choice at the venue and added it to the catering order, because what happens when you're facilitating is your lunch time, where everybody's taking time for their lunch or their breaks. Well, you're prepping for the next thing or you're talking to people at break that need extra assistance, and so what happens is you usually don't get to eat, and so by having the caterer add a bag lunch or an extra plate somewhere else, you can go ahead and get away, and I actually removed myself for 10 or 15 minutes so I could sit by myself and eat. My boss even went even further, and when I talked to him, he said what about you talking to the hotel, and when you arrive or when you leave, you have some sort of meal choices there for you as well, because there was times where I would leave the event and then I would jump on a plane right away. And when you're hungry and you're starving for meat, fried foods or that sweet look better than sitting down and having a meal. And I found that when I talked to the caterer and they could give me a bag lunch or I would have a healthy choice waiting in my hotel room, it was a lot better for me.

Speaker 1:

Okay, shifting gears again Now. The three I's won't be the magic solution, but this toolkit will be your experience tools. You know so what I'm trying to get at here and I'm looking at my notes and I'm hodgepodge this whole sentence here, but bear with me. But bear with me. The three I's are a great way to identify your challenge and look at ways to experiment it and then put them in your toolkit. That's what I'm trying to get at. But you're still going to have challenges. But what the I's will do and what this process will do, it'll make the challenges a bit easier or give you options to think about.

Speaker 1:

What can I do? Think about your toolkit. I want you to really have fun with this. Just for a moment here. Imagine what your imaginary toolkit would look like. Picture it any way, and it'll be anything you want it to be. It could be looking like Santa's sack that he carries with all of his presents in it. That could be your toolkit and you're carrying along and it gets smaller when it wants to and it opens up and it's huge inside when you need to pull something out of it. It could be this pretty pink toolbox. That's just fun and you open it up and you know exactly where everything is.

Speaker 1:

Make it your own in your mind, in my mind, for me, it's a she shed. It's a big shed, maybe like a 10 feet by 10 feet shed, with windows and beautiful plants in it. And then I have these bright colored cards in there of all my tools and they're categorized and hung in different areas, and my toolkit also tells me where I need to go and where I can find things. You know where I need to go and where I can find things, but my toolkit also tells me that I have. It'll tell me to go to my resource book on my shelf, which is tangible, or it'll tell me to go to my journal and write out things, and so my toolkit is imaginary, but I do have resources that connect to my toolkit. That's what I'm trying to get at.

Speaker 1:

So let me share some of the toolkits that I have in this she shed and I'm not going to go into really great detail, but I have one about anger release or any type of emotional release that I can't let go of. My toolkit tells me to get out into nature and go for a walk. It gives me breathing and meditation and yoga activities. It tells me to journal, depending on the situation. Now, if I'm into this worry or shame or blame kind of emotion, then it's telling me, giving me positive thinking. Techniques that I've used in the past, that I've tried that now are in my toolkit.

Speaker 1:

At a bigger scale, I have tools in my toolkit regarding advocating or knowledge of my loved one's condition or what questions to ask or what resources to go to. I also have ones on simplicity and planning and asking for help. Think about it. You have this vast knowledge of things that you know already from a caregiving perspective, that are already in your toolkit, that you pull out when you need to pull them out. Now, where do you get all your tools? Think about it, and where are you continuously filling your toolkit? Because this toolkit can hold everything and anything that you need. Well, you get them from your life experiences and your mistakes, things that didn't go right.

Speaker 1:

Next time you're going to do it differently. Something as simple as you have, and this is maybe a non-caregiving related thing. Maybe you have a group of friends over for dinner, or maybe you have a social outing and you wanted to cook this great meal. Well, you found out, cooking this great meal requires you to be in the kitchen too much, and after they leave, you're like I spent most of my time in the kitchen and I didn't even get to socialize like I wanted to. The next time I have a big event, I'm doing something simpler so that I can socialize better and I don't have to spend all the time and spending the time away from my guests where I should be with my guests, and you ask yourself what could I do differently?

Speaker 1:

Same for caregiving your toolkit can include things that you're experimenting and trying things with. Maybe you're trying new help for your loved one, or you're trying a new routine and you're going to say, well, nope, this isn't going into my kit because that was a crash and burn, but this one is. I'm going to do this going forward. Think about me with my Sunday fun days with my mom. That was something I created, but I experimented with it and, over time the Sunday fun days it evolved and I changed it up a little bit. But those are things. Books are things that you know that you have different references in your toolkit Resources. Maybe you've downloaded one of my free downloads or you're listening to this podcast episode, which is a resource. Now, if there's something that you like from my podcast episode that you want to remember, you put it into your toolkit. Talking to friends, getting ideas and support from therapists and coaches, other caregivers Maybe you're taking classes, hint hint, the Empowerful Caregiver School is coming up. It's going to be open for registration and I'm formally saying it April 28th again, and so you can go ahead and get on the wait list now if you want to. So those are all things.

Speaker 1:

Now to conclude here. Once life's challenges, like my travels and your caregiving, still will be hard, but instead of feeling hopeless, I wanted to run away and letting it get the best of you. You need to dig into this beautiful toolkit that you have and pull out a tool, or you need to go ahead and look to see what tools are out there so I can get it into my toolkit. Whatever works best for you, practice using that tool and if it works, you have another one for your toolkit. The biggest mistake I see caregivers make is they don't see that they can experiment. They don't see that there's more tools out there to try. They are worried about trying new things. But the best thing that you can do is try different things, to go ahead and reduce and I love the words stress better, because that's what you want to do. So, as we wrap up today's episode, I want you to leave with this empowering reminder you are not alone on your caregiving journey and you have the power to build a toolkit filled with resilience, wisdom and compassion. Remember, each tool you add brings you one step closer to navigating whatever that life challenge is, with grace and strength.

Speaker 1:

And while I couldn't solve everything during my travel or as a caregiver, even to this day, I learned to accept the sacrifices and find alternative ways to stay connected. Like, for example, I missed my son's name is James. I missed his, a lot of his soccer events, a lot of his school events, but I learned that quality over quantity worked. I mean, I made the best of the time that I could see him. We did videos. I connected with him in other ways. Same for you what can you do to go ahead and find alternative ways. So, my friend, embrace the journey, continue to refine your toolkit and know that you have the ability to overcome any obstacle that comes your way.

Speaker 1:

I would love to hear what your toolkit is. What does it look like, what tools do you already have in it and how are you using it, and what tools do you think you still need in your toolkit? Oh, I'd love to hear this. So if you want to send me a message on Instagram, you can find me at Kathy Lynn Vann and I'm Kathy with a C or share this episode on your favorite site, whether it be Instagram, facebook, linkedin, whatever it would be, and tag me at Kathy Lynn Vann or the Caregiver Cup, whatever site you're on. Until next time, my friend, take care and keep building your toolkit of resilience, of empowerment, and you know what? You got this because you are aware of filling your cup first. Bye for now.

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