When Orlena receives a phone call about another medical emergency with her loved one, she stops, takes deep breaths, focuses – and relaxes her mind.
“I’m then able to respond in a calm way,” she says. “I ask myself, ‘Okay this has happened, what do I need to do now?’ I take control of my thoughts before they overtake me.”
In winter 2022, she enrolled in the six-week Mindfulness for Developmental Services Caregivers, a program supported by the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence.
“I had done some mindfulness classes before, but I was looking for something geared to caregivers to someone with a disability,” says Orlena.
She now co-facilitates the mindfulness program with Sue Hutton through the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre located at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“Caregivers tell us they are so exhausted from continually advocating, breaking barriers and getting resources for people,” says Hutton. “They rarely pause to turn their attention inward and look after themselves.”
That’s the point. Each program offers weekly group sessions, plus online resources, guided meditations and mindfulness playlists.
“What we’ve done is adapt mindfulness specifically for caregivers based on our research at the Azrieli Centre, and customized it for caregivers,” says Hutton, who has over 30 years of mindfulness experience.
More than 400 people from multiple provinces registered for one of the free mindfulness programs offered to date.
“Crawling out of the pandemic, people involved with developmental services are still running on fumes, reporting high levels of distress,” says Hutton. “Offering these groups builds, strengthens and cultivates wellness, which then improves support for people with disabilities.”