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Why adaptability is a skill that carers need (and how we can build more of it)

If there’s one thing we can depend on in life, it’s that change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s a win - like finally getting that diagnosis or snagging some extra financial support. But let’s face it, change can often be scary, and hard to accept. 


Illustration of woman figuring out a map.

We understand how difficult change can be to navigate, especially in our roles as carers where things like the health and needs of the person we care for can be ever-evolving.


“Everyday brings so many challenges and is never quite the same.”

So as a community of carers, we’ve found that adaptability is one of the best skills we can have in our toolbox. By being open to new ideas and able to stay cool under pressure, we’ve found we can better problem-solve the challenges that come our way.


It’s not about being superhuman or never getting stressed. It’s about believing in our abilities to handle the hard stuff, so we can focus on the aspects of the situation we can control.


The good news? Adaptability is a skill we can practise and learn over time. And with adaptability on our side, we can face the unknown with more confidence, knowing that we have the tools to help us weather any storm.


What change can look like for carers 

Here are some of the common challenges that carers often face:


  • Financial: This includes changes in income or support, and increases to our outgoings and bills with the cost of living on the rise. 

  • The health of the person we care for: If their condition worsens, they (or us) receive a new diagnosis, or they are admitted to hospital/ require an increase in care needs.

  • Our health: Caring can take a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing, leading to new health issues or worsening existing ones.

  • Our rights: Changes in laws or policies can affect our entitlements and access to support services.

  • Our relationship with the person we care for: Our relationship might become strained, or we might feel resentment or struggle with a loss of intimacy.

  • Our support circle: Relationships with family or friends may change. Someone in our caring circle might get ill themselves, or pass away. 

  • Future planning: We might need to rethink our long-term goals and career dreams. Adjustments to our living situation may also be happening to fit in with our caring responsibilities in the long run.


“Just had a letter from the council saying my dads care costs have gone up by 6.7% - so now he has to pay an extra £281 a week.”

When it comes to dealing with changes in caring, there are various strategies out there. But today, we're honing in on adaptability. If we're looking for more tips on navigating life's twists and turns, our guide to managing change and uncertainty could offer some helpful insights.


The impacts of not being adaptable to change can have on us as carers

Illustration of an anxious woman

As carers, adapting to change can feel scary. Especially if we’re so familiar with a routine that stepping outside our comfort zone into the unknown can feel like a leap of faith. We hear you!


But if we aren't able to be adaptable, the impacts of change on us as carers can be significant, such as:


  • Stress and anxiety 

  • Physical health issues like fatigue, exhaustion, and trouble sleeping 

  • Burnout 

  • Strains in our relationships due to disagreements 

  • Limited access to support if we resist learning new systems, such a opportunities to book appointments with the new NHS digital app - we have to adapt or we might miss out

  • Lower quality of care for the person we look after, as we might not open ourselves up to the best support or care strategies available.


“My biggest challenge has been adapting to a new way of living and mourning the loss of the man I married.”

What is adaptability?

In a perfect world, we'd wake up each day feeling ready to tackle whatever comes our way. But for many of us, the thought of unexpected events can trigger anxiety and feeling out of control. Recognising this is a good start, and carers in our community have shared tools to help them navigate this uncertainty


Adaptability is one skill that can help us to shape how we handle a change. People with high adaptability are often described as flexible, level-headed, or able to roll with the punches.


“My husband had a stroke and we needed to leave our family home and move into a bungalow. My husband is now thriving, his speech is improving, he has more mobility and found a local gym he can go to once a week. And we both love looking at the lovely river view from our living room - it’s become a kind of therapy for me.”

While it might seem like a trait we're born with, adaptability is something we can develop thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. This is our brain's amazing ability to change, form new connections, and adapt based on experience.


Neuroplasticity is ongoing throughout life, meaning it's never too late to learn. The secret? Practice.


While it might feel counterproductive, repetition is how our brains learn to be adaptable. When we repeatedly engage in an activity, the neurons involved form stronger connections. This is how people gradually become good at new skills, like learning a language. By creating new connections our brains can learn to adapt to any situation.


If adaptability is a struggle, know we're not alone. Many carers have experienced trauma, which can affect how we respond to change. PTSD, for example, can make us rely on rigid coping patterns, while chronic anxiety might lead to overthinking worst-case scenarios. 


By embracing adaptability, we won't solve all our problems, but we can face uncertainty with confidence. As Helen Keller once said, "A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn."


“Strong people never give up. We might need a coffee, a cry, or even a day in bed, but we always come back stronger.”

How to be more adaptable as carers 

Illustration of happy woman outdoors.

1. Tune into self-talk

Studies show that our self-talk affects how confident we feel in handling things, which impacts our well-being and self-esteem. Take a moment to hear what our inner voice is saying. If it's negative, we can try to reframe our thoughts to be more positive.

For example, instead of thinking, "Why is nothing going right?" we could try asking ourselves, "What can I do to improve this situation?" or "What can I learn from this experience?"


Research shows that our brains tend to rely on past experiences to predict the future, often leading us to repeat the same behaviours, especially when stressed. This can really impact our mindset when going into a situation where we would like to be adaptable. 


Dr. Joe Dispenza puts it succinctly: "Your personality—how you think, act, and feel—shapes your reality."


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that involves looking at situations, thoughts, or beliefs from a new perspective to change their meaning or interpretation. It's like looking at a picture from a different angle to see new details and possibilities. If we feel we could benefit, we can self-refer, without the need to speak to our GP. 


2. Confront change directly

According to mindfulness guru Jay Shetty, one of the common mistakes we make when dealing with change is downplaying our pain and pretending it's insignificant. 


He likens it to tidying up before visitors arrive by hiding clutter in a closet. The house looks fine at first, but eventually, all the hidden mess spills out and confronts us. Similarly, our problems won't disappear if we ignore them - they'll keep resurfacing until we address them head-on!


Once we’ve worked through the heavy emotions, we have more mental space to focus on what we can do to make things work. 


“I’ve been struggling alone for a long time, mostly in denial about my caring responsibilities, especially with my husband who has had mental health struggles over the years.”

3. Recognise what's within our control

We can find ourselves stressing about things outside of our control. When facing worries, we could ask ourselves: Can we control this? If not, can we try to release it and focus on what we can? This gives up more energy to put towards overcoming the challenges we do need to face. 


4. Apply the ‘Will it affect me in a year's time? rule

A handy tool from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is to assess whether the issue we're struggling to come to terms with will truly impact us in the long term. Will it still feel so ‘big’ in five years, one year, or even one month's time?


Take a moment to ask:

  • Does this just feel scary because it’s new?

  • Will it have lasting effects on my wellbeing, relationships or goals? 

  • Am I giving this more weight than it deserves? 


Running through these questions can eliminate a lot of unnecessary worry. 


5. Step out of our comfort zone

Embrace new hobbies, take on new challenges, and do the big scary thing. These experiences teach our brains that we're capable of handling tough situations, helping us to be more adaptable when it’s needed. Check out these simple tips to stretch our comfort zones.


“We went on a cruise a couple of weeks ago and took a carer with us. It was just a perfect holiday, everything just exceeded all our expectations. It was a leap of faith booking it months ago but it was just fabulous. And it seems to have made a lasting difference to her alertness even now we are back.”

6. Know that it will get easier

 Studies on the brain reveal that the more we expose ourselves to change, the more our brains adapt to it. So, even when new stuff feels challenging, sticking with it means that being adaptable, and able to roll with change will only get easier over time. 


“You have to push through and you will come out the other side a stronger person. We are capable of more than we think. Hold fast, it does get better.”

7. Think back on our wins

Recall the times when we’ve stood up for what mattered or handled tough situations with poise. These moments show our ability to adapt and shine, even when we felt unsure. We’re probably handling more situations successfully than we give ourselves credit for.


“There are challenges, but I try and face them with good grace. I miss her every day. But now I smile when I think about her and think how proud she would be.”

8. Try to embrace, rather than fear, new technology

We can use AI to write our emails, online shopping or healthcare apps to get some time and energy back, and a number of other digital tools designed to help. We explore this further in Digital skills for carers.


"I’ve learned to love Alexa; we have one in just about every room. I use it for routine reminders, day date prompts, lists, to operate my linked devices, to view my cameras, to display photographs, listen to the radio or music and to help with cooking."

9. Remember that change can be good

Even if we can't see it right away, there's often something we can learn from it. While it can feel hard at the time, each challenge could bring with it an opportunity. Even if it’s just learning what we could do the next time. 


“My life has changed totally since my mother died eight years ago. Her death triggered something in me. I divorced my abusive husband after nearly 25 years of marriage. In the process, I sold my house and most of my belongings. I have recovered my mental health and am taking steps to recover my physical health.”

And sometimes change, while scary, can actually be a good thing! For example, having more paid carers coming in, or the person we care for going to respite, might feel hard to adapt to. But will help to give us some much needed time support. 


“We have found an excellent day club that he goes to three times a week. And also managed to get 15 hours of respite a week. It took some getting used to, but I feel I’m now able to cope again. ”

10. Keep talking to others

Reach out to fellow carers for advice and encouragement. Our Mobilise Hub is a safe and welcoming space to share our experiences. Hearing how others have coped with change can give us practical tips and the motivation to keep going.



Final word

Trying out these tips can help us to get better at honing that skill of adaptability, but we know it's not always easy. We understand when things get really tough, sometimes no amount of preparation helps.


But remember, even small steps can make a difference in looking after our mental health in the long-run, and Mobilise is always here to support along the way. 


Get your questions answered and find support 24/7 by joining the Mobilise Hub, a free online community where you can connect with others in a similar position.

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