Weekly Newsletter

February 28, 2024

Caregiver Resilience: WHAT IS IT and WHY

IT MATTERS for Family Caregivers

According to Google (our empirical knowledge source for all things knowable) "Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands." Resilience is your ability to withstand, recover, and sometimes grow when faced with adversity; it is an active process of enduring and successfully coping. Resilience is bouncing back after crisis. It's also bouncing forward to adjust to the "new normal." This capacity to adapt and cope with adversity is present, to varying degrees, in every person... no matter how tumultuous external events or inner feelings may be. Fortunately, with attention and practice, resilience can be strengthened. Resilience helps transform the daunting to the do-able. It creates stamina and strength. Building resilience helps sustain caregiver health and well-being, and the capacity to care, while it expands capability and reduces vulnerability to stress.

What better "life experience" to explore the stresses, disappointments, uncertainty, grief, and exhaustion than that of the family caregiver. The one who never anticipated the disruption, the derailing, of life plans and mutual goals, of dreams shared; of that fantasized future. Sometimes you can see these disruptions coming, and sometimes they are a total surprise. They can range from minor to deeply traumatic. Some disruptions pass quickly, while others have effects that linger for a long time. Whenever your expectations are disrupted, you use energy to close the gap. You may be able to change what's happening, or you may need to adjust to an undesirable reality. Either way, the skin develops to cover and protect the wound.

Now can somehow be a four-letter word: for, now is the new reality to be dealt with presently. It is the "new normal." Yet, sometimes whenever expectations are disrupted, the emotional field can be moderated, a movement from reactive to responsive. With practice one can move from being affected, to being effective. The distinction, ultimately, resides in the awareness of choice. It takes practice, but, again, the awareness of "choice is key.

We find people of all ages caring for declining loved ones, wondering how they will manage. Fear, coupled with the uncertainty of caring for their loved one with dementia and cognitive/physical decline can find them feeling ill-equipped for the stretched demands of caregiving. A good deal of "trial and error" goes into the mix as caregivers scramble to come to grips with a life (for each party) that is slowly turning upside down.

Now. Just what IS/IS NOT resilience and why is the distinction important? Kaiser proves a good source of reference on the matter: "Most people have heard of the word resilience, but it's often misunderstood. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenging thoughts or experiences, but it's not about thinking positively or avoiding stress, in a kind of emotional bypass."

Being resilient means "staying present during challenging moments and managing whatever emotions come up", Leigh Miller, LCSW continues, "It's not avoiding your feelings. It's leaning into them and confronting situations skillfully."

Resilience is also a part of mental health. "It can help you handle stress better and be less overwhelmed during difficult times. On the other hand, people who struggle with resilience have a harder time rebounding from challenges, worry, or anxiety", Miller says. "Struggling with resilience can also have physical effects, such as insomnia, stomach problems, headaches, respiratory problems, and muscle tension."


1.  REALISTIC OPTIMISM: Viewing life in a hopeful, confident way. Anticipating and focusing on creating a bright future. Believing good things are coming. Realistic optimism is the foundation of resilience. 

2.  SOCIAL SUPPORT: Connecting with other people whom you can relate to; offering and accepting help and giving to those in need.

3.  FACING FEAR: Using thoughts and behaviors to triumph over fear; acting in spite of fear ("feel the fear and do it anyway") to accomplish goals and become stronger.

4.  RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY: Turning to God or a Higher Power. Engaging in formal religious services or private spiritual practices. Finding inspiration in nature, or the arts.

5.  MEANING, PURPOSE AND GROWTH: Finding strength and courage by pursuing an inspirational goal. Using adversity as a catalyst for growth. Actively serving a purpose that is greater than self-            interest. Transcending traumatic experiences by helping others who have been traumatized. Choosing to be a victor, rather than a victim.

6.  MORAL COMPASS/ALTRUISM: Engaging in right actions and avoiding doing wrong. Thinking and serving others.

7.  ROLE MODELS: Imitating people who demonstrate positive ways of handling adversity and challenges. Identifying real people, living or dead; fictional characters, famous, or historic individuals. Replicating small aspects of their behavior that led to positive, desired outcomes.

8.  TRAINING: Improve physical health and prevent or diminish the effects of chronic illnesses by keeping the body fit. Mastering physical challenges to also improve mental health and emotional regulation.

9.  BRAIN FITNESS: Focusing thoughts and challenging the mind so the intellect is sharp and continues to grow. Regulating emotions to eliminate feelings that undermine effective coping.

10. FLEXIBILITY: Employing a variety of mental and emotional strategies to handle adversity; accept what can't be changed; learn from failure; transform negative energy into positive energy; and find opportunity and meaning in adversity.

AND IN CLOSING: Begin by building realistic optimism. Listen to your thoughts; they create your reality. As soon as a negative thought comes, replace it with a positive one. When something positive happens, stop to acknowledge and appreciate the good. Keep a gratitude journal...make frequent entries; refer to it daily. The more you challenge negative thinking and reinforce positive aspects of life, the more optimistic and resilient you will become.  


"Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway" By Susan Jeffers PhD  

A great book focused on assisting persons in enhancing assertive skills and (re)claiming personal power 

Karen Kelleher MA

DayBreak Family Caregiver Support Coordinator

Resource Spotlight: Empowering Caregivers

This is a FREE, self-paced animated video series for family caregivers to improve their caregiving skills as they care for an older adult with dementia.

This training is brought to you by Southern Caregiver Resource Center in collaboration with The George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, Inc.®, St. Paul’s Senior Services & Dr. Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, Stanford University School of Medicine. This project is funded by the CalGrows Innovation Fund, a program of the California Department of Aging.

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DayBreak is committed to empowering elders and supporting caregivers. If you know an elder in need of our care and coordination services, or a family caregiver seeking assistance, encourage them to reach out to us at:


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