Last week at our social day program, I watched a man express his very sincere gratitude to his mother’s caregiver for all that she has done for his mother and his family. He looked the woman in the eyes and brought a hand to his heart as he spoke. He seemed to be communicating from a place beyond his words as he implored the woman to understand the depth of his appreciation.
When we place a hand over our heart to emphasize the personal meaning of our words, we generally think of this “heartfelt” gesture as a symbolic one. However, groundbreaking research from the HeartMath Institute has brought to light a link between emotional experience and the heart’s own physiological sensitivity—a much more literal connection than we tend to embrace. This research challenges the assumption that the brain is the body’s only fundamentally intelligent organ. In fact, HeartMath researchers have found that the heart responds first to an emotional stimulus, sending heart rhythm patterns to the brain, which then allow us to relate to those emotional experiences thoughtfully.
Of course, the conversation between the heart and the brain goes in both directions and is ongoing. The brain also has the power to inspire deeper experience in the heart’s center of emotional intelligence. Like when we place a hand over the heart—if our intentions are truly behind the gesture, that signal from the brain can amplify the heart’s engagement with a thought or an expression of love and appreciation.
By understanding this dynamic relationship between the brain and the heart, we can engage with our emotional experiences in new and powerful ways. When we reach for our heart on the outside, the brain is reaching for the heart’s wisdom and input on the inside. As we explore how to tell a caregiver thank you, we can call to action a couple of very simple exercises that can greatly heighten the emotional impact of our thanks—for the caregiver’s sake and our own.
Tuning into the Feelings and Words of Appreciation for Caregivers
To express your authentic appreciation for a caregiver’s generosity and service, you first must get in touch with your own emotional awareness—which, as we’ve discovered, is neither as deep as the brain nor as deep as the heart alone. Emotional awareness is in our thoughts and reactions, it’s in our senses, intuition, biochemistry, and even our imaginations.
Before you get overwhelmed by the task of tuning into your emotional awareness, the HeartMath Institute has developed a simple practice for doing just this. The technique is inspired by research into heart-rhythm coherence and its incredible benefits for our overall health. This state of coherence is marked by smooth and synchronized rhythms among the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, and nervous systems. From this harmony, we experience greater clarity on the physical, mental, and emotional levels, paving the way for greater awareness and intention in our words and actions.
How to Be Present and Sincere When You Tell a Caregiver Thank You
By practicing HeartMath’s simple Heart Coherence Technique before reaching out to thank your aging loved one’s caregiver, you can be more present for them and for the truly heartfelt message you wish to convey. With your conscious mind, you can tap into the heart’s influence, waking up the remarkable feedback loop of inspiration and compassion that builds and harmonizes between the brain and the heart.
I invite you to carve out just 10 or 15 minutes to practice the three-step Heart Coherence Technique and to center in on the particulars of your appreciation for your loved one’s caregiver. From there, you’ll feel more in tune with how to say thank you to caregivers from your deep truth. Begin with some heart-centered breathing:
- Focus on your breath: Close your eyes and notice the flow of your breath. Take a moment to relax your body and just experience your breath’s rhythm.
- Breathe through your heart: Bring a hand up to rest over your heart, and imagine that your breath is actually flowing in and out through that heart space. Feel your heart expanding with each inhale and relaxing with each exhale.
- Invite feelings of appreciation: Now, recall memories, feelings, thoughts, images, and associations—anything that inspires feelings of appreciation. Perhaps bringing a certain person to mind helps your love and appreciation to well up, or maybe it’s the lyrics to a meaningful song or the memory of how you felt during a significant time in your life. It’s actually less important what you pull forward in your mind to spark these feelings. What matters is that you summon the stimuli that will initiate these heart-warming feelings of appreciation. So, at this time, it isn’t necessary for the aging adult’s caregiver to come to mind, but they certainly may. As you call forward these sparks of appreciation, continue to feel your breath flowing through your heart space. Sit with this third step for as long as you wish.
Can you feel this surge of positive emotion in your body? When a caregiver is giving their full attention to an aging adult, helping them to live with grace and love, their gift is invaluable. Knowing that your aging loved one is in committed and compassionate hands likely inspires in you more than just surface-level thanks. After practicing the Heart Coherence Technique, you are in a unique place of emotional awareness from which you can access the fullness of your appreciation.
Finding the Words to Thank a Caregiver
Now it’s time to spend another five or 10 minutes with a pen and paper, writing down the honest details of your appreciation for the service and love a caregiver offers the older adult in your life. On your paper, answer the following two questions with as much detail as you feel moved to explore, letting your reflections become deeper and more personal as you write:
- How does this caregiver enrich my loved one’s life?
- How does this caregiver enrich my family’s and my own life?
We can easily offer words of thanks from a disconnected place without being fully present in their meaning. But for the caregiver who is so generously nurturing an aging loved one, your truly heartfelt expression of gratitude can reciprocate and refill their source of compassion.
You can deliver these words of thanks that demonstrate how clearly you see the caregiver’s efforts and generosity, either in person or even in writing if you are reaching out from a distance. However you deliver it, the message itself is what is important. If your own heightened emotional awareness is evident in the message, you can continue to strengthen the relationship between you and the caregiver who gives so much of themselves for the aging adult in your life.
We, here at Institute on Aging, are passionate about fostering compassionate relationships between caregivers and older adults. Reach out to us for more information about our programs and resources that can help you and your family.