The Why and How of Relaxation

The Why and How of Relaxation

By Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

 

In a previous blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I mentioned the body’s “fight or flight” response. Today, I want to look a little more deeply into this because from my perspective, it becomes easier to navigate something once we can understand it. 

 

The physiology of stress

 

So, the physiology of stress. It’s complicated but I will do my best to simplify it as much possible. In the body, we have the Autonomic Nervous System and, as Dr. Phillip Low, MD, Professor of Neurology; Consultant, Department of Neurology, College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic; Mayo Clinic says in an article entitled Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System, “The autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing. This system works automatically (autonomously), without a person’s conscious effort.

Within the Autonomic Nervous System, we have the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the “flight or fight response” and the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for “rest and recovery.”

So when we get stressed, our bodies immediately kick into action. Hormones get secreted and the body readies itself for action. In an article entitled The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis, author Michael Randal states that “The human stress response involves a complex signaling pathway among neurons and somatic cells” with cortisol being “the primary hormone responsible for the stress response.” According to him, “The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body and impact several homeostatic mechanisms. While cortisol’s primary targets are metabolic, it also affects ion transport, the immune response, and even memory.”

Now, remember not all stress is bad. Some of it is, depending on the situation, can even be beneficial. It can help us when we have that mountain of work to do, or if have to go to that board meeting that we just don’t want to. Stress can be just the motivator we need to get us over the hump. 

The problem is when we have too much of it over time and it becomes chronic. As Jane Collingwood states in an article titled, The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress on psychcentral.com, “Chronic stress can have a serious impact on our physical as well as psychological health due to sustained high levels of the chemicals released in the ‘fight or flight’ response.” 

But there is good news, too. It comes in the form of the parasympathetic nervous system because this system allows the body to throttle back, relax and recover but we have to give it time so do that.

“How much? An hour? Two hours?” I hear you asking. “Come-on, I’m busy. I can’t afford to sit around, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my parasympathetic nervous system. I have responsibilities. A spouse. Kids. A job. Not to mention everything I have to do for Mom (or Dad, or whomever).”

Yeah, I get that. Not all that long ago I would’ve said the exact same thing, only I probably wouldn’t have said it quite so nicely.

 

So, really, how long will does it take?

 

The other piece of good news is that it doesn’t have to take that long at all. Really, it depends on how much time YOU have. A few minutes? Totally fine. But if you have longer than that, it’s even better.

So, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say you have a weekend all to yourself. Yes, a whole weekend. Two days. Forty-eight hours. With nothing to do for anyone but yourself. Your sister finally decided to step up to the plate. She’s going to come over and stay with Mom so that you can take the weekend off and get some much-needed R & R. Yipee. You’re thrilled. You don’t ask why she’s suddenly making herself so available. You don’t ask why she’s making the offer, you just accept it and start planning what you’re going to do – maybe go to the mountains or go to the beach – and what you are going to take with you.

You imagine packing and all of a sudden you become even more tired. The thought of actually getting in a car and hauling yourself anywhere feels just too much. You are that pooped. The solution, go to a nearby hotel, maybe even one with a spa. You can rent a room, get a massage and room service, really pamper yourself and if you happen to be a worrier (like me) being close by if your sister calls in a panic about something having to do with Mom, you can still check in at the house (if that makes you feel better) then “disappear” again. 

But what if you only have a couple of hours? Mom is at respite care and you know better than anyone that her limit for being out of the house is two hours, no more. After that she gets cranky. So what then? How about an exercise class? Maybe a yoga class? Being a yoga practitioner for over twenty years and a yoga teacher, I can tell you, first-hand, how powerful yoga is when it comes to relaxing the body and clearing the mind. 

But if exercise classes and yoga aren’t your thing, how about going to the mall? Or take a gentle walk in nature? You can call a friend and the two of you can go for a mani/pedi together then maybe for lunch afterward.

If you have only twenty minutes? Meditation or do a deep relaxation. If you don’t know how, you can always Google meditation or deep relaxation or, if you prefer, you can always go onto helpyouthru.com. There, you will find instructional video clips. Simply scroll down for the video you want.

And if you have only a couple of minutes . . . deep breathing exercises. Again, feel free to do a Google for instructions but for convenience, again feel free to onto helpyouthru.com and scroll down.

 

 

 

Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver Burnout

By Karen Bromberg

 

What is it and how does it differ from caregiver stress?

 

I’m so glad you asked.

Caregivers experience stress, that’s a given. It’s like getting sunburnt if you sit out in the sun too long without sunscreen; it’s like getting wet if you walk in the rain without an umbrella. You provide care to someone and you’re going to get stressed. It comes with the territory.

Just run a quick Google search and you’ll see just how prevalent it is. But wait, you may say, isn’t caregiver stress and caregiver burnout the same thing? I mean, I’m looking at my Google search results and they seem to use “caregiver stress” and “caregiver burnout” synonymously.

Well, they’re not. What do I mean? Let’s take a closer look.

Author Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out in a blog post entitled The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late on Psychologytoday.com, “When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, you are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.”

 

But, you may be asking, when does stress cross over and become burn-out?

Short answer, it can be different for each person. It is when a loved one is being rushed yet again to the emergency room? Or when one’s mother or father move in and turn a once relatively quiet existence upside down? Perhaps it’s when the doctor gives the dreaded diagnosis after months of a loved one having this or that illness? It may be any one or none of those things.

So . . .

 

Could you be burnt out and not even know it?

 

Maybe.

Several weeks ago, I was preparing to do a Facebook Livestream. The topic? What else? Caregiver Burnout. I read a bunch of articles and blog posts. To my surprise, I found myself identifying with many of the symptoms: inability to function, detachment, overwhelm.

I was amazed. Truly, it was an eye-opener! I mean, I’d been accused of being detached. Imagine my surprise!

To be honest it made total sense. After all, my parents had died. I was busy at my job. I was trying to catch up with things, things that were important to me, things I let slide during my parents’ illnesses and death. In essence, I was trying to get my life back, all while still struggling with exhaustion.

I had no idea I was burnt out, but as Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. reminds us in her blog post, The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late in Psycologytoday.com, “You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden ‘have burnout.’ Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it much harder to recognize.”

 

So what do I do if I find I’m burnt out?

Even if you think you might be burnt out, the first thing I would do is get checked out by a physician and/or mental health professional, if for no other reason than to get an outsider’s point of view. Now, you can go and talk to a friend, neighbor, or relative and ask him or her if they think you are burnt out but the benefit of being evaluated by a health professional is that the medical professional:

 

  1. is objective,
  2. can help to alleviate the symptoms and
  3. can help to ultimately resolve the condition.

 

It’s so important to stay on top of caregiver burnout, I can’t stress it enough. If not for ourselves, then for the ones we care for.

You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole notion of selfishness vs selflessness. I mean, it’s great when we act selflessly; putting others’ needs ahead of our own, not expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s great. I get it. We feel important. We feel essential. And the truth is, we are.

But there also comes a time when we have to take care of ourselves as well and, no it’s not selfish for us to do so. In fact, if we look at it another way, we can put it along with all the myriad of other selfless acts we perform every day. I mean, we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can stay healthy so that we can take care of our mother, father, spouse, etc. 

And no, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not if I take care of myself I can’t take care of my loved one. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. Getting a little rest, doing something else while your loved one is well cared for (possibly in respite care) can make all the difference.

So . . . while waiting for our appointment with our medical professional how about figuring out how much stress we’re under. I know. The answer is “lots,” but “lots” doesn’t really say a lot and the more specific we can be as to the areas of where our stress the more we’ll be able to get out of our appointment. 

In last week’s blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I addressed ways we can assess our stress levels. My suggestion would be to start there, then once done, bring that information with us and talk about it during our appointment. 

The other reason is that once we know what our stress level is, we can start taking steps toward dialing it back. 

How do we dial it back?  Below are a few ideas:

 

  • Perform relaxation techniques 

    Deep breathing, meditation, deep relaxation are all really good methods for relaxing the body and mind.

 

  • Take a break 

    For some this is tricky. What if you can’t leave the house? What if your loved one is demanding? What if he or she needs to be able to see you or gets upset if he or she can’t? What happens then? Well, you can still take a break. How about sitting in a chair, eyes closed, listening to beautiful music or if you can’t even do that, how about imagining yourself in a lovely garden, perhaps the beach or mountains. Our minds are such powerful instruments. If we can’t change our external environment, how about changing our internal ones. We can put out mind to work in the service of relaxing US.

 

  • Relaxing around the difficulties and challenges 

    What I’m talking about here is a mind-shift. Okay, I can see you there, arms crossed, rolling your eyes but hear me out. What if, instead of tightening your bodies when your loved one says or does something irritating you take a deep breath instead? What if, instead of feeling that jab in the gut, that tightness in the shoulders, you shrug it off as nothing more than a thoughtless word? What if instead of wanting to scream when the doctor’s assistant tells you that the doctor is running two hours late, you simply accept it and let the anger simply wash over and out of you? What then? How much easier would your day be? I’m not saying that you should suppress or repress any emotion. That’s not it at all. And trust me what I’m saying isn’t easy (I’m still working on it) but what if instead of falling into old patterns of reacting, we choose a somewhat different way?

 

  • Find support

    Talk to a friend, family member, someone that you trust and someone that you feel safe with. Remember, there are support groups: in your neighborhood, on the Internet, people who care, people who want to be there for you. Remember, when it comes to family caregiving, there can never be too much support.

 

Did you find the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

 

Let’s Talk About  Setting Boundaries

Let’s Talk About Setting Boundaries

By Karen Bromberg

 

So, when we speak about boundaries, what do we mean?

 

In a previous blog post entitled “The Importance of Learning to Say “No”, I discussed the reasons why we might say “Yes” when we really want to say “No”. Today I want to take it one step further. Today I want to talk about boundaries, what they are and why it’s important to have good ones. As caregivers, our boundaries are going to be tested, sometimes on a daily basis.

 

So what are boundaries? I like to think of them as invisible lines or walls, that if penetrated is immediately felt. There’s a discomfort, and usually, we find that we step back physically or mentally if we find someone’s crossed them.

 

Back in the 60s, there was a phrase when someone (usually from the opposite sex) was getting too close. “Hey man,” one might hear, “you’re invading my space.”

 

That’s what I mean of when I talk about boundaries, somebody crossing that invisible line and entering into your space.

 

Author Z. Hereford in an article on essentiallifeskills.net titled Healthy Personal Boundaries & How to Establish Them, says that “Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.”

 

We know what it feels when someone’s crossed a boundary, the uncomfortable sensation in the pit of our stomachs when someone whines and wheedles because we know they’re trying to play (or manipulate) us.

 

And, in my experience, it is worse when we’re caregivers. The stakes are higher and we are more vulnerable because the people we are dealing with are people we love. Our siblings who won’t lift a finger to help us out taking care of Mom, but always manage to somehow to be in crisis and ask you for help. You want to say something, but how can you? She’s your little sister. The spouse who seems to resent the time we spend at with Mom and Dad, thinking we’re having a good time when we’re busy doing the food shopping and helping them with their meals and bills. You want to say “Buzz off,” as you fall on the couch dead tired, but you don’t because he is so good and kind in other ways that you simply can’t. And then there’s our boss who REALLY wants us to stay late at the office to see a client he’s trying to avoid even though know what’s going on at home. Now, he could he ask someone else, but you are the only one out of everyone in the office he can rely on. What are you going to do?

 

Okay, I get it. But, why are boundaries so hard to set?

 

The “problem” with setting boundaries, at least the way I see it, is that we don’t want to be stubborn or rigid or inflexible. We don’t even want to appear it. We like it when people view us as the kind, helpful, “go-out-your-way” sort we view ourselves, am I right?

 

But as Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT says in What Are Personal Boundaries? How Do I Get Some? on psychcentral.com says, “Love can’t exist without boundaries.”

 

We say yes then get angry or resentful. And if that’s the way we roll, we’re  not going to change once we become caregivers. In fact, we may get more entrenched. And as Margarita Tatakovsky, M.S. says in her article on pychcentral.com entitled 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries, “boundary-building is a relatively new concept and a challenging one.”

 

So what do we do?

 

To my mind, the first thing is to become aware when our boundaries have been crossed become aware of that we’re feeling uncomfortable, angry, etc. Of when we’re feeling:

 

  • the tightness in the belly,
  • the discomfort in the head,
  • the feeling of wanting to lash out or get up and leave.

 

Just notice it. Nothing more and nothing less.  As the saying goes, everything flows from awareness. We don’t have to do anything about it. Becoming aware already sets different wheels in motion. Then try to determine when those physical feelings started. Was it:

Then try to determine when those physical feelings started. Was it:

  • when your coworker told that joke you found offensive?
  • when your spouse called to tell you he’s bringing friends home for dinner that you didn’t plan on?
  • when your sister called and said that she can’t possibly take Mom for her doctor’s appointment tomorrow, can you?

 

Once you know all that, then you can decide how you want to respond. The ball is in your court. You have control and can decide to respond in any way that you deem appropriate. The tail no longer wags the dog, And that doesn’t mean you saying “No” to everything all the time. You may, in fact, say “Yes” every single time to every single request put to you. The difference is that it’s now the choice is yours.

 

Got it! But isn’t setting boundaries as a caregiver something completely different?

 

Yes and no. True, it’s easier to set boundaries when the people you are dealing with aren’t family or people you’re emotionally involved with. Those folks you can walk from. But when it comes to family . . .

 

That’s a toughy, isn’t it?

 

Setting boundaries with loved ones, especially elderly and/or ailing loved ones, can be a REAL challenge. Guilt aside, we really don’t want to be yelling at our elderly parents or sick loved ones. And we always want what’s best for them. We want them healthy and happy, their well being uppermost in our minds. So what do we do?

The same thing I laid out above.

 

  1. Become aware of what’s going on with you:
    • mentally,
    • physically,
    • see where there might be tightness: in the shoulders, the lower back, the belly.

 

  1. Determine when you started feeling that way.
    • Did someone say something?
    • Did someone do something?

 

  1. Then take a few moments to think about how you want to react.
    • Ignore it? A totally reasonable thing to do.
    • Respond to it? But instead of the habitual knee jerk response typically given, you might find a new, more measured and positive response coming out of your lips.

Can hurt to try it.

 

Did you find this information useful? If so, please let us know in the comments section below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. Check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join her FREE Facebook group, the Caregiver’s Community. All you have to do is click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to connect with Karen directly, feel free to contact her at staff@helpyouthru.com.

 

 

The Importance of Learning to Say “No”

The Importance of Learning to Say “No”

By Karen Bromberg

 

Tell me, does this sound familiar?

 

You are your mother’s caregiver. Up until this time, she’s been relatively independent, but since your Dad died she’s been on the decline: walking slower, having more difficulty navigating the house. She’s fallen a couple of times and frankly, you are getting worried.

 

You speak to your spouse and children, and as a family decides the best thing for your mother is to move in. She’s happy enough with this decision and she’s happy to be living in your home. After all, she loves you, she loves your spouse and you kids are just the apple of her eye, but what she really wants is the life she had before.

 

To that end, she complains about everything: how hot or cold the house is, how clean the house isn’t, what she’s given to eat. Makes for some “interesting” times as you, your family and your mother settle into this new living arrangement.

 

Add to that, even in the best of times, your mother was never the easiest person in the world to get along. Now, with the move, the loss of your father, her new living arrangement and new schedule she’s forced to deal with, she’s being even more “challenging”.

 

And let us not forget your job and your boss who, even though he’s trying to understand why you recently seem to be so tired, he doesn’t. He’s never been a caregiver. So, he has no clue what your life has now become.

 

Despite the fact that your time is now taxed to the limit, you seem to be doing fine. At least, that’s what you tell yourself. Yes, you are exhausted but, you proudly say to yourself and anyone who’ll listen, that you are holding it all together.

 

Then one day your seven-year-old daughter comes home and says her teacher wants you to contact her. You find out that the teacher wants you to chair a committee they’re in the process of creating designed to look at ways educational goals for the students can better be met. The teacher, you learn, thought of you first. Why? Because ever since your daughter entered the school, you’ve been the first one with your hand in the air whenever it came time to volunteer for things to improve the school and your daughter’s education.

 

You think about it for a moment. Of course, you want to say yes. You’ll do anything you can for your child and her education. But how can you, now that your mother lives with you?

 

You think of ways you can juggle everything and still keep your head above water, but you know deep down inside that if one more thing is put on your plate you are going to drown.

 

You open your mouth. No is on your lips. Even though you’d love to be on that committee, you know you simply can’t. There’s just not enough of you to go around. You inhale but instead of saying “No”, you hear yourself saying “Yes”.

 

It surprised even you.

 

As soon as you hear the word come out of your mouth your body reacts. Tightness in the belly, back of the neck aching. You find you’re breathing a little bit faster. Look at that, not even officially on the committee yet (you still have to be approved by the principal) and already you’re stressed out.

 

As Paul Huljich, author of Learn to Say “No” on Psychologytoday.com writes, “The difficulty that we often experience in saying No, in being true to what we really want, can be a significant cause of stress.”

 

Now, I want to be clear here. I’m not saying that any one of us should say No our caregiving responsibilities. Absolutely not! The health and well-being of the person we are caring for needs to always be paramount. After all, we’ve taken on the mantle of “caregiver” (and really, would we have it any other way?).

 

What I’m talking about are those “extra” things: things we feel we “should” do, things that are hoisted upon us by others who may or may not realize what our caregiving lives are like, or things we take on because they are things we’d normally would take on prior to us becoming caregivers.

 

So, the questions becomes . . .

 

Why do we shy away from saying No and why is saying No so important?

 

Let’s tackle the first question. Why do we shy away from saying No? There might be any number of reasons why we default to saying Yes when really we want to say No. Among them are:

 

  • We don’t want others to look upon us a stuck up, “stick-in-the-mud” kind of person.
  • We think what’s being asked of us sounds like fun, and since we have so little, we “decide” to hop on board only to find that we feel even more exhausted.

 

Judith Sills, Ph.D. in an article on Psychologytoday.com entitled, The Power of No tells us that No, “is both easily misunderstood and difficult to engage.” She further tells us that, “Neuroscience supports our hunch that No is going to register far more harshly than we may have intended. The human brain is hardwired to respond to No more quickly, more intensely, and more persistently than to a positive signal.”

 

I actually found that fascinating when I first read it. We are hard-wired not to respond favorably to “No.” And don’t we experience that all the time? We say we can’t and people are taken aback. And, if we want to be truly honest with ourselves, don’t we respond the same way. Aren’t our tail-feathers are ruffled when someone says “No” to us?

 

But as Dr. Sills tells in the same article. “No says, ‘This is who I am; this is what I value; this is what I will and will not do; this is how I will choose to act,’” and that’s why saying no is so important.

 

But, saying it is still so hard

 

Totally true. But we have to learn, if not for ourselves then for those around us. Imagine being around someone who says “Yes” all the time, then turns around and bites your head off for apparently no reason?

 

So here is my suggestion – do a brief Google search on ways to say No. Really? That’s the best you can offer me you might be saying. Are you not going to give me a list of some easy steps to follow?

 

No, actually I’m not. Why? Because when you go onto Google you will quickly find article after article, blog post after blog post, most of them containing lists showing how to do that very thing and really, is one more list really going to help?

 

Now I could reprint all of them here, but are you honestly going to read them? And really who has time anyway?

 

So, go onto Google and find the articles that resonate with you, look at what they say, follow their suggestions as you see fit and see what works best for you.

 

Remember, you are the expert of your own situation.

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. Check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group. Simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. Feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com.

 

 

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