Self Caring

5 Mantras for Crisis Management

Last updated: Sep 15, 2010

Summer holiday, day 27: Tornado!

Caregiving is a journey -- in the shape of a roller coaster. One minute you're getting used to the new view, and the next you may be plunging into the dip of a fresh health crisis. Caregivers I especially admire often talk about repeating little mantras, or personal mottoes, to themselves: a kind of "sanity saver" to see them through.

Here are a few of these mantras for crisis management that I've collected over time:

  • "All I can think about is today and tomorrow."

A friend who just enrolled her mom in a hospice-care program shared that one just last week. I like it because she's trying to live within the moment, while at the same time willing to peek ahead just a little bit -- to tomorrow. Not to next week or month or year. The crisis is now, the need is now, and that's plenty on her plate.

  • "Medicine is an art as much as a science."

Love this because it comes from a physician. We tend to think doctors know it all, can look at a collection of symptoms and come up with the right solution, but the "healing arts" don't work like that. Too many variables. No magic bullets. Embracing ambiguity while facing a health crisis can be painful (you want your loved one healed!), but in a way it's also stress-reducing.

  • "There are no perfect families, no perfect answers."

That's one from Duke University's dementia-caregiving expert, Lisa Gwyther (a social worker and the author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan, now in paperback).

  • "Balance is unbalanced."

Huh?!" Okay, this one is my mantra. What it means: Balance (caregiving, work, family, you time) is critical to health, but every single day is seldom perfectly balanced. In a crisis, the other person comes first. Time stops. You set yourself aside. Don't try doing that for weeks on end -- you'll get sick, too. But do give yourself permission to ignore yourself for a day or two in the middle of a crisis -- the last thing you need is guilt over not being "balanced!"

  • "I'm helping just by being here."

"I say this to myself over and over, even if I don't always believe it," says a friend with two parents in assisted living and what seems like a fresh disaster to cope with every month. In a crisis it's easy to feel helpless. That's why it's so important to remind yourself that you're helping a lot just by being present. Trust your gut, listen to the doctor, listen to the person you're helping. But know that just being around is a special kind of help in itself.

What's your motto for managing a crisis?

"Put one foot in front of the other"? "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"? "All you need is love"? Please share it. I'd love to add to my collection....