Resourcefulness might actually help you more than resilience

The term ‘resilience’ is frequently used to describe what it takes to cope in challenging circumstances. However, it’s often unrealistic to expect caregivers will simply 'bounce back' when looking after a loved one in the last stage of life.

Thinking in terms of being resourceful may work better for those in a caregiving role. To build resourcefulness, it’s important caregivers prioritise self-care and develop supportive relationships.

Resourcefulness might actually help you more than resilience

The term ‘resilience’ is frequently used to describe what it takes to cope in challenging circumstances. However, it’s often unrealistic to expect caregivers will simply 'bounce back' when looking after a loved one in the last stage of life.

Thinking in terms of being resourceful may work better for those in a caregiving role. To build resourcefulness, it’s important caregivers prioritise self-care and develop supportive relationships.

Resourcefulness versus resilience

Terri Soller, Managing Director of leadership capacity-building organisation Conversus Leaders, says talk about resilience can be unhelpful when couched in terms of toughening up. “It’s not necessarily about snapping back and recovering quickly from difficulties, but around tapping into resources we have at our disposal and acknowledging our inner strength and wisdom,” she says. “This includes being able to ask for help when needed.”

Terri, who experienced a difficult time when her father chose not to have medical intervention following a heart attack, notes caregivers often “go the extra mile”, especially when caring for someone at end of life

“Caregiving can come at the expense of depleting ourselves. When depleted, we are no longer useful. We also risk going into burnout. This highlights the importance of developing resourcefulness.”

She notes this will look different for everyone, but starts with giving yourself guilt-free permission to focus on self-care.

Jo Wood, a palliative care social worker and Violet clinical committee member, says resilience involves the psychological capacity to deal with stressful situations as they arise. It enables someone caring for a loved one to sustain that activity. 

Building resourcefulness through relationships

Everyone has limits. Jo points out that caregiving is emotionally taxing work. “We can’t do this alone,” she says. “We are all human beings and we're all connected. 

“I recently heard a podcast that likened our support networks to those big, air-filled balls you can jump inside and roll down a hill. You get bounced around, but that buffer means you don’t get injured.”

She recommends caregivers develop their connections, whether that’s at work or among family and friends. “We need to do things that support sharing of experiences, where we can be vulnerable, open and honest and have authentic conversations. Trying to think about the lines of support around me when I’m experiencing a stressful situation can really affect my resilience during those times.”

Terri agrees relationships are key for caregivers, who can be blind to their own needs until it’s too late, she says. “They often need somebody to act as a mirror, to be able to see it for them. I give people permission to stop me or question the things I'm doing or not doing.”

Self-care and self-compassion

Jo says looking after yourself is critical but is cautious of the term ‘self-care’. “It can sound like putting the onus on an individual to actually care for themselves, which can create more stress,” she explains. “It’s better to think about the levels of support around us. Our family systems and connections are extremely important.”

She adds self-care is about more than the “nice things we do for ourselves, like watching Netflix, going out for breakfast, or having a bubble bath. 

“I think we need to think of self-care more broadly, in terms of being able to sustain what we’re doing. We are often so good at being compassionate towards other people, but we struggle to be compassionate to ourselves. I often say to people, ‘if you had a friend in front of you who was telling you about a really difficult situation they're going through, how would you be with that person?’ That’s how we need to be with ourselves.”

Other resource-building strategies

Additional strategies Terri recommends for boosting your resources include:

  • Maintaining your physical wellbeing – by trying to get good sleep, adequate physical activity and eating well. She says your body often provides early wellbeing warning signals and advises regular check-ins. “I try to notice any aches and pains that go beyond a trip to the gym and recognise what I might be carrying.”
  • Reflection/journaling – to step away from your role, notice what you’re doing well and how much you’re giving. Jo agrees that mindfulness helps you stay grounded and present in the moment, thereby supporting resilience.
  • Finding a sanctuary – such as spending time with family, alone or in nature. “It’s about finding the space and giving yourself permission,” Terri says.
  • Finding a trusted confidant: “You need a place to let go of stuff without judgment; without the facade or needing to look strong.”

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