The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Constructive Caring, #3: Conscious choices

The second blog in this series was about a couple of roadblocks to being a more constructive care partner. While it is true that positive thinkers function better over time than negative thinkers, our own brains make that an uphill battle. Last week's blog was about how our brains see negative stuff as urgent and how they resist change. Anything that causes negative emotions quickly and emphatically grabs our attention and is rushed into long-term memory. (Go back and read it if you haven't already.)

This means that without some conscious effort, what we think and say is likely to be mostly negative. Add other roadblocks a care partner faces, such as stress and isolation, and you may feel that trying to think constructively requires far too much effort in an already overburdened life. It doesn't and the rewards are huge. Because you can make conscious choices, you can gradually decrease your negative thinking by consciously doing and saying things that make you feel good, happy and contented.

You can choose to stop a negative thought and choose a different way to consider the issue. Make your goal thinking "in a different way," not "thinking positively." That's because 80% of us have naturally negative brains that get scared about "thinking positive" and backfire with worry. Instead, think "work on changing to something more helpful, something that feels better, something fun even."
  • Be specific and accurate.  Extreme or catastrophic thoughts are usually too polar to be accurate. Being more moderate helps you be more specific, and thus more accurate and allows you to see the positives, and to see the negatives in more perspective. "All the time" becomes "today." "Never" becomes "not right now." "Terrible" becomes "not quite what I had in mind." "Failure" becomes a single mistake.
  • Look for the challenge, instead of looking for the worst that could happen. "I'll never be able to do that," becomes. "What do I need to learn to be able to do that?" "This cake is terrible" might become "I think adding vanilla would improve this cake." "I'm such a failure" becomes "I need to learn more about how to do that job."
  • Be your own friend. When you realize you are put yourself down, stop and say to yourself what you'd say to a friend. Instead of "Well that was stupid!" say, "We all make mistakes." Instead of "I'm just not good at that," try, "I'm still working on that." Instead of "I'm so dumb." try "I don't understand." 
  • Look at the broader view and accept that some things just happen instead of playing the self-blame game. You are not responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. Accept that feeling guilty won't change the past and worrying won't change the future.
Making these changes doesn't happen over night. It takes time to change any habit, and negative thinking is a habit. We used to think it took about three weeks but new research is saying more like two to six months! So give yourself credit for the changing you do manage and keep working at it.
Next: Changing negative habits to more constructive ones.

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

We love and welcome comments but we will not publish any that advertise a product or a commercial website. This is especially true for testimonials about miraculous Parkinson's cures and marijuana.

* Acronyms:
AD: Alzheimer's disease
BPSD: Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia
DLB: Dementia with Lewy bodies, where cognitive/behavioral issues occur first
LBD: Lewy body dementia, an umbrella term for both DLB and PDD
MCI: Mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
PD: Parkinson's disease
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia, where mobility issues occur first
PlwD: person/people living with dementia
PlwPD, LBD, PDD, AD, etc.: person/people living with PD, LBD, etc.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

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