How Can Caregivers Practice Self-Care During the Holidays? An Interview with Judy Long, Part Two

A hospital chaplain offers tips and calming techniques for caregivers

Today, SevenPonds speaks with Judy Long, an educator and chaplain at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. In her role as a chaplain, she communicates with patients, families, caregivers, physicians and nurses to find the best possible care plan. Judy leads patients and their caregivers through guided meditations designed to ease suffering, and helps them find their own support system via spiritual practice, religion or other beliefs. As an educator, she trains caregivers and healthcare professionals on skills designed to assist patients. In the past, she has taught at public schools and community colleges, and she leads workshops at Stanford, UCSF and hospice facilities. She has a particular interest in helping caregivers retain their strength as they help others. 

judy-long-largeMarissa Abruzzini: What’s important for caregivers to remember during the holidays? Are there any red flags to avoid? 

Judy Long: They should remember that the holidays can be triggering. The holidays are supposed to be fun, but we often wonder why we tend to argue more with each other this time of the year. It makes sense. We’re with people we haven’t seen in a while, and we’re cramped in a small space. One of your relatives might say something to you that was true for you 20 years ago but that might not be true anymore. Even though it happened 20 years ago, we often still react in the same way that we did back then.

The important thing to remember is that all of this is normal. Just notice that it’s happening. You don’t have to collect them or yourself. Try to bring a calmness to the situation and wait for a moment before you respond. Have a sense of humor about it, if that helps! When you’re calm, you can laugh about it later.

Marissa: Is there anything that caregivers can do to practice staying calm? 

A woman stands in the snow with her arms out, smiling while snowflakes fall on her


Judy: I love to practice what I call intention bookends. In the morning, you set an intention for the day, before you even get out of bed. This can be anything from, “I want to practice kindness today,” or, “I want to practice patience.” Then go about your day as normal. Don’t do anything differently. Chances are, you will naturally remember your intention, but if you don’t, it’s nothing to worry about.

At the end of the day (and here’s where the other bookend comes in), you think back on your day in broad brushstrokes. Don’t go over every little detail, otherwise you’ll never get to sleep! Instead, just remember whether you succeeded in your intention (without judgment). Next, think of three things you were grateful for. Was it the warm shower you had that morning, or how beautiful the trees looked with the rain falling on them? Your goal is to savor these moments every night. This has scientific backing as well. Negativity tends to stick with us like Velcro, whereas positivity rolls off us like Teflon. We need to hold onto the positive more actively, and that makes us calmer and happier.

More Calming Exercises to Get You Through the Holidays 

Take a Breather

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Take a deep breath, inhaling for a count of three.
  3. Exhale for a count of six.
  4. Repeat this a few times until you feel more relaxed.

Find Your Support 

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair with a back.
  2. Notice the sensation of the floor against your feet.
  3. Press your toes into the floor, then the sides of your foot, then the insides of your foot.
  4. Feel your entire body being supported by the floor.
  5. Repeat this for your back, feeling the sensation of the back of the chair supporting you. This will make you feel more grounded.

Take a Self-Compassion Break

  1. Notice when something is hard, or something hurts emotionally (like a relative making a rude comment or your loved one struggling with chronic pain).
  2. Remember that you are not alone, and that this experience is a common part of being human.
  3. Treat yourself with kindness in this situation. What advice would you give your best friend if he or she were in the same situation? You wouldn’t call your best friend a “dumb jerk,” so why do you say it to yourself? Bring words of support and encouragement instead, and recognize that you’re going through something hard.

Marissa: Do you have any stories to share about caregiving that serve as examples of this practice? 

A couple smile at each other in front of a Christmas tree


Judy: The one that sticks out in my mind is one couple I recently worked with. The husband had ALS, and both of them had no idea what was happening. He was this very fit man, and within a year, he was gone. His wife was in shock. They were an incredibly close couple. Even though this was a stressful and traumatic experience, they were able to pause and connect with one another, and to honor what was important. They took time to find out what he cared about and found a way to do the things that he always wanted to do. He couldn’t travel, but his friends would come and get him, and they would just spend the day together and enjoy one another.

In the short days he had, they all connected deeply. They found meaning in the little things. He had lost his autonomy, but there were still so many things he could do, like laugh with his friends. Taking the time to remember the small moments of joy was important for all of them.

Marissa: If you could sum up what you think is most important for people to remember, especially this time of the year, what would you say?

Judy: In all of our lives, it’s important to find a purpose, connect, grow and be more aware of what’s happening around us. This is part of being human. We get the chance to experience so many of these wonderful things. Purpose and connection are available everywhere, we just have to know how to identify them in the moment.

If you missed part one of our interview with Judy, you can find it here. For more information, visit the following resources: GRACE Training, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, or read Kelly McGonigal’s “Upside of Stress.” 

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