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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Constructive Caring, #7: Enjoying the Journey

The last blog in this series is about ways to enjoy staying positive. That's important being a positive care partner requires constant attention, constant effort. But that's OK because, the more you work on staying positive, the more enjoyable--and fun!--you will find it to be.

Meditate: Even a few minutes of meditation a day will decrease stress and improve sleep. Bonus: It also improves clarity and focus, both of which last long after the meditation is over. The goal is to give your brain a rest from all the busy, busy thinking it does. Meditation operates on the premise that your brain can do only one thing at a time. It rests your brain, adds oxygen and just makes you feel good. Here is a quick easy mediation:
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. In and out, slow and easy.
  • Do that for as long as you want. Don't worry if you find yourself blanking out or drifting off. Just go back to focusing on your breathing.
  • If you feel pulled in some other direction, if you find yourself thinking about something else, gently draw your attention back to your breathing.
  • Don't be disappointed if you find it difficult to stay focused at first. That's normal. Just keep trying.
Slow down. Take time to stop and smell the roses, look at the sunsets, notice your loved one's smile, enjoy a relaxed meal. Even talking slower is better for you. Speedy behaviors cause the motivation hormones connected with negativity to flow and make you more nervous and uncomfortable. (And here you thought that talking slower was something you did for your loved one who needed the time to process! News flash: It is also good for you.)

Listen to music. Music is magic! It can relax you or energize you. Warning! Music can also trigger negative emotions, especially anxiety. If you find a kind of music that doesn't make you feel good, avoid it. You don't need that! Find music that you do enjoy and that relaxes or energizes you and listen to it regularly. Include the PlwD*, and make it a part of your daily lives. Music travels to the brain along its own pathway and people can enjoy it long after they can use language. Sing. Dance. Be the music. The more you do this, the more positive you will feel. The positive feelings you get from music will last a long time after the music has stopped playing.

Give a gift. It doesn't have to be material. Offer a compliment, help out with a chore, do a little extra. Caregiving can become more job than "helping" but if you offer just a little bit more, an extra pat or hug, it becomes a gift. Giving a gift triggers your own feel good hormones more than once. When you choose a gift for a specific person, you will likely imagine what it will feel like to give it. Since your brain doesn't differentiate between imaginary and real, you get to enjoy a hit of feel-good hormones then. With any gift, you get a hit when you actually give it and another when the giftee shows appreciation. (That's why, when you receive a compliment, you never want to discount it. Your self-put-down deprives the donor of their return gift.)

Laugh, smile and nod. Laugh all you can. Smile at everybody. Agree with people as often as you can. Nod to music. Yes, even that works! These all cause those gift-giving and receiving hits of feel-good hormones and another from the feeling of connection when your friend laughs, smiles or nods back with you. But you don't really need a reason to laugh, smile or nod. Just do it. They trigger your body to respond as though you were saying "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Even looking for reasons to laugh, smile and nod causes your body to respond as though you were actually doing it.

Be grateful. Gratefulness is another one like laughter that doesn't need a reason. Just looking for a reason is enough to trigger those feel good hormones. Just being grateful is enough, in fact. But finding the reasons increases your good feelings even more. Like other positive behaviors, gratefulness is contagious and so make sure you share. Tell others and give examples. For a real lift, read Lisa Cooke's guest blog entry on an attitude of gratitude. (3/6/2015)

Use second-hand positivity. We match what we see, so just looking at something positive will make you feel positive. A cute puppy, a picture of a child's happy smile, an enjoyable movie, even a photo of a past happy event. In fact, you don't even need the photo. Just day dream about some past joy and you will get to relive the same happy feelings.

Play. Set aside some time to play, to do something just for fun, whatever that might be for you. Like music and meditation, the relaxation and clarity you get from playing will last for a long time after you finish up and go back to work. That's why kids have recesses!


OK, now it is your turn. What do you do to keep on feeling positive?

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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