Monday 4 August 2014

Survival Skills for Stressed Out Caregivers

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.

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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