Improve the Psychological Well-Being of Caregivers with Self-Compassion and Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Being more aware of our present moment experience also helps with self-care, something that caregivers often overlook. With a mindfulness practice you can notice sooner when you feel tired, or are having an emotional experience, and make sure you stop and look after yourself.” – Naomi Stoll
There is a tremendous demand for caregiving in the US. It is estimated that over 65 million (29% of the adult population) provides care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, averaging 20 hours per week spent caring for their loved ones. This caregiving comes at a cost exacting a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving.
In today’s Research News article “The Short- and Long-term Causal Relationships Between Self-compassion, Trait Mindfulness, Caregiver Stress, and Depressive Symptoms in Family Caregivers of Patients with Lung Cancer.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8096886/) Hsieh and colleagues recruited family caregivers of patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. To investigate longitudinal changes, they were administered questionnaires initially and 2, 5, and 8 months later. They were measured for mindfulness, depression, perceived stress, and self-compassion.
They found that over time depressed caregivers had significant declines in their depression levels. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of depression and perceived stress, and the higher the levels of self-compassion and the higher the levels of depression the lower the levels of self-compassion and the higher the levels of perceived stress. Further they found that over the 4 measurements self-compassion at time 1 was associated with higher mindfulness at time 2 which was associated with lower perceived stress at time 3 which was associated with lower depression at time 4.
It has been well established that mindfulness is associated with greater self-compassion and lower stress and depression. The present study found that depression tends to decrease over time associated with self-compassion and mindfulness. In particular self-compassion appears to be important for lowering caregiver depression levels over time and it does so by being associated with higher mindfulness which is associated with lower stress levels which, in turn, are associated with lower depression.
The present study is correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. But, in combination with prior manipulative research it can be suggested that training in self-compassion and mindfulness should be very beneficial for caregivers of lung cancer patients lowering their stress and depression.
So, improve the psychological well-being of caregivers with self-compassion and mindfulness.
“The big open secret is that the key to reducing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue lies in what can be construed to some as the seemingly counterintuitive wisdom of mindfulness.“ – Audrey Meinertzhagen
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Hsieh, C. C., Lin, Z. Z., Ho, C. C., Yu, C. J., Chen, H. J., Chen, Y. W., & Hsiao, F. H. (2021). The Short- and Long-term Causal Relationships Between Self-compassion, Trait Mindfulness, Caregiver Stress, and Depressive Symptoms in Family Caregivers of Patients with Lung Cancer. Mindfulness, 1–10. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01642-4
Using a prospective longitudinal design, this paper examines a serial mediation model of the associations between self-compassion, trait mindfulness, caregiver stress, and depressive symptoms among the family caregivers of patients with lung cancer.
A four-wave design was used, with initial assessment (T1) and three follow-ups, at the 2nd month (T2), the 5th month (T3), and the 8th month (T4). A total of 123 family caregivers completed the baseline measurements, including caregiver stress, self-compassion, trait mindfulness, and depressive symptoms. Data were analyzed by serial mediation models to determine the causal ordering of these variables.
Nearly one-quarter of the family caregivers suffered from clinically significant depressive symptoms and the severity of their depression remained unchanged throughout the 8-month follow-up period. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal path analyses revealed that the relationship between self-compassion and depressive symptoms was mediated sequentially by trait mindfulness and caregiver stress. The subscale analysis indicated that the association of higher compassionate action with fewer depressive symptoms was through chain-mediating effects of higher mindful awareness and lower caregiver stress.
Family caregivers who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to have more mindfulness; greater mindfulness leads to lower levels of perceived caregiving stress which, in turn, links to fewer symptoms of depression. Both self-compassion and mindfulness could be regarded as protective factors for caregivers to reduce caregiving stress and depression.