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.

Caring for Parents with Alzheimer’s or Dementia – Part One

Yesterday, my Mom was diagnosed by a neurologist with Lewy body dementia (known as LBD or DLB).

Me and my Mom, recently diagnosed with Lewy body dementia on our sailboat.

Me and my Mom, who was recently diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, on our sailboat.

The diagnosis was not a surprise. Her regular doctor had told us she had some form of dementia. The last two years my mother has progressively shown the symptoms of this disease and after a lot of research (something I’ve become good at thanks to my profession as a writer), I guessed as much.

At first, my Mom only needed part-time care and since I only lived about 15 minutes away, I was able to drive over as needed. However, that all changed when my Mom went into a deep sleep during the morning with the Rachel Ray show on and awakened confused. She thought she was at Rachel’s house and was going to walk “home.” Thank-goodness, she had trouble turning the alarm system off and called my brother to ask for help which saved the day.

So I have recently moved in with my Mom to help care for her full-time. I am grateful that I work at home on my laptop which makes this possible.

If you are a baby boomer with aging parents like me, there’s a good chance you will deal with this issue at some point.

One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Last year, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion.

LBD is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. It shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This means that people with this diagnosis will eventually develop a combination of similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral symptoms of these two illnesses.

Everyone is different, but some of my Mom’s symptoms are typical of LBD and include vivid hallucinations, lack of concentration, confusion, night terrors, daytime drowsiness and long naps, vocabulary problems, disorientation, memory problems, agitation, anxiety, and depression.

Add to that, some Parkinson-like symptoms including tremors, lack of motor skills, rigid muscles, difficulty walking, and balance problems.

In addition, my Mom is extremely sensitive to certain medications like antihistamine and pain medications which can cause intense hallucinations that last for days. Two years ago, my Mom had hip replacement surgery, and as I know now, the anesthesia can also cause severe problems. For six weeks, my Mom didn’t know where she was and didn’t always recognize me.

She has good days and bad days, but I know the condition will worsen over time.

My conflicting emotions have ranged from heartbreak to frustration to pure exhaustion and I know it is only going to become more challenging as time goes on.

Earlier, I wrote a blog, Caring for Aging Parents, with some general advice if you want to check it out.

I’m going to follow up that article with a three-part series of blogs written specifically to help caregivers like me whose parents have some form of dementia. The information will be for my own benefit as well as for my readers going through similar situations to help us all retain our joy through a difficult time.

Part Two will discuss the advantages and importance of an early diagnosis and Part Three will have specific tips for caregivers.

So stay tuned and we’ll all get through this together!

Embrace Your Flaws

I just heard about an Instagram account started by two mothers called “Love Your Lines.” The campaign encourages women to share photos of their stretch marks along with stories explaining why they have embraced the physical “imperfections” in their bodies.

The movement has quickly become a huge sensation.

Love, love this!

“More than 80 percent of Americans have stretch marks, and rather than hide them, or try creams and potions to make them fade, the account’s curators wanted to celebrate the experiences that give our bodies character and strength,” an article on Buzzfeed noted.

Walking the talk with a photo of myself with no make-up in harsh light.

Walking the talk with a photo of myself with no make-up in harsh light.

So here we go. I’m bravely joining the bandwagon with this photo of myself with no make-up in harsh, bright light to show off my crows’ feet and age spots. If I wanted to, I could also take pictures of some pretty hefty stretch marks from the birth of my two sons as well as from all the weight gains and losses over the years. Add to that an expanding middle, cellulite, and sagging body parts that naturally come with getting older.

What I Iove about this “Love Your Lines” campaign is that it inspires us to quit beating ourselves up and stop obsessing about fixing our “flaws.” Instead, the women are promoting the idea of appreciating the beauty of our bodies and the truth about our perceived imperfections.

Here are a few reasons why we should do just that:

Our Bodies Tell a Story

I’m in my 50’s now and my face and body tells the story of having lived life to its fullest. My laugh lines represent days of happiness including marrying the love of my life, giving birth to two children and seeing the birth of my three grandchildren, traveling around the world, and days spent sailing the ocean. My wrinkles reveal struggles overcome, worries about children, the stress of meeting deadlines, and caring for my aging mother. My “flaws” tell the unique story of my life.

Embrace FlawsLearning to Love Ourselves is Beneficial

As I wrote in my blog, “The Importance of Self-Acceptance,” if we want to gain a positive sense of whom we are and find our bliss, then we have to stop judging ourselves so harshly. The relationship we have with ourselves impacts our relationship with others. So be kind to yourself. Learn to love and accept yourself with all your imperfections. Value the idiosyncrasies of your appearance that makes you a one-of-a-kind, unique individual.

Letting Go of Perfection Will Make You Happier

There’s a new saying going around the Internet. “Good enough is the new perfect.” No doubt about it, perfection is overrated and can cause stress and depression. Losing those 10 pounds, removing wrinkles with plastic surgery, or getting rid of that cellulite doesn’t mean life will become perfect and you’ll automatically be happy. In fact, continually striving for those goals can actually make you unhappy.

Cellulite Never Stopped Anyone from Achieving Their Goals

Barbara Streisand embraced her large nose and went on to stardom. On the other hand, Jennifer Grey changed her distinctive nose and lost her fame. Is there a lesson here? I think so. Plenty of people, including famous writers, musicians, scientists, artists, and even actors have gone on to success with their imperfections intact. Look at Jamie Lee Curtis who embraced her naturally gray hair with style. Or Helen Mirren who let her features age naturally and became the poster woman for aging gracefully and confidently. As she recently told TV Times magazine: “I don’t want to be younger,” she said. “I accept the absolute reality of what is happening to me as the years pass.”

Embracing Your Flaws Will Help Keep Things in Perspective

Instead of focusing on physical imperfections, why not concentrate on what’s really important in life. Focus on what really makes you happy including your spirituality, your health, your loved ones, and your passions. As a quote says: “Remember being happy doesn’t mean you have it all – it simply means you’re thankful for what you have.”

So embrace your flaws. Realize how special and unique you are with all your so-called imperfections. Don’t let what you perceive as faults stand in your way of living life to the fullest. Love yourself for exactly who you are right at this moment.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Five Easy Relaxation Exercises

 Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you read my blog, by now you know that I’m moving.

And no, I’m not quite finished whining about it. This will be the last time – I promise.

It’s been awhile since we’ve gone through this process and, frankly, I forgot just how awful this all is – everything from showing the house, to all the paperwork, to the moving sale, to seeing my peaceful hamlet taken apart bit by bit, to the physical exhaustion, to the ticking clock as time runs out to get all the packing done.

That’s my current dilemma, but I know you all have your own stresses in life – some much worse than my own.

I recently read that when an octopus is stressed out, it eats itself. Gross, right?

We don’t want any of that happening, so I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss some relaxation techniques.

Fortunately, you don’t need a vacation, spa weekend, or a bucket load of time to practice the following five simple stress relieving tips that can get you from crazy to calm in 15 minutes or less:

1.   Just Breathe

Image courtesy ofstockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy ofstockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you’re stressed, do you find yourself taking short, shallow breaths from your upper chest? Stop that! You need to take deep breaths from the abdomen to inhale more oxygen, which will make you less anxious, slow down your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure. Take a quick 5-minute break and focus solely on your breathing. Sit comfortably or lie down, close your eyes, and put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth pushing out as much air as you can. The hand on your stomach should move while the hand on your chest should be fairly still.

2.  Be in the Moment

As I wrote in my blog, Savor the Day, slow down and stay in the present. Stop whatever you’re doing, take a deep breathe, take note of everything around you, and focus on all the details. No matter what you’re going through, use all your senses and absorb the beauty of a sunset, the laughter of a child, a hug from a friend, the sound of a bird singing, the first sip of coffee, the smells after a rainstorm, or the taste of a good piece of chocolate.

3.  Stay Connected

Whenever you’re stressed out, reach out to family and friends. Share your feelings. Some of us (myself included) tend to isolate ourselves when things get tough. Don’t! Your social network can be a great tool for reducing tension during trying times. If you can’t talk face-to-face, pick up the phone. Loved ones can give you sympathy, comfort, and encouragement, along with a fresh perspective.

4.  Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Remember when Lamaze was all the rage? One thing I learned from those classes is progressive muscle relaxation. You start by tensing and relaxing muscles in your toes and progressively work your way up to your neck and head or vice versa. Focus on tensing each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds. The great thing is you don’t have to be in labor to put this relaxation technique to work.

5.  Visualize

You’re probably familiar with this technique. Experts suggest closing your eyes and taking a mini-vacation in your mind. Go to your favorite place and visualize the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Lately, I’ve been watching Cedar Cove on Netflix which reminds me of how much I love Washington State where I lived briefly. Visualizing myself on Mount Rainier or sailing the San Juan Islands works well for me right now. You know where your special place is, so just close your eyes and go there!

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I only mentioned a few ways to decompress. There are plenty more. A heating pad, a neck massage from your spouse, or listening to calming music are other great ways to relax.

It doesn’t really matter which technique you pick. Just find one that works for you. Even on your busiest days – which are actually when you need these tips the most – try to set aside just a few moments twice a day to de-stress. Practice makes perfect and relaxation techniques are no different.

And if all else fails, keep your sense of humor. It’s like this joke I saw on Pinterest on how to handle stress like a dog. “If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.”

Sounds good to me. I just might try that!

 

Five Tips to Take the Stress Out of Moving

MovingOkay, although I blog about happiness, I am officially stressed out.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, “How Clearing Clutter Can Make You Happy,” after 15 years in our home, we are moving. Moving is recognized by researchers as one of the most stressful events in life. In fact, moving ranks up there with the death of a loved one or divorce.

I am not moving far – just 15 minutes away. My husband and I are building a house across the street from my parents so I can help my Mom who is suffering from health issues. In the meantime, we’ll be living with them.

Oh my! It feels like my life is being turned upside down.

So what can you do if you are in my shoes? Whether you’re moving just around the corner or to the other side of the world, packing can seem overwhelming and daunting, bringing on anxiety and even panic.

To help you out – and myself as well – I’m listing five tips to take some of the stress out of moving:

1.      Start Early

Even if you’re just thinking about putting your house on the market, get started right away. Clear out the clutter and start paring down to the essentials. Sell or donate items. If you need some ideas of what to get chuck, check out my blog. Take my word for it, the sooner the better. I should have started this process earlier.

2.      Be Organized

Have a system. Be sure and put room labels with a brief description on every box. Tip: Your cooking routine will be dramatically disrupted before, during, and after you move, so prepare a basic kitchen kit to have on hand. You don’t need a full set of pots, pans, dishes, or utensils. Just keep a few necessary items packed in one box and label “Essential Kitchen Tools” so you can whip up a few simple meals.

3.      Have Resources Ready

Nothing is more irritating than to be in the middle of packing and run out of boxes, tape, bubble wrap, or packing paper. Have plenty on hand. Keep towels, dish cloths, sheets, and blankets accessible to protect delicate items and furniture.

4.      Ask For Help

Admittedly, this is one of my downfalls. Don’t try to do everything yourself and then realize a day before your move that you’re not ready. Ask family and friends early on to help you out. Books, DVDs, china, and other items can be easily packed ahead of time with some help. Provide pizza and beer to show your appreciation. Thankfully, my children and siblings are helping me now, but I should have probably asked earlier.

5.      Take a Break

When your head is spinning and your nerves are shot, take a 15-20 minute break to clear your mind and calm your senses. Have a cup of tea, call a good friend and vent, close your eyes and listen to some relaxing music, watch something funny. You’ll come back with renewed energy and be able to get more accomplished.

Okay, those are my five tips. Now it’s time to get back to packing. Wish me luck!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Ten Ways to Improve Your Body Language and Feel Happier

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People can tell a lot about you by your body language. As Martha Graham said, “The body never lies.”  In fact, body language – - including your posture, the way you stand, sit, or walk, and your facial expressions – – can be a powerful tool that helps you be more successful and happier.

Recent research proves that fact and shows that body language has more far reaching implications on your mood and happiness than previously thought. Body language can even change your hormones and essentially mess with your mind, according to a recent Harvard study.

Perhaps your body language is bringing you down or lifting your spirits without you even realizing it.

For example, the study showed that when you stand in a posture of confidence by standing straight, putting your hands on your hips, and opening your shoulders, your testosterone levels increase while cortisol levels decrease. When you sit up straight, you feel more energetic and in control. You are also more likely to think positive thoughts and call to mind good memories. If you smile and laugh more, you feel happier. If you walk with a spring in your step, your energy level increases. On the other hand, if you walk hunched over, it can zap your energy.

That’s why it definitely pays to be aware of your body language and make necessary changes. These changes will not only make you feel better, but will help you communicate more effectively with others, improve your relationships, and be more successful in your career.

What if you tend to slouch and cross your legs like me? The good news is that you can change your body language and reap the benefits with just a bit of practice. Take note of how you sit, stand, walk, and communicate with others. Visualize how you could look more confident, happy, and relaxed. Observe and learn from others whose body language and attitude you admire. Then try practicing in front of a mirror. Don’t worry, no one will see you.

To get you started, here are 10 ways you can improve your body language:

  1. Keep your muscles relaxed.
  2. Slow down your movements.
  3. Don’t fidget, touch your face, shake your legs, or tap your fingers on a table.
  4. Loosen your shoulders and move them back slightly. You will feel less stressed and more calm, composed, and peaceful.
  5. Don’t be like me and constantly cross your arms or legs. Not only is it not good for your body, but it makes you seem defensive or guarded. Keep your body open and you’ll begin to feel more confident and comfortable in your own skin.
  6. Lighten up. Smile and laugh more. Research shows that you can trick your brain into thinking you’re on the road to happiness.
  7. Quit slouching. Sit and stand straight.
  8. Keep your head up and look ahead when you walk. It will put you at ease and in a better mood.
  9. Move happily too, with a spring in your step and with a relaxed swinging arms.
  10. Have a positive attitude. How you feel will come through in your body language and can make a major difference in not only how others see you, but how you see yourself.

Take one or two of these tips and work on it every day for a few weeks until they turn into new habits. Pretty soon you won’t even have to think about standing up straight or smiling more. Make your whole body say you are happy and self-confident and positive feelings and actions will follow.

Ten Ways to Start Your Morning Right

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Before I begin, let’s get something straight. I am not a morning person.

Like that joke, “I could be a morning person…if morning started at noon.” Okay, maybe I’m not quite that bad. Let’s just say I’m not one of those people you see out jogging at 5 a.m. And I prefer if no one talks to me until I’ve had my first cup of coffee.

That being said, I realize the importance of beginning my day happy and relaxed.

Those first few hours can set the tone for the rest of the day.

You can start the day stressing out while you’re making a frantic to-do list in your head or frustrated because you can’t find your keys. Or you can create joyful habits that start your morning off right and increase your chances of having a productive and happy day.

To help you start your day on a positive note, I’ve listed 10 keys to a great morning:

Plan Ahead

The night before take just a few moments to plan your wardrobe, make your lunch, set out your keys, and organize your to-do-list. Get to bed at a reasonable time so you avoid waking up late and rushing through a hectic morning. This is the ticket to waking up feeling in control and less stressed.

Stretch

 Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you first wake up, ease away stress and tension from the previous day with a few stretches. This way you can start your day in a relaxed and soothing manner before you even get out of bed. I’m not talking about breaking a sweat before breakfast. Just some quick and simple stretches. Begin by greeting the morning by raising your arms toward the sky and then above your head. Stretch your legs all the way to your toes and elongate your spine, stretching your back and ribcage. Sit up and stretch your neck and shoulders and incorporate a sitting side stretch to target your torso. With those simple steps, you get the blood flowing, provide extra oxygen to your tissues, and are limbered up and primed for the day.

Start Your Day Joyfully

Begin your day by doing something that makes you happy. I must confess, for me that means some quiet time savoring my first cup of coffee. Everyone is different. Maybe that means taking a long, hot shower, going for a jog, cuddling your spouse, listening to music, sitting on the porch, or some snuggle time with your kids or grandkids.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have a Relaxing Breakfast

Don’t skip this important part of the morning that provides energy and nutrition. Forget driving through McDonalds and eating at your desk. Make your favorite breakfast and eat it outside on the patio. Or listen to soothing music as you slowly enjoy the first meal of the day.

Pray, Meditate, and Breath

Purge yourself of negative energy by making time to pray, meditate on spiritual matters, or for some thoughtful introspection. Even if you are rushed, spare a minute to take several slow, deep breaths to stay in the present moment and begin your day with calmness.

Be Grateful

Consider at least one thing for which you are thankful. That item might include life itself, good health, your family, a beloved pet, your job, or just a simple pleasure. Jot it down or snap a picture on your phone to refer to later in the day when you feel stressed. See my blog, Start Each Day with a Grateful Heart, for more ideas.

Take in Nature

Take a moment to pause and marvel at the miracle of your surroundings. Step outside on your patio and enjoy the warm sunshine, listen to the rustle of the wind through the trees, watch birds frolic in your fountain. At the very least, bring fresh flowers indoors and allow the bright colors to raise your spirits. Or look out the window and open your senses to nature during those important early morning hours.

Read a Motivational Quote

Many people read or watch the morning news, which can be a negative way to start the day. How about reading something uplifting, inspiring, or even humorous which will provide positive or fun thoughts to keep you energized and hopeful throughout the day. For me, this means reading a daily text that contains an encouraging and motivational Scriptural thought.

Listen to Music

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spend a few minutes listening to music that makes you feel invigorated, relaxed, motivated, or inspired. Or keep the music on as you go through your morning routine. If you start your mornings on the computer like me, create playlists specifically for those early morning hours. Or simply sing your favorite song in the shower.

Show the Love

Connecting with the ones you love before you leave the house is a great positive way to start your day. Kiss and hug all the people in your house and tell them how much you love each and every one of them. Give your family pet some extra attention. You’ll experience joy and calmness and this action will keep you focused on what’s really important throughout your day.

There you go! Use these 10 tips and you can start the day on your own terms and make it a great day!

How Clearing Clutter Can Make You Happy

After living 15 years in the same house, we’re moving. Oh my, the STUFF we’ve collected and stored.

So the process begins. Last night, I was packing up my kitchen with my daughter-in-law. The cabinets were full of cookbooks I’ve never cracked open, expired food in the pantry, small kitchen appliances I never used, and then there was the dreaded “junk drawer.” As I was filling up trash bags and putting aside things to sell, I felt incredibly FREE.

Why hadn’t I done this sooner?

ClutterIn fact, why do we Americans love to collect stuff? A Self Storage Association study showed that by 2007, the normal family in the middle of a move that was using storage short-term did not represent most of their clients anymore. Half of renters were simply storing what wouldn’t fit in their homes, even though the size of the average American house had almost doubled in the previous 50 years. These clients, who often pay $1000 a year or more to store their excessive belongings, are contributing to a $154 billion industry.

Those who don’t rent storage units are packing clutter into their homes. The U.S. Department of Energy reported that one-quarter of people with two-car garages have so much stuff that they can’t park a car inside. Another study reported 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late and incur fees because they lose them.

Why are we doing this to ourselves when cleaning out all that clutter is so beneficial?

Think about it. Conquering clutter can clear the way for a more productive life.  Without physical obstructions like piles of unopened mail, old clothes, and Tupperware without lids getting in the way, you can get organized and do more in less time.

The National Association of Professional Organizers reports we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items. According to the National Soap and Detergent Association, getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40 percent of housework in the average home.

So are you ready to get rid of the clutter and make your life easier and happier? Here are some common things you can get rid of to get you started:

  • Any object you don’t love, enjoy, or use
  • Clothes and shoes that don’t fit, are damaged, or you haven’t worn in over a year
  • Things that might come in handy someday – but never do
  • Recipes and cookbooks you’ll never use
  • Half-finished projects
  • Photographs, letters, and cards from people you don’t remember
  • Books you’ll never get around to reading
  • Email and social media clutter
  • Old toiletries
  • Expired food and medicine
  • Old magazines and newspapers
  • Excess paper clutter in your home office
  • Any object or photograph that triggers bad memories

And the list goes on. You know what you need to do. Quit resisting the idea of letting go of stuff you’ll never use. Stop procrastinating. Get rid of all those projects you’ll never finish, all the junk you’ll never fix, and things that need to be handled but you don’t want to confront.

You’ll get rid of unwanted stress, improve the energy in your home, and make room for new opportunities, ideas, and possibilities.

The simple act of clearing out clutter enables you to see clearly what is working in your life and what no longer suits a purpose. This insight can give you the confidence to make other empowering decisions such as how you want to spend your time and who you want to spend it with.

Don’t get overwhelmed. Simply take it one step and one room at a time and work toward the goal of a clutter-free home.

As you donate, recycle, or dispose of your clutter, think of the happiness and freedom it will bring you. You’ll have more time to do things you want to do.

Conquer that clutter and begin living a life that you love!

 Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why Losing Weight Doesn’t Bring Happiness

Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m forever trying to lose those 10 extra pounds. But a recent study shows that I shouldn’t worry about it so much.

We all grew up with the myth that if our thighs weren’t slapping together and we could fit into that pair of skinny jeans or wear a bikini again, we’d be SO much happier.

Think again. Although there are reasons to watch our weight – like improving our health – it turns out chasing after happiness shouldn’t be one of them.

According to a recent survey for So Fabulous, a plus-size clothing line from the U.K.-based retailer Littlewoods.com, losing weight doesn’t necessarily make you happier. The survey asked 2,000 women about their current size, happiness, and body confidence. Researchers discovered that 49 percent of those whose weight had fluctuated in the past few years were happiest at a size 12 to 14. Fifty-two percent of size 2-4 women would prefer to be curvier. In addition, women who wore smaller sizes (2-8) were more critical of their bodies than those women who wore larger sizes.

Even more startlingly, according to a new study from the online journal, Plos One, researchers found those who slimmed down were 80 percent more likely to be depressed.

Should this come as a big surprise? Maybe not.

As a society, we tend to admire all those super skinny celebrities. But are they happy? How often do we read about their addiction problems, painful divorces, serial cheater husbands, and miserable lives? However, we often push those facts aside as we diligently imitate their latest crazy fad diets and weight loss methods.

“It’s not the external achievement of some goal that’s going to make us happy,” says clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. “You think that will automatically change your life in some meaningful way, but it could be that your life pretty much remains the same.”

Let’s face it. Happiness doesn’t—nor should it—depend on your weight. Your spirituality, finding purpose in life, your relationships with loved ones, and your overall health are much more important. These are the keys to finding joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

Most of us are aware of that fact, but can’t seem to quit striving after that perfect number in our heads. Even if the constant stress of dieting and depriving ourselves of foods that we enjoy makes us cranky and then depressed when we inevitably gain those 10 pounds back.

This obsession reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, Lonesome Dove, when  Gus McCrae tells a prostitute who thinks if she can only get to San Francisco, she’ll be happy: “If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.”

I’m not suggesting drinking buttermilk or seeking out feisty gentlemen, but hopefully, by now we’re older and wiser. Most of us have watched our weight yo-yo over the years and know that skinny doesn’t always equal happy.

Don’t get me wrong. I still would like to lose those extra 10 pounds (or maybe it’s more like 15 now). But that’s because I’m aware of the health benefits, not because I want the perfect body or because I think losing weight is the key to enjoying life.

And if I never lose those extra pounds, well, I can live with that.