Over the last few months I have been working in two groups:
- The family unit who have been pulling together towards providing as much care and support as possible, directly and indirectly to my in-laws
- The Thrive Collaborative, a group of professional life coaches I met during training or while developing our individual coaching businesses. As well as supporting and encouraging each we other decided to organise an event with a series of workshops, each focusing on our specialist area to help as many people as possible to thrive.
I’ve picked up lot of practical information form these two areas of my life:
- There are a multitude of practical tools to help people with different physical needs
- There is a lot of medical and social care available, if you can find it
- There are loads of different ways to collaborate online
- Facebook and LinkedIn do pretty much everything differently (honestly, even the ideal proportions of an image are different)
- Where to get coffee between home and my in-laws
If you’d like to know more about any of these things I’d be happy to share – email me at email@example.com with the subject “Coffee” and how I could possibly help (it probably won’t be the coffee thing, I know).
I’ve also put everything I already knew into practice, used my own tools, and learnt a lot more about working with other people, whatever the context. Here are some key things (in no particular order, mostly) based on my experience to keep in mind to help you whenever you are part of a group striving to achieve something together:
Take care of yourself You can only help and contribute to the group if you are physically and mentally fit. It’s important to do things that help to recharge your batteries – whatever works for you, whether it’s relaxing or active, alone or with someone else. What are your signs that your batteries are running low? Learn to recognise the signs and how to do something about it.
Play to your strengths Everyone will have different strengths and skills and if each person is doing what they are good at there are two advantages: things get done well and everyone gets to contribute in a positive way. This isn’t meant as a get of jail free card – sometimes we do need to roll up our sleeves and get on with something regardless, but where there’s a choice, it helps to concentrate on what we’re good at.
Have a little patience I’ve been regularly travelling on M25, sitting in traffic jams and / or observing others on the road and there is a good analogy in this: sometimes things don’t go as quickly as we’d like, some people might be slower than other, at times the correct processes need to be followed etc. There’s a choice – get annoyed by the situation or accept it. Either way the situation doesn’t change, but how you feel about it can. I highly recommend audio books and handsfree phonecalls for the times that traffic is bad, and counting to 10 using your favourite animal on other occasions – one giraffe, two giraffes, three giraffes…
Focus on what you can control This is partly linked to the point about patience – you can’t control the traffic jam but you can your own behaviour. In most situations there are things that you can do and things that are out of your control. For example, you can make and follow your own to-do list, however you can’t make others do theirs. Thinking “I wish…”, “if only…” etc doesn’t get anything done – asking “what can I actually do right now?” helps you to see where you can influence a situation and move things along.
Laughter is the best medicine If you are actually ill then medicine is probably the best medicine, but laughter really does help – find the funny, enjoy it and share it. You’ve probably read that laughing releases endorphins, a happy hormone, and so makes you feel more joyful and lighter-hearted. As a shared experience, laughing can help to create a bond between people and that connection can help to overcome the tougher moments you might also have to share.
Compromise / accepting group decisions What are the chances of a group of people all agreeing 100% of what to, how to do it and when to do it? If some want black and some want white then you might end up with a shade a grey if that works, and the precise shade will probably depend on how many wanted black v white in the first place. If it is a truly black or white decision then the most helpful question is “which works best for what we want to achieve?”. If everyone is committed to the same ultimate outcome and the group decision is for the “other” colour to what you wanted, it’s not personal.
Communication, communication, communication Good communication will help things moving along. If you know someone is already taking care of something, then you don’t end up doubling up on work. If you have a question, someone may already have the answer. If there’s news, sharing it keeps everyone in the picture and helps the group stay connected. There are all sorts of ways to keep in touch and share information with the wonders of modern technology – find the one that works for your group.
I’ll get by with a little help from my friends However much you follow all of the above sometimes things happen – the group picked black when you wanted white, you lost your patience over something you couldn’t control, you needed to do something that felt out of your comfort zone. We’ve all been there, and will probably be there again. That’s when having good friends and a support network is invaluable – people to talk it through with, who will help you put the world to rights or just lend an ear.
Take care of yourself Oh, I’m repeating myself, am I? That’s how important this point is. During my coaching I regularly hear variations of “I want to X because it will help me with Y. But I keep prioritising Y over X”. Putting it in those terms makes it easy to see how little sense it makes, but yet I’ve been guilty of it myself and I’m sure we all have. What will you do today to make sure you are prioritising your “X”?
When my in-laws started to need care, I knew how to look after both them and myself – because I’d got it so wrong in the past, when my other half was signed off work with stress and my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are mostly based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at https://www.fionagillies.co.uk/tips-for-caregivers