Seven years ago, this maple tree in my back yard became ill. My tree guy said he thought it probably wouldn’t survive the fungus that had invaded. Leaves turned black as though burnt. A sun scar made an unsightly gash in the trunk. In time, the scar healed itself up. While some of the leaves still turn black, overall, the tree seems to have prevailed over the stress.
Has COVID wreaked havoc with YOUR memory? I have had trouble identifying what happened exactly WHEN during the last couple years. For example, what month was it when I watched that webinar I liked so much? This morning, I was looking for a link to that webinar. My brain guessed I had watched it in early fall…maybe? To my chagrin, I learned it was actually viewed in mid-December. Whoa! Apparently, my concept of time has been stretched like silly putty in the midst of this relentless pandemic. Unless…I am developing dementia…
That webinar, which concerns building resilience in times of stress, is what I want to write about here. So, I watched again. I’ll provide the link in case you want to view it yourself. It’s 14 minutes long and was created by the Leading Age organization especially for healthcare professionals working during the pandemic. I would argue that if you’ve been taking care of a person with dementia or you’ve had a loved one living in a dementia care community during this time, you can no doubt relate to issues of stress and burnout.
The webinar outlines three steps to managing stress and building resilience:
- PAUSE. Evaluate where you’ve got stress. How does it manifest?
- FIND TOOLS. Ask: What might I do in this moment to help?
- PRACTICE. Do that thing. NOW.
Building resilience helps us avoid burnout. Let’s unpack those three steps.
- PAUSE. This is described in the webinar as “taking the temperature of your stress”. Asking: How is my stress getting to me right now? Is it a physical feeling – pain or exhaustion? Is it upsetting my emotions – Do I feel fear, panic, sadness? Is my stress expressed cognitively, overwhelming my ability to think straight? (Something I’ve realized about myself is that I think much more clearly in the morning. A task that feels daunting to me in the mid to late afternoon is amazingly easier, and even fun, the next morning. Oh. Maybe coffee is at work there…) Or does stress impact my behavior – am I especially irritable, do I withdraw from others, am I overeating or abusing alcohol in order to cope?
Whatever your answer, even if it’s “all of the above”, which I sure hope it’s not, it’s good to recognize exactly HOW stress is affecting you. You’ll have a better handle on what TOOLS might help you deal with it.
- It helps to think about things that have helped you in the past, whether it’s exercise, drinking more water, taking a few deep breaths…in through the nose, like you’re smelling a rose…then blowing it out through your mouth, like you’re blowing out a candle. (Try that now if you’ve got 5 or 6 spare seconds. It’s something you can do even while zipping around from task to task. Maybe you could even work in several breaths.) That specific breathing is clinically recommended and recognized as restorative. YOU know the most about what helps YOU cope, so do identify successful strategies that you might have stopped thinking about. It might be reaching out to a particular friend, getting a hug from the person you are caring for (heck, give yourself two or three of those, you deserve them) or taking two minutes to work on a crossword.
- Movement is a great mood changer. Put on some music and dance in your chair. March in place. Listen to classical music and conduct it. (Some of you might incorporate this movement into your daily routine with your loved one. They need exercise too!) Get outside when and if you can. A change of environment is sometimes just the thing for stress.
- Self-talk is a handy tool, and guess what? This webinar assured me that IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE THE SELF-TALK! It actually helps us just to hear it! So, go ahead! Let yourself know: “I’VE GOT THIS!”, “I KNOW I CAN DO IT!”, or whatever script feels right in YOUR head.
- Distraction can be useful too. Look at photos or videos that make you smile, (Babies?...Puppies, anyone?) If you are sorely in need of a laugh, what can you access to supply that?
As you think about what tools work for YOU, just choose whatever in the moment seems easiest and most effective. Just try it. More good news: You don’t have to do it “right” and you don’t have to do it for very long.
When I am overwhelmed, remembering to get through something one step at a time is an effective reminder for me. When I feel lonely, reaching out to people who are in my circle of support is critical. What do YOU do when you need help? Who can you call upon? If no one comes to mind, perhaps you could get more resources in place. There are many Care Partner Support Groups that meet virtually these days. If this interests you, and your loved one lives at an Ebenezer community, ask at the front desk if there is currently an active support group. If you are caring for someone at home, call the Alzheimer’s Association’s Helpline (1.800.272.3900) for a listing of care partner groups that you might be able to join. By the way, you can call that number day or night, if you have caregiving challenges and need input.
- Pause. Evaluate how stress is impacting you.
- Choose a tool. What has worked for me before? Or - what might I try that I haven’t yet tried?
- Practice. Just DO it.
Here is the link to the webinar. Many thanks to Leading Age for creating such a practical, streamlined resource.
--Marysue Moses, Ebenezer Dimensions Program Coordinator