Recovering From Stressful Events

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever undergone a dramatic, shocking, or painful event that made your body shut down so you couldn’t sleep or eat? A distressing situation that left you literally shaking and unable to function normally in day-to-day life?

I certainly have and I’d lay bets that most of you have had this experience as well. When this happens, how can you heal and move forward in your life?

Here are a few life lessons I’m learning along the way:

Refuel

This means a lot of different things to different people. Personally, refueling during stressful times in my life has meant focusing on my spiritual needs and constant prayer. It means forcing my mind away from all the drama, stress, and worry to make room for more positive thoughts. It means leaning on those who support and love me.

Step Away

When you are in an overwhelming situation, remove yourself from the situation long enough to gain perspective, calm yourself, and regain your composure so you can move forward.

Image courtesy of khunaspix  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be Still

“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time,” Hermann Hesse said. When an event leaves you completely rattled, it’s helpful to leave the TV, computer, and electronic gadgets off to allow time for some quiet introspection.

Nurture Yourself

Do something peaceful and comforting that slows down frantic thoughts and emotions. This may mean reading something uplifting and inspirational, praying, journaling, taking a relaxing walk, or listening to soothing music.

Seek Lessons

Sometimes the best way to get past the melodrama and move on is to try to learn from the experience and look for any life lessons. Allow the painful situation to help you develop strength and resilience.

Be Grateful

Now is the perfect time to remember all the reasons you still have to be thankful. Keep a gratitude journal or make a list if you need help remembering.

Admittedly, keeping your sanity through a dramatic event is never easy. However, if you can keep these tips in mind, it will help you get past the emotional, psychological, and physical distress. Then you can regain the balance and peace in your life that everyone desires and deserves.

How to Express Your Feelings

“That was one of the saddest things about people–their most important thoughts and feelings often went unspoken and barely understood,” wrote Australian author Alexandra Adornetto.

Express Your FeelingsDo you tend to keep your feelings bottled up? Do you have trouble identifying and expressing your emotions?

It’s a common problem. There are several reasons people suppress their feelings. Maybe they grew up in a family that has trouble talking about their emotions. Or they’re afraid to say something that may cause an argument. Some people use the “silent treatment” assuming that those close to them should instinctively know how they feel.

Then there’s the perfectionists that don’t want to admit they have feelings they consider “bad” or “weak” such as depression, anger, shame, anxiety, jealousy, or guilt. Those who have self-esteem issues may feel like they don’t have the right to express their emotions and fear ridicule or rejection. Instead, they simply try to please people and meet their expectations.

Whatever the reason, constantly holding in our emotions is a recipe for disaster. If we’re not in touch with our feelings and never learn to properly express them, those emotions can overpower and overwhelm us leading to more anxiety and depression. It can even cause physical problems like headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure, or cardiac problems.

So what can you do to become better at expressing your feelings? Here are a few tips:

Understand Your Feelings

Do not label your feelings as right or wrong or judge yourself harshly because you have negative emotions. Everyone is imperfect. Feelings simply exist and everyone is entitled to have them. It’s also important to understand that although feelings cannot be controlled, they can be managed. For example, if you are feeling stressed or anxious, simple relaxation exercises may be helpful. A quick jog around the block may help dispel angry or irritable feelings. A good cry can help relieve sadness.

Share Your Feelings

Get in the habit of talking to someone you trust about your emotions. This can be your spouse, a close friend, a minister, a counselor, or a family member. Make sure you choose someone who is a good listener, can offer you emotional support, and encourages you to freely express your emotions without interrupting or judging you. You’ll immediately feel relief. A word of caution: Don’t get mad if others don’t feel the exact same way you. Also avoid re-hashing an upsetting event or bad situation over and over again which will only keep negative feelings alive.

Write Down Your Feelings

Okay, I’m a natural born writer and a big believer that keeping a journal to vent your feelings is a great way to express your emotions. In fact, I wrote a three-part series on the benefits of keeping a journal along with different methods and inspirations to keep you going. If you’re the creative type, try expressing your emotions in a poem or a song. Writing down your feelings is a wonderful outlet and a great way to learn more about your emotions.

Learn How to Express Anger Properly

Yes, it’s good to express your feelings, but be sure and “let it out” in a positive and healthy way. For example, if you are feeling angry with your spouse, start sentences with “I feel ________when ________” instead of an accusing, “You always…”  Be assertive without being aggressive. When you calmly express your emotions and needs, you are more likely to get the desired results.

Use the above tips to learn to identify and express your feelings in a healthy way. And don’t forget to give voice to positive feelings such as happiness and gratitude as well!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Build Resilience

Build Resilience“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” said Nelson Mandela.

So true. We all fall, stumble, fail, and make mistakes. We all have problems, setbacks, and challenges in our lives. No shame in that. Our true strength shows when we are able to rise back up when we fall. That means we must be resilient.

What exactly does that mean? The word “resilient” refers to people who have the ability to bounce back from adversity. People who persevere, persist, and never give up – no matter what life throws at them.

Are you resilient? Want to find out? Be brutally honest with yourself and answer the following questions:

  1. Do you let difficulties or challenges paralyze you from taking action?
  2. Do you dwell on your failures?
  3. Do you learn from your mistakes?
  4. Do you look at challenges as opportunities for personal growth?
  5. Are you deeply committed to your spiritual beliefs, relationships, and goals and willing to overcome any obstacles or setbacks that stand in your way?
  6. Do you spend time focusing on situations you can’t control?
  7. Do you have an optimistic and positive attitude about the future?

If you answered “no” to numbers 1, 2, and 6 and “yes” to numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7, then you are one of those irrepressible people that can adapt when things don’t go your way or according to plan. You are able to cope and move forward when tragedies or life changing events occur.

Don’t despair, however, if your answers are don’t match the ones I listed above. Resilience is not a trait or quality that people automatically have but involves thought patterns and behaviors that anyone can develop or change.

If your answers reveal that you need to improve on developing some resiliency in your life to help you overcome life’s challenges, here are some steps you can take:

Take Care of Yourself

Who can cope when they’re exhausted or run down? That’s why you need to focus on your spirituality, get enough sleep, eat properly, and nurture yourself by making time for activities that you enjoy. Also learn how to manage your stress (for tips see my previous blog). The stronger you are physically and emotionally, the easier it will be for you to overcome life’s challenges.

How to Build Resilience: Be FlexibleBe Flexible

If you tend to resist change and cling to comfort zones, learn to become more flexible. Sometimes even unplanned and unexpected changes in your life can be beneficial – even though it may not seem like it at the time. In fact, change can even bring excitement and adventure to your life. So learn to go with the flow. Resilient people realize that nothing stays the same and embrace change.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Every mistake teaches you an important life lesson and encourages personal growth. As William J. Clinton said, “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.”

Build Self Confidence

Resilient people strongly believe in themselves and fully trust that they will succeed eventually despite any obstacles or setbacks standing in their way. If you need to build up your self-esteem, make a list of your strengths and accomplishments. Set specific and achievable goals that will build your self-confidence when accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back whenever you are able to deal with a crisis successfully.

Develop Strong Relationships

During times of calamity or stressful situations, it’s important to have a network of people that will support you. Caring people allow you to share your feelings and give you positive feedback. Focus on helping and comforting others during their difficult times instead of focusing on yourself and you will not only develop strong relationships but also experience inner peace and joy.

Think Positively

Try not to blow things out of proportion or panic when faced with adversity. Instead remain calm and optimistic that things are going to get better. As I wrote in a previous blog:  “A positive attitude empowers you to make better decisions, opens doors to opportunity, and helps you overcome obstacles. Optimists tend to devise a plan of action, marshal their resources, and ask others for assistance and advice instead of dwelling on their misery.” Sometimes we can’t control situations but we can control how we react to them.

Resilience may take time to build, but don’t give up. As Jodi Picoult wrote in  My Sister’s Keeper: “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Ways to Manage Stress

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you have a tendency to feel stressed out and worry excessively?

Look out!

Maybe you heard the bad news last week. A new study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden followed a group of women in their 40s, whose disposition made them prone to anxiety, moodiness, and psychological distress, to see how many developed dementia over the next 38 years.

Turns out that women who were the most easily upset by stress were two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

That means now’s the time to get stress under control, ladies! No more ignoring the problem. And although the study didn’t include statistics for men, we all know that stress management is essential for both sexes since anxiety has a profound effect on our health and well-being.

So how do you take charge of your thoughts and emotions to manage your anxiety? How can you change the way you deal with problems and your schedule to control your anger, frustration, and worries?

To help you get started, I’ve outlined five steps you can take to relieve stress:

Identify What Makes You Anxious

The purpose of this step is not to eliminate every stressful situation in your life. That’s impossible. Everyone is going to have problems. Sometimes you must accept what can’t be changed and concentrate on coping strategies.

However, knowing what triggers anxious feelings can help you concentrate on what can be changed. For example, perhaps you can limit your time or even remove negative people from your life that constantly stress you out. Or maybe you need to let go of perfectionism or stop being so hard on yourself.

Be aware of signs that you are feeling stressed such as feeling irritable, fatigued, or anxious and make changes when possible. If a situation can’t be changed, then use the following steps to stop these feelings in their tracks.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Quit Ruminating and Cultivate a Positive Attitude

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude,” Maya Angelou famously said.

How can you quit ruminating and develop a more positive attitude? Change your thought pattern, start a journal to release angry or stressful thoughts, meditate, enjoy a relaxing hobby, or simply breathe deeply.

As I brought out in a previous blog on Cultivating a Positive Attitude, you don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances. Instead of dwelling on what’s wrong in your life, start thinking about how you can make better decisions in the future, what you can learn from the experience, and ways you can use the situation to build character and strength.

Bottling up emotions can lead to a complete meltdown. Instead of holding it all in, communicate any problems quickly and honestly. Resolve conflicts and learn to forgive.

Appreciate the good things in your life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Be grateful for what you have instead of lamenting what you lack. Smile and laugh more. Humor can help combat fear and frustrations by relaxing your body. Do something nice for someone to lift your spirits.

Learn to Manage Your Time

Sometimes stress can be a result of poor time-management skills. If a project seems overwhelming, try dividing it into smaller tasks giving each one a deadline. Delegate responsibilities whenever possible. If your schedule is cluttered with unnecessary activities that are stressful, learn to say no. Check out my previous blog for ways to do so. Eliminate words like “should” and “must” from your vocabulary.

Even if your life is full with exciting and fulfilling activities, you can feel stressed if you’re constantly rushing around. Cultivate inner peace by scheduling down time. Write it down in your calendar. Spend time in nature, play with a pet, call a friend, enjoy a hobby, listen to soothing music, or take a long bath. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stresses.

Exercise!

I know, duh! You already knew that exercise can help you feel less stressed, right? But sometimes when you’re feeling anxious, exercise seems unappealing and more like a chore.

Get past that attitude and don’t give up. As I wrote in my blog, How Exercise Makes You Happier, twenty minutes on a treadmill doesn’t solve all of life’s problems, but endorphins produced by exercise can help you feel happier by reducing stress and anxiety and lessening feelings of sadness or depression. I’m not talking about running a marathon here. Actually moderate exercise works best for relieving stress. Choose relaxing exercises like swimming, walking, or Pilates.

While you’re at it, adapt a healthy lifestyle with nutritious food and adequate sleep. Learn to breathe deeply and practice relaxation exercises. Click here for five basic ones I listed in a previous blog that you can try.

 Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Read a Book

This is one of my personal favorite ways to relax and escape from life’s problems.

Although often overlooked as a form of stress relief, research by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex shows that reading is great for your mental health and can reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent.

Yea! I have a new reason to delve into the latest best seller. Turns out the human mind processes reading in much the same way as meditation. When your head is in a book you can shut out distractions by focusing on one specific thing. Your muscles relax and your mind is given a much needed break from everyday frustrations.

If you are middle-aged or older, this new study is a wake-up call. Not only will you reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s but learning to reduce stress brings countless emotional and physical health benefits.

By knowing yourself well enough to tell when you’re under stress, you can take action as soon as possible, let go of all that anxiety, and find your bliss!

Long Term Happiness versus Instant Gratification

We all know that self-gratification doesn’t bring true happiness, right?

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But did you know that instant gratification – like eating a giant bowl of ice cream or pulling out a credit card to buy a fabulous pair of expensive shoes – can have the same physical effect on your genes as being depressed or stressed out?

An interesting article on CNN Health discussed the findings of a groundbreaking study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. The study found that people who experience the “well-being” that comes from self-gratification had high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression similar to people who are depressed or experiencing extremely stressful situations.

Whoops. I think that means we’re all in a bunch of trouble since instant self-gratification rules the world today.

You know what I mean. Think about ATM machines that provide instant cash, fast food supplying instant meals, the Internet with its access to instant information and entertainment – all of which has turned us into impatient beings that can’t tolerate waiting for anything.  We don’t want to take the time or energy to lose weight the sensible way. We’d rather take a pill for extra fast results. Instead of waiting for our hair to grow out, we spend thousands of dollars on hair extensions. Who cares if tanning beds increases our chance of skin cancer? We choose that over laying out in the sun for days. Why work on a marriage when we can get a quick divorce and move on to the next relationship? Instead of taking the time to sleep, we’d rather skip it and drink a Red Bull in the morning for instant energy.

You get my drift.

Now I’m going to show my age. I’ll try not to sound too preachy. But if you’re a baby boomer like me, you’ll remember that in the not so distant past we worked hard and waited for the things we wanted. When I got married over 35 years ago, my husband and I didn’t go on an expensive honeymoon, buy a luxurious house along with brand new furnishings, or even own a credit card. Nor did we expect these things. We lived in a modest apartment with used furniture our parents gave us, drove old cars, and waited patiently until we could afford to buy something with cash. And we were happy.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now we live in a society that wants everything right NOW and not a minute later.

Unfortunately, decisions made for the purpose of instant gratification are often made impulsively without much thought about future consequences. In addition, this attitude leads to frustration, anger, impatience which can cause health problems.

Family psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein makes some sobering observations. She explains that “we have become an immediate gratification culture, and we expect things to move quickly, efficiently and in the way we want. When that doesn’t happen, we tend to become increasingly  frustrated and irritable, [a sign] of impatience.” She adds, “We’ve lost the art of just slowing down and enjoying the moment.”

According to the CNN article, there are two types of well-being. Hedonic well-being comes from a self-involved experience that gives us instant pleasure and requires continuous action to constantly feed our positive emotions. This type of well-being is reliant on external factors and the satisfaction typically leaves as fast as it comes. For example, buying an expensive pair of shoes creates a temporary high but to keep that euphoric feeling we must keep shopping for the next quick fix. If something threatens our ability to seek out this kind of personal happiness – for example, all our credit cards are maxed out – our entire source of well-being is threatened.

The second type, eudaimonic well-being, is a kind of happiness that comes, not from consuming products, but from working toward something larger than ourselves that gives true meaning to life. If we’re pursuing something worthwhile that involves collaborating with other people, we’ll also find well-being in the connections we make and these associates can help us get through hard times. This type of well-being can bring long-term happiness.

That’s not to say that we should never reward ourselves with a bowl of ice cream or a great pair of shoes as a special treat every once in a while. We don’t have to wait to enjoy the present or our lives.

However, we’ll all be happier if we develop some self-control and avoid the habit of wanting everything this instant. As pointed out in the beginning of this article, constantly giving into momentary desires can actually make us feel depressed in the long run. Advertisers have become experts at convincing us that instant gratification is the key to happiness. Don’t buy it.

Shoot for long-term satisfaction and fulfillment instead.

The Arrest of Mr. Menopause

Every once in a while, I like to include a blog for those of you going down the road of menopausal madness.

I’m a firm believer in humor and after thinking about how much menopause steals everything near and dear to our hearts – including our sleep, our sanity, and our figure, I came up with an idea for a funny blog I wrote for Hot Flash Daily. By the way, if you’re going through menopause, be sure and check out some of the great and informative articles on this site.

Since I worked as a newspaper reporter for a few years, I envisioned how I would write up a news article about the justifiable arrest of Mr Menopause who preys on innocent women typically in their late 40s and early 50s. And yes, I assume Mr. MENopause is male. Just look at the name and besides, we know that the male population is to blame for all our woes.

So here’s a portion of that article. Hope you enjoy!

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At approximately 07:00 hours on May 10, 2008, Mrs. Julie A. Gorges, resident at 45 Hormonal Hell Avenue, reported a series of robberies.

During the early morning hours, the victim reported that Mr. Menopause had stolen her sleep. Gorges contends that previously she slept like a baby but was helpless when Menopause brandished the weapons night sweats, anxiety, and frequent urination. Not even Gorges’ friends, Netflix and Candy Crush, could save her from the ensuing misery.

She also reported her figure. was missing. While admitting that her waistline may not have been perfect previously, the robbery took away her ability to zip up her dresses and snap her pants. Thus, Menopause not only stole her shape but her dignity as well.

Around the same time, Gorges noticed all her skin moisture was gone. She asserts that previously she never experienced dry skin but now needs a bottle of lotion in every room in the house as well as the glove box in the car. Living in the desert, this is a serious loss, she lamented.

Gorges added hair loss to the list of alleged robberies. She suggested that perhaps Menopause was conspiring with the moisturizing and wig industry for their mutual benefit.

Finally, Gorges reported that her patience was missing. Once a reasonable woman, the victim stated that she is often annoyed with random people because they are breathing too much. However, it must be noted that when the officer smiled sympathetically, Gorges became agitated and warned him that he was one snarky smile away from a smack. She then promptly burst out in tears, reporting that Mr. Menopause had also heartlessly stolen her sanity.

Officer Tactless requested that they stick to the facts of the case and suggested that Gorges not allow the robberies to make her irrational. Gorges politely informed the officer that she would prefer the term “delightfully difficult” and it was in his best interest if he agreed.

Unfortunately, the interview took five hours since Menopause had also stolen Gorges’ memory and all her brain cells. When describing the toll that the robberies had taken on her family, it must be stated that the alleged victim couldn’t remember their names. “You know, that guy I married over 30 years ago and the two sons I gave birth to – their names escape me right now – but I can describe them for you,” she offered.

Gorges’ menstrual cycle was also stolen, but although she alleged Menopause was responsible, Gorges declined to press charges on that particular theft, whispering “good riddance” under her breath.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After a three-month investigation by the Hotflash Police Department, Menopause was taken into custody on Monday at his home located on Devilish Drive. Menopause was arraigned before Justice Michael Merciful and remanded to the HRT County Jail on one million pounds of chocolate bail for each charge to be dispensed to the millions of menopausal victims.

Why not give the story a happy ending?

As you can see from this article, Mr. Menopause attempted to steal Mrs. Gorges’ sense of humor, but she was able to hold on to that valuable asset.

;)

 

Why You Can Celebrate Turning 50

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This year the youngest of the baby boomers turns 50.

Here’s my confession: Although I didn’t blink an eye when I turned 30 or 40, three years ago when it was time to turn the big 5-0, I rallied against it.

Reaching the half-century mark felt like I was moving into the final phase of life and, well, like I was OLD. Menopause had arrived, it was time for a colonoscopy, and my bank offered me the dreaded senior discount. To add insult to injury, I had to have a dental implant and shoulder surgery.

Once I moved past the birthday, however, I soon changed my mind.

Fifty was actually a great time in my life. I had recently become a full-time minister, learned sign language, and did volunteer work with the deaf. I was still able to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing professionally and had taken on some new, interesting writing projects. I had a great marriage, kids, and grandkids.

On top of that, I came to value the experience and wisdom that only comes with age. I’ve learned to forgive more easily, to live more simply and in the present, to let go of perfection, to be more grateful, to value the people I love, and to laugh at myself. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff anymore – and learned that nearly everything is ‘small stuff.’

A lifelong people-pleaser, I learned to say no and to let go of people that only bring negativity to my life. I don’t have the energy, interest, or patience for drama anymore. Thanks to menopause, no more periods, PMS, threat of a late life pregnancy, or worries about cysts and fibroids. What freedom! And thank-goodness, achieving that perfect bikini body is no longer on my list of things to do, which is incredibly liberating.

In other words, fifty doesn’t mean you become the stereotypical frumpy, wrinkled menopausal witch or the over-sexed, botoxed cougar with fake boobs trying to nab that young guy.

 Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s true, 50 can be freaking fabulous!

Look at Katie Couric who became the first female solo anchor of a national evening news show right before she turned 50.  Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw the first of her Little House books published when she was in her 60s. Colonel Sanders didn’t come up with the secrete recipe until he was 50. Or how about the fab Diane Keaton who produced her seventh movie and realistically played the heartthrob of 39-year-old Keanu Reeves in the funny movie, Something’s Gotta Give, at the age of 57?

Michelle Obama, who dances and wears classy clothes, just turned 50. She told Parade magazine, “I have never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman.”

Personally, this has been true for me. I wouldn’t go back to my 20s with all its insecurities and angst if you paid me a million dollars. I finally know what makes me happy – what I want personally, spiritually, and professionally and how to get it.

“A seasoned woman is spicy,” writes Gail Sheehy, the over-50 author of Passages and founder of the Seasoned Women’s Network online. “She has been marinated in life experience. She is at the peak of her influence and power. She is committed to living fully and passionately in the second half of life, despite failures and false starts.”

I agree with Gail. We are seasoned, sassy, and spicy. Most of us are still physically strong at this age and ready to tackle new challenges. As an extra perk, it turns out we are smarter. Older folks performed better on four of six cognitive tests compared to when they were younger, according to the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which tracked the brain function of adults over the past 50 years. We’re also a lot better at abstract and spatial reasoning, verbal acumen, and even simple math, the study found. Maybe all that brain power is why mature women seem to control a lot of wealth in the U.S., with those age 50 and older controlling net worth of some $19 trillion.

In fact, more people over 50 are taking on “encore” careers, reinventing themselves in professions that follow their passions. Nonprofit group Encore.org, dedicated to helping professionals find their “second act,” notes that as many as 9 million people age 44 to 70 are getting paid for work that combines their personal passion with a social purpose.

Although a 2012 AARP study showed there is a U-shaped happiness curve with the early 50s as the lowest point of well-being, that’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why not embrace our age? That’s what I’m learning to do as I try to stay healthy and continue to try and learn new things – like blogging, paddle boarding, and zip lining.

There’s no reason to dread turning 60 either. Research shows that the oldest Americans (age 65 and up) are the happiest. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that in general we feel happier as we age.

So to those of you who are part of the over-50 crowd like me – let’s celebrate the fact that we’re alive and vibrant. Rejoice that we’re still young enough to live life to its fullest. Sure, we face problems and issues that are part of growing older, but the alternative is much, much worse. We should all be grateful that we get to be in our 50’s. Let’s not forget, not everyone gets that honor and privilege.

So if that big birthday is coming up, don’t be like me and mourn the fact that we’re getting older. Instead, go out there and make your fifties rock!

Five Ways to Become a Happy-Go-Lucky Person

 Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love the sound of the breezy, devil-may-care term, happy-go-lucky.

Merriam-Webster defines happy-go-lucky as blithely unconcerned and carefree. Synonyms include affable, laid-back, low-pressure, and mellow.

Perhaps more to the point, the Urban Dictionary defines happy-go-lucky as a person who is cheerful about most things, has a positive view on life, and annoys the you-know-what out of their friends. Don’t you love the quirkiness of Urban Dictionary?

Anyhow, perhaps being cheerful and endlessly optimistic is a bit annoying, but who cares? Actually, I am envious of those people because, although I have my silly moments, I am WAY too serious most the time.

So join me and my goal of lightening up. Think of all the benefits.

If you are laid-back, you’ll be less stressed out and definitely have more fun. If you have a carefree attitude, you’ll be more likely to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. If you are cheerful and have a positive attitude, people will want to be around you which will result in more friends and better relationships.

If you can become more of a happy-go-lucky person, I’d lay bets that you’ll find life more enjoyable and even more fulfilling.

Here are five ways to get you started on the path of that devil-may-care attitude:

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be a Little Silly

As I suggested in an earlier blog, unleash your silly every once in a while.

If you’re not sure how to do that, simply imitate children. My 5-year-old grandson is constantly cracking himself up. Pretend you’re a kid again and tell a silly joke, sing a silly song, wear a silly hat, make a silly face, or just think silly thoughts.

Children have that devil-may-care attitude that gives them freedom to act silly no matter who is watching. Copy some of that.

I saw this quote, “Live a life of love, honesty, appreciation, kindness, and strength. Sprinkled with a little silliness.”

Yeah! Let’s bring silly back!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choose Laughter

If it’s either laugh or cry – choose laughter.

So what if something goes wrong or your carefully laid out plans go awry. Learn to laugh at yourself. You’re a happy-go-lucky person now, remember? Don’t take yourself so seriously.

What if life is getting you down and laughter seems a million miles away? Watch a screwball sitcom or movie, listen to a stand-up comedy routine, or check out the latest silly YouTube video. You can even laugh at an absurd situation in your life. You’ll probably giggle about it later anyway. Why not be amused by it now?

Find Joy

I love this quote by Henri J. M. Nouwen: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. ”

Yes, many things are out of your control, but you can choose to be joyful. Yes, you can!

Don’t let stupid stuff you won’t even remember in a few years sap your good vibes. Mellow out! Don’t expect other people, events, or circumstances to bring you joy either. Your happiness must come from within. Focus on the good things in your life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Bring joy to others and you will increase your own. Try to do one thing every day that beings you some bliss.

In other words, get your “happy on” and don’t allow anyone or any situation to take it away from you.

Smile

Happy-go-lucky people smile a lot.

Research has confirmed that each time you curve your lips upward you throw a feel-good party for your brain. So just do it!

Think of a special moment with your spouse, or something silly your grandchild said, or a funny joke – fake it if you must. A beaming smile is magical because this facial gesture not only helps you, but invites others to smile with you and feel better too.

Whatever it takes, smile more and bring a little sunshine into your life and those around you.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be Playful

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” George Bernard Shaw famously said.

Being playful can boost your creativity, make you forget your worries, and connect you to the world in a fun and interesting way.

Not sure where to start? If you’ve forgotten how to play, take notes from your grandchild or even your dog. Finger paint, play badminton, have a costume party, or get out a favorite board game you loved as a child. Have a race with your dog. Keep a favorite toy on your desk. Put some funky music on and dance like crazy while you do chores. Be a bit mischievous.

There you go, five ways to start you down the path of becoming a happy-go-lucky person. Focus on the lighter side of life and quit stressing out so much.

Who knows, if you adapt some of these strategies it may even give you the emotional distance you need to come up with creative solutions to all those problems you’re worrying about.

And you’ll definitely be happier!

Caring for a Parent with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Part 3

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Part One of this series, I discussed my mother’s recent diagnosis with Lewy body dementia (LBD) and her symptoms which are similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In Part Two, I shared what I’ve learned about dementia along with our experience getting a proper diagnosis and all the benefits of doing so.

For the final article on my three-part series on caring for a parent with dementia, I’m going to focus on the needs of a caregiver.

In case you haven’t read my previous blogs, although I’ve been helping to care for my mother for the last couple of years, her symptoms have become worse and as a result, I have become a full-time caregiver. As I enter this new phase in my life, I’ve already experienced a wide range of emotions.

Since people with LBD have good days and bad days, I often get my hopes up on the days when my Mom seems “normal.” Then, inevitably those hopes are dashed when Mom begins hallucinating and thinks she sees a bear in the laundry room or her other symptoms manifest themselves. Then the heartbreak begins again.

On some days, I feel overwhelmed by Mom’s needs that range from pulling her up out of chairs, helping her dress, supervising showers, household chores, taking her to appointments, and distracting her when she’s having one of her vivid hallucinations.

Of course, I feel guilty whenever I become frustrated and lose my patience with my Mom over things that are no longer under her control. Sometimes I’m jealous of my siblings, who all help in their own way, but have so much more freedom than me.

And I mourn for the mother I used to know and love.

Not all my emotions are negative, however. I feel grateful that I work at home and can care for my mother to repay her for all the kindness and care she’s given me over the years. I’m happy that I can make this phase of her life a little easier. Thank goodness, we both have a sense of humor and we can laugh about some of the absurd situations we find ourselves in due to this sometimes bizarre disease.

This experience is challenging and rewarding at the same time. So what can we caregivers do while we’re on this crazy roller coaster ride of emotions?

I’m still learning as I go along, but here are a few tips I’ve garnered from my own experience so far, extensive research, the medical profession, and friends who have experience as caretakers:

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Educate Yourself

No matter what type of dementia your parent is suffering from, knowledge is power. Writing these blogs on caregiving has not only helped me express and release my emotions but the research has also educated me about LBD.

Learn everything you can from your doctors, books, websites, and support groups – including information about the disease itself, how to communicate with someone who is suffering with this disease, and ways to reduce the stress and frustration that is part of being a caregiver. You may also need to help educate other family members.

If you have a parent with LBD like me, there are some great books listed on Lewy Body Dementia Association’s website you may want to check out.

Take Care of Yourself

The same rule applies for caregivers as parents on an airplane. “Put your own oxygen mask on first.”

Several friends and family members who have gone through this experience have strongly advised me to care of my physical, spiritual, and emotional needs and recognize my limitations.

As a caregiver, you play a vital role in the life of your parent, so make sure you’re eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, and making some personal time for yourself. All caregivers need a time-out from their responsibilities for their own well-being and to prevent burnout and depression. Look for signs that you need a break such as feeling stressed and irritable.

Learn to accept help when it’s offered and ask family and friends for assistance when needed. In my case, I am fortunate to have a support team behind me. My  dear husband has been invaluable. I am one of four siblings, all of whom live close by. My brother lives in a casita on the property and works during the day, but is able to help out during the evenings and on weekends. One of my sisters takes my mother on outings every Thursday. On days when I’m overwhelmed or have an appointment, my other sister is on call. My two sons and daughter-in-laws as well as people in my congregation have also volunteered to assist as needed.

Even so, I realize that in the future, professional help may become necessary.

Find Support

Experts as well as doctors stress the importance of finding support and local resources in your community BEFORE you need them.

If your parent has LBD, you might want to start by checking out The Lewy Body Dementia Association’s website. Or you can call the LBD Caregiver Link (800-539-9767) or contact the online community of caregivers on the LBD Forum.

Caregivers can also turn to a California Caregiver Resource Center for assistance. In other states, resources can be found through local and state offices on aging and health such as your Area Agency on Aging or the Alzheimer’s Association in your area.

In addition to practicing these tips, I’m also learning to take one day at a time and as a religious person, I’m relying heavily on God to get me through this difficult time. In addition, I try and focus on meaningful moments I can still have with my Mom.

These are my thoughts and from time to time, I’ll share more information as I travel this journey. If you’re a caretaker, I’d love to hear some of your tips, thoughts, and feelings in the comments below.

Caring for a Parent with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Part Two

As I shared in my last blog, recently my Mom was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia (LBD). This news didn’t come as a big surprise since my Mom was having symptoms that included as hallucinations, mental confusion, vivid nightmares, and disorientation, along with several other problems.

However, it would have been helpful to have this diagnosis earlier.

In fact, three-quarters of the estimated 36 million people with dementia worldwide do not have a formal diagnosis, according to a report by the Alzheimer’s Society. I wanted to share my own experience so  you’ll understand the importance of getting an early diagnosis and can avoid some of the mistakes we made.

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Early Symptoms

A few years ago, my mother, now 77, began having problems typical of growing older. She couldn’t keep appointments straight, was easily confused, and often got words got mixed up.

After her hip replacement surgery two years ago, however, it became much, much worse. For six weeks, my Mom didn’t know where she was and often thought I was a nurse and not her daughter. Her surgeon acted like this was fairly normal after an older person is anesthetized. Although her mind improved, mentally she was never the same as before the operation.

When we brought this up with her primary physician, he gave her a mental test which she was unable to pass. “You knew something wasn’t right, didn’t you?” he asked. Then he ordered some blood work and a MRI of my Mom’s brain, which I thought would surely lead to a diagnosis. However, as I soon discovered, the test only eliminated other possible causes of my mother’s mental decline such as stroke.

Here’s what I learned: There is no single test that can show whether a person has Alzheimer’s or LBD. These diseases can only be diagnosed with complete accuracy after death with a brain autopsy. Nonetheless, experts estimate a skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia with more than 90 percent accuracy with a thorough medical history, mental testing, a physical and neurological exam, blood tests, and brain imaging to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.

Unfortunately, after the MRI did not show any conclusive results, my Mom’s doctor did not encourage us to see a neurologist, strongly hinting that there wasn’t a whole lot the medical field could do to help someone with dementia. On top of that, my Mom stubbornly insisted she did not want to visit a specialist. She was afraid of more testing, which she absolutely hated, and preferred not to know if she had Alzheimer’s.

After some research, it was clear that several of Mom’s symptoms matched LBD. However, I allowed my Mom’s feelings and her doctor’s advice to prevent me from getting a formal diagnosis – that is, until the hallucinations began. At first, they were the result of medications she was taking such as antihistamine and pain pills. If we avoided these drugs, she seemed okay. Then, the doctor prescribed water pills to help lower my Mom’s blood pressure and the hallucinations were so scary, we landed in Urgent Care.

That doctor pulled me into a room and told me that hallucinations were not a typical side effect of water pills and warned me that my Mom’s dementia would only get worse. She stressed the importance of seeing a neurologist who had the experience and expertise to determine which specific type of dementia was causing my mother’s symptoms. Although many types of dementia cannot be cured, she said, there are ways to manage symptoms and having an accurate diagnosis would help us plan for the future.

How right she was!

What I Learned About Dementia

Before all this happened, my knowledge of dementia was limited. In fact, I had never even heard of Lewy body dementia.

Here is what I learned: Dementia is actually not a single disease. It is a blanket term that describes a category of symptoms that can impact memory, judgment, language, and motor skills. These symptoms are triggered by brain diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Collectively, dementia is quite prevalent among aging people. Overall, about one-third of individuals aged 65 years and older develop at least one form of dementia by the time they die.

Three of the most common types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Early signs include difficulty remembering recent conversations, names or events, as well as apathy and depression. Later symptoms include impaired communication, poor judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
  • Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. LBD is associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein called Lewy bodies which affect chemicals in the brain. This brings on symptoms that include memory loss and thinking problems mimicking Alzheimer’s disease. However, people with LBD are more likely to have early symptoms such as sleep disturbances that can include night terrors, acting out dreams, and talking in their sleeps as well as vivid, well-formed visual hallucinations. LBD also includes Parkinson disease-like symptoms including muscle rigidity, difficulty walking, and tremors.
  • Vascular dementia is less common accounting for about 10 percent of dementia cases and is a result of brain injuries such as microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage. Impaired judgment or the ability to make decisions, plan, or organize is typical of onset symptoms instead of the memory loss associated with the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Other dementia diseases include Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus, Huntington’s disease, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Something else I’ve learned is that a patient can have “mixed dementia” which the neurologist said could be the case with my Mom. That means more than one type of dementia can occur simultaneously in the brain. Recent studies suggest that mixed dementia is more common than previously thought. In the most common form of mixed dementia, the abnormal protein deposits associated with Alzheimer’s disease coexist with blood vessel problems linked to vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s brain changes also often coexist with Lewy bodies. In some cases, a person may have brain changes linked to all three conditions — Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and LBD.

Why an Early Diagnosis is Important

While it is true that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or LBD, an early diagnosis is beneficial in several ways.

A specialist can help you find the right treatment plan for your parent that can include medications and lifestyle changes to help with symptoms. In my Mom’s case, her doctor prescribed drugs to help her with anxiety and depression as well as medication for her hallucinations.

In addition, health advisers can answer your questions as well as help you understand the different progressive stages of the disease and anticipate your parent’s needs. They can direct you to the support services that can help lessen the impact of dementia on you, your parent, and your family.

The unknown is scary and it was, in a strange way, comforting for me and my family – and even for my Mom – to know exactly what was causing her strange symptoms and what we could expect in the future.

Since dementia will progressively get worse, it’s important to develop a relationship with doctors, health care professionals, and support services. An early diagnosis will give you time to do so. You’ll also have more time to make plans for the future and allow your parent to express his or her wishes regarding care and living options.

One more thing, having a diagnosis can help caregivers make better informed medical decisions. For example, we learned that people with LBD “often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute confusional states (delirium) and/or may have a precipitous drop in functional abilities which may or may not be permanent,” according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). Although I doubt a specialist could have given my Mom an accurate diagnosis prior to her hip surgery, we now have information that will help us make wise decisions regarding any possible future surgeries.

So if you are noticing some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned, by all means, see a specialist which may include a neurologist, neuropsychologist, and gerontologist so your parent is accurately diagnosed and can reap all the benefits of an early diagnosis.

In my next blog, Part Three of this series, I’ll be sharing some specific tips for caregivers.