Posts Tagged ‘Stress management’

A Blush of Sadness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/

Photo by Alice Popkorn via Flickr

It’s been a busy day, in a busy stretch. With two cancellations for this evening, I have a rare moment of solitude in the house.  I can hear cars passing on the rain-wet street, and a mounting wind is quickly taking down the colorful autumn leaves and revealing grey-black tree skeletons, their crooked hands reaching for a darkening sky and the mysteries of All Hallows’ Eve.

As I sit for a bit, I am aware of a blush of sadness that crosses my heart.

What is it?

I try to trace the whisper of feeling back to its origin, and finding no obvious clue, I slowly scan a mental checklist and wait for another twinge:

  • Mourning the end of an extraordinary summer?
  • A streak of sugar from the hard butterscotch candy I just crunched down?
  • Weary from too-long days?
  • Full moon?
  • Concern for a loved one who is struggling right now?
  • Embarrassment about a missed deadline or missing document?
  • Untended grief?

It could be any of those things, I suppose.

It didn’t last long, but I noticed. I understood it to feel like sadness.

Then, rather than bury it or let it grow in crazy directions, like a sidewalk charcoal snake burning to its full height some hot Fourth of July, I investigate:

  • Where do I feel it?
  • How strong is it?
  • Where’d it come from?

I’ve experienced depression before, so I make a mental note to pay attention.

If I get sad and stay that way for more than a few days (my default nature is outrageously optimistic and upbeat), I pay even more attention, in case I need to be assessed for depression.

Humans feel stuff, like sadness, anger, disgust, jealousy, happiness, satisfaction, hunger, desire, and you-name-it.

Noticing helps us cope, as long as we balance that noticing with the proper degree of curiosity and nonchalance. That is, I don’t get freaked out by my fleeting thoughts or emotions.

Sometimes it’s just the candy.

***

Lisa Kendall writes about well-being and self-care for all members of the care partner team, and pays attention to thoughts, emotions, and feelings as a psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist in Ithaca, NY. 

Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaKCounseling

How Can Body Language Help Caregivers?

Picture a person who is feeling defeated.  How do they look?  What is their posture?

Chances are you imagined a person who was sort of “curled up,” with their shoulders bent and head down.  Maybe they even hold their arms crossed in front of them.

This is a very natural pose to take when we’re being attacked; it serves to protect our vital organs, and keeping our head down can protect our face and throat.

Now picture someone who is very strong and self-confident.  What do you see?

Are they standing tall, feet firmly planted?  Are their hands on their hips?  (Think Superman or Wonder Woman here).

Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy became very interested in body language and the ways people seem to express feeling powerful or powerless.  What she learned can help you with your caregiving.

Dr. Cuddy noticed that in nature, when an animal feels threatened, or even wants to intimidate another animal who’s too close to their home territory, they make themselves appear larger.  A fish might puff itself up to appear larger, a bird will spread its wings and get up on tip-toe, and a mammal tends to “ruff” the fur around its neck and may rear up to seem more capable of defending itself.

Conversely, many animals will make themselves small by curling up into a ball or trying to climb into a tiny space for safety.

In her lab, Dr. Cuddy learned that when humans “make themselves big” for as little as 2 minutes, their stress hormone, cortisol, gets lower.  Their testosterone, a hormone that can makes us strong and focused, was raised.  This brief change in posture altered how the brain and body responded, allowing the person to feel more calm and courageous.

People who assumed the smaller posture had hormonal changes, too, but in the opposite direction.  Those folks experienced an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and a decrease in testosterone.

Who is better prepared to deal with a problem, succeed in an interview, or stay calm in a time of trouble?

Dr. Cuddy advises that taking on a big posture, spreading our feet and arms, for 2 minutes before an important conversation can make us think more clearly and feel calm and more self-assured.

Notice your own posture at different times throughout the day.  When you notice yourself curling up, make an effort to spread out for a few minutes.  Even putting your feet up on a desk, leaning back, and putting your hands behind your head (with elbows out), is a way to make yourself appear larger that Dr. Cuddy calls “the CEO position.”

Is there a part of caregiving that “beats you up” or makes you feel powerless?  Try “being big” for a few minutes, and let us know through the comment board what you discover!

You can learn more about Dr. Cuddy’s research by watching her TedX talk at: http://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc

 

***

Lisa Kendall is a social worker and clinical gerontologist with a private therapy and consulting practice.  Specializing in aging and Elder care, trauma recovery, and bereavement, Lisa also teaches at the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute and is an Educator for The Eden Alternative™.

Rest and Renewal for Caregivers, in Only 10 Minutes!

In 2011, I wrote a blog post about the importance of regularly taking time away from caregiving, often referred to as “respite.”

 

At that time, I suggested that in every day, we should have a respite of at least 10 minutes or so, and in every week we should plan for an hour away, if at all possible.

 

Increasing stretches of time call for more time away… in a perfect world!

 

In the years since that post, I’ve had the privilege of presenting workshops about how to structure a mini-retreat, and I’ve continued to talk with care partners about how this method of respite works for them.

 

I’ve also learned from the latest brain science that even very small breaks, when given our full attention, can have a significant positive impact on our health and well-being!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/3059251051/

by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

 

Jennifer Louden’s “Woman’s Retreat Book: A Guide to Restoring, Rediscovering and Reawakening Your True Self –In a Moment, An Hour, Or a Weekend,” helps us think about what we hope to get from our retreat, and how to create one that will really work.

 

She reminds us that you don’t have to have a lot of time or money, nor do you have to actually leave town (or even the house) for a break to refresh and renew your mind, body, and spirit.

 

This is good news for care partners!

 

The basic elements for a retreat include the opening, the retreat itself, and the closing.

 

The opening of the retreat includes an act or ritual to indicate that you are stepping away from your usual day, and entering into a sacred or special space.

 

It might include a prayer or other reading, getting up from your desk, going to a corner of your home suitable for quiet contemplation, or ringing a bell.

 

Once inside this retreat space, which Ms. Louden calls the retreat container, you engage in an activity you’ve planned, and which fulfills or contributes to your intention for the retreat.  If you’re feeling stressed, you’ll want to connect with a feeling of relaxation.  If you’re tired, you may want to do something that will energize you!

 

This could be a few moments of silence, mindfully listening to your breath.  It could be taking out your journal to write some lines about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, at that very moment. If you like to draw, your retreat space could hold some art supplies for you to play with.

 

Perhaps 10 minutes of wild dancing will provide an energy (or attitude) adjustment.  I used to do this with my daughters at the end of the school day, and we found it vented all sorts of cranky energy, and made us laugh.  Really hard.

 

Ideally, a retreat will connect with all of the senses, so consider doing something for the body (breathe, stretch, or handle a cool, smooth stone); for the sense of smell (fresh flowers, cinnamon, eucalyptus, a vanilla or pine scented candle); your sense of hearing (the gentle tinkling of a bell, music, or silence); and vision (have something pleasant to look at).

 

The closing is often a mirror or reversal of the opening ceremony.

 

If you started with a bell, end the same way.  If you lit a candle, blow it out.  You are signaling the end of this special time, even when it’s only been ten minutes, and a return to routine.

 

These simple steps bring our awareness to a mental and physical space where we can renew our energies, manage stress, and keep fit for the Elder care journey.

 

Jennifer Louden’s book is a true treasure trove of ideas, providing important information on how to prepare for a retreat of any length, how to create emotional and physical containers for your experience, and consider what to do (and not do!) on your retreat.

 

You’ll want to have your own copy of this book; you can purchase it now on the Crossroads Counseling Bookstore by clicking HERE.

* * *

How do you rest and renew yourself?  What works best for you?

What will you try today?

Leave your comments and share your experience with others!

 

* * *

Lisa Kendall is a geriatric social worker with a private counseling and consulting practice.  She teaches, trains, and facilitates a variety of different retreats. 

Holiday Caregiver Stress: Finding the Heart of the Season

http://www.flickr.com/photos/summerlovin/4171678797/

Photo by paulapaulac via Flickr

A lovely Elder I knew, (I’ll call her Mary), was really struggling with the care needs of her husband, who was living with a number of debilitating illnesses.  As the holidays approached, she became more and more anxious about how to manage the many tasks and roles she had already taken on, and wondered how to work Christmas into her “to do” list.

One of Mary’s traditions was to bake a special kind of cookie, one that took several hours and many steps.  That year, she just couldn’t face the chore.

When I asked her what the most meaningful part of this holiday tradition was for her, she didn’t hesitate to answer that it was spending time with her college-age grandsons.

Looking at this activity from the perspective of what was most meaningful, Mary quickly realized that the heart of the event was spending time with those growing young men.

She knew that they enjoyed being with her, too, and confided that her hungry family wolfed down the treats and probably never gave a second thought to the amount of time and preparation she’d invested in baking.

It was easier for this Wise Elder to change how she managed the task once she’d identified what was most important and meaningful.  That year, she chose a much simpler recipe, and enjoyed her special time with the grandsons.  Mary had freed up precious time and energy for the other things she really wanted or needed to do.

What is the heart of this holiday season for you?  If you are feeling overwhelmed, prune away the things that don’t bring you joy.  Consider changing the way you do things so you can enjoy the holidays feeling more at peace and well-rested.

The SIDS Foundation has created a nifty chart that an help you identify what and how to include in your Holiday celebrations, what things you can change, and what things you might choose to let go this year.  Try it out below.

As you work with this information, consider that important question: what is meaningful?

And let me know if you made any changes, and how it’s going for you!

Holiday Stress Assessment for Caregivers

HOLIDAY JOB LIST Would the holidays be the same without it?  Is this something you want to do differently?  Do you do it out of habit, tradition,free choice, or obligation? Is it a one person job, or can it be shared?  Who is responsible for seeing that it gets done?  Do you like doing it?  Decorating the tree.                    Contributing to special funds.                    Baking holiday cookies. Exchanging holiday cookies.                    Making long lists of what needs to be done.                    Going to office or school parties.                    Making homemade holiday gifts.                    Sending holiday cards.                    Buying something special to wear for the holidays.                    Going to cocktail parties.                    Doing your holiday shopping.                    Seeing people you never see any other time of the year.                    Helping or encouraging your children to make some of their gifts.                    Having the house clean … clean!                    Decorating different rooms of your home.                    Providing “quiet-together” time for immediate family.                    Buying gifts for co-workers and teachers.                    Attending special or traditional church services.                    Attending special activities for children.                    Preparing special traditional foods.                   

©1995-1996-1997-1998-1999, SIDS Network, Inc. < http://sids-network.org >

All rights reserved. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document, in whole or in part, for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted, provided that this copyright, permission notice, and appropriate credit to the SIDS Network, Inc. be included in all copies.

 

New Year’s Resolutions: Move from a “to DO” list to a “to BE” list.

Like many people at year’s end, I am both looking backward to reflect on all that has happened, and forward to the opportunities and blessings of a new year.

We often generate a list of resolutions for the fresh start we feel with the coming of a new year, but just as often leave our good intentions behind after a short burst of “self-improvement.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/3059251051/

by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

This year, I’m trying a completely different strategy.

This year, I will strive every day to do two simple things to bring my past and future together into a single moment of BE-ing.

First, I will cultivate a practice of gratitude. I will start and end my day by meditating on the many blessings I have in my life. This will focus me on abundance rather than scarcity, and helps keep me humble.

Second, instead of a daily “to do” list, (I am a great list-maker!), I will take a moment each morning to jot down what and how I want “to BE.” This idea comes from Elyse Hope Killoran, whom I heard speak at a recent conference presented by Casey Truffo.

When Elyse suggested that I think about what good service to others feels like, the following words came to mind: grateful, joyful, abundant, light, happy, accomplished, and balanced.

By consciously choosing to BE these things, I make decisions and act from that place, and my vision for my professional practice and for my private life becomes a reality.

Elyse recommends that we change the traditional idea that if we DO certain things, or HAVE what we want, we will then BE the person we’ve always wanted to be.

She teaches that we BE first, then DO. Only then will you HAVE what you want and need.

Elyse says, “If we have a big enough why, the hows and wheres will take care of themselves.” I am reminded of Stephen Covey’s encouragement to work on BE-ing, to cultivate gratitude, to see the world as abundant, and to live a life according to personal principles. He develops all of these ideas in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.

Creating a “to BE” list might be one of the most powerful ways to start the New Year!

Will you try this practice and let me know how it works for you?

Don’t wait! You can have a refreshing ‘Retreat’ today!

Mrs. Jenson is a full-time care partner for her husband, who has had a severe stroke. 

It’s very hard work, but she has some help in the home, as well as wonderfully supportive family, and she is able to get out for church and social activities.  Every so often, she takes trips with her community group, and there is an annual family vacation, too. 

Because she has health problems of her own and sleeps poorly, her children and grand-children encourage Mrs. J. to take even more time for herself, to take off for a weekend or more to really recharge, but Mrs. J. feels she just doesn’t want to do that and is uncomfortable with the pressure from her well-intended loved ones.

Part of my job is to encourage family care partners to get enough rest, so I want to hear more.

Mrs. Jenson teaches me something important when, together, we think through how she sees balancing her own need for rest and respite with her engagement as a care partner for her husband.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/baronsquirrel/106337895/sizes/m/in/photostream/

photo by baronsquirrel via flickr

What we come up with is a kind of formula that is already mostly in place in the Jenson household.  It looks like this:

  • Every day, take a brief, but pleasurable, respite (10 minutes)
  • In every week, schedule an hour or two away (special lunch with a friend, quiet time at a museum, a walk, etc.)
  • Every month, take a full day for yourself
  • In every quarter (every three months), set aside a truly special weekend for rest and renewal
  • Annually, be sure to schedule a week for vacation!

These guidelines will look different for everyone, but could work in some way or other for all of us, whether we are caring for an ill loved one, trying to manage work/life balance, or manage our own stress and wellness.

The main point Mrs. Jenson wanted to get across to her children was that she didn’t need to leave her home or take a long stretch of time to feel refreshed. 

I think this is a common myth, and one that keeps us from taking advantage of everyday opportunities to find a “little calm center” in our otherwise too-busy world.

I will be facilitating a workshop on how to create a mini-retreat on Monday, July 18th at Lifelong in Ithaca; I hope you’ll join us to learn more and to share your own wisdom about this!

~~~ 

Finding Rest and Renewal:

How to Create a Mini-Retreat to Soothe Your Spirit, Ease Your Body, and Calm Your Mind

A Retreat has been defined as “an act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable;” or “a place of privacy or safety or refuge.”

Many of us know we need time away, but are unsure of where, how, or when to create effective Retreats.  In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn how to structure personal mini-Retreats that last from ten minutes to a full day, select meaningful activities, and comfortably transition out of the Retreat, taking powerful and lasting lessons into daily life.  Further resources for planning your Retreat are included.

This workshop is intended for both experienced and new retreatants, and is especially designed for those who are seeking better balance and well-being in their lives.

Register for (1823) Finding Rest and Renewal: How to Create a Mini-Retreat to Soothe… ($10 fee) at Lifelong

by clicking HERE or call Jillian Pendleton for more information at (607) 273-1511 

~~~

Are you a member of Lifelong??  Join today!!

www.tclifelong.org

~~~

Lisa Kendall has worked for over thirty years as a health and wellness educator and mental health counselor, and has led retreats for a variety of groups.  Lisa maintains a private therapy practice specializing in women’s health, aging & caregiving, chronic illness, stress, depression, work/life balance, and grief. 

A Celtic Formula for Healing

I remember reading once that the Ancient Celtic prescription for physical and emotional healing was “laughter, sorrow, and rest.”  (If you know where I heard this, please let me know and I’ll give proper attribution!)

This weekend I was reminded of this great advice when I had an opportunity to hear the Celtic band, “Cherish the Ladies,” at a small performing arts center near my home.

Joanie Madden’s Irish wit made me laugh all through the performance.

The ballads and the Irish whistle sounded so wistful, it touched a deep sadness in me and brought tears to my eyes.

The music and dancing, traditional as well as original, was the best I’ve heard or seen in a concert, and completely took me away from my daily cares.

Laughter.  Sorrow.  Rest.  It makes sense to me.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/

Photo by Alice Popkorn via Flickr

We know that laughter is great medicine anytime; numerous studies show that laughter decreases stress, improves social bonds, and boosts our immune systems. 

We rest if we’ve been ill, and when we’re going through a severe emotional trauma, we lose our energy and often take to our beds.  (One way to view depression is as a natural mechanism to keep the body at rest so it can heal from injury).

What might not seem so intuitive is the Celtic advice about Sorrow.  Aren’t we told to look on the bright side?  Use positive affirmations?  Get over it already???

Actually, denying our sorrow or holding in our feelings of sadness will only cause them to become “stuck” in our mind and body, and can lead to symptoms such as headaches, gastric upset, and muscle aches and pains. 

As we learn more about mind-body medicine and take a gentle, holistic approach to self-care, we can see that making space to express Sorrow is an important component of any healing regimen.

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some different techniques that support the expression of Sorrow and other emotions we often think of as “negative,” so we can make room for all that is good and find the balance and wellness that we seek. 

In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments about this bit of Celtic Wisdom. 

And be sure to Laugh when you can.  Cry when you need to.  Have a  l-o-n-g  nap.

And put on some great Celtic Music!

Lisa Kendall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a special interest in supporting self-care.  In addition to her practice in Ithaca, NY, Lisa is a sought-after speaker, retreat leader, and an “Eden at Home” Educator committed to changing the culture of care for Elders and their care partners.

The Universe is Knocking…

Has a little voice been whispering to you about something?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/xanetia/3572318670/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Photo by Xanatia via Flickr

Maybe your cough hasn’t gone away, and you haven’t called your physician yet.  Or what about that loose railing on your porch? You think of getting out the toolkit every time you feel that wobble, but you just haven’t done it yet.

There is a little voice in each of us that will whisper hints and reminders of what needs to be set right to make our world a safer and more balanced place.  We usually know when we need to see a doctor for a cough, a strange-looking spot on our skin, or some other minor malady.  We know when we’re eating poorly, are in a toxic relationship or an unsafe environment.

We may call that voice many things: our higher Self, our better Angels, “the Universe,” or God.

When we don’t listen to that whisper, the Universe may have to raise her voice a little, just to get our attention.

If you trip on the porch, maybe you’ll finally fix the darned thing.  Your inner knowing is really pressing you to do something now!  If you don’t repair it, something more serious may happen.  How long will you wait to do what you know is right and necessary to prevent a catastrophe?

I’ve talked about this phenomenon with my friends and colleagues.  As humans, we do seem to get many hints about what we need to do to keep our lives in balance.  We often have competing agendas, however, and it’s easy for us to rationalize our way past the whispered hints and even the warning cries of the Universe!

Has the Universe been knocking on your door about something in your life that is out of balance?  Perhaps you are so overwhelmed that you feel the Universe has backed you into a corner!  Maybe the noise in your life is so loud you can no longer discern the direction you need to take to find your way home.

Listen to your inner knowing, your higher Self, the Universe.  If you need someone to support you in finding the way back to balance, contact a physician or mental health counselor, pastor or friend.

May 2011 be the year you begin to hear the whispers again, and live in harmony with the Universe.

 

Lisa Kendall is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Ithaca, NY

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When is a Crutch not a Crutch?

In our culture, we shrink from signs of weakness or disability, preferring to see ourselves and each other as strong and capable.

Often, the very tools that might keep us independent, such as a cane or walker, are refused because they seem to represent frailty.  In reality, these assistive devices can make walking safer and prevent falls, allowing the greatest possible independence!

I was thinking about how hard it is for many Elders to accept the need for a walker or cane, or even the use of a wheelchair for trips out and about, and how troubling it is that our society has such strong prejudices about the use of such devices.

Then I realized that I have held the same deep biases about self-care and doing the things I need to do to stay healthy and strong.

As a health care professional, I’ve learned the hard way that I have to practice what I preach about taking good care of my mind, body and spirit, or I won’t be able to care for my family, clients, and friends.

Photo by Nick J Webb via Flickr

  • Have you ever felt guilty about getting a massage, considering it a luxury rather than part of your stress management strategy?   
  • Do you take time to plan and enjoy healthy, nutritious meals?
  • Are you getting regular, enjoyable exercise?
  • Do you have hobbies outside of work or caregiving that delight and inspire you?

These things are not “crutches,” they are important tools to keep you healthy and strong and able to stay in service.  Give them the priority they (and you!) deserve, and schedule time for them in ink on your calendar.

We’ll continue to talk about this, because too many professional care partners and family caregivers are suffering from over-load and are vulnerable to stress-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Please write me a comment (below) to let me know what you will do to take care of your SELF this week!

"It's Just Stress"

It’s time to look more deeply into the very real impact of prolonged or severe stress on our physical and emotional health. If you have been caring for an ill Elder or other loved one, you are especially vulnerable to caregiver stress, which studies show can lead to depression or make you more prone to a range of chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. Read the rest of this entry »
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