Monthly Blog Archives: February 2017

Shut off you panic response and color

In the mid 1990s when assisted living communities were first popping up and I was an activity director, I was told that coloring was not an activity for older adults. It was childish. Period. Well no more! 2015 was the year of the adult coloring book. You can’t walk into a bookstore or art store without running into a display of adult coloring books and accompanying supplies.

It may seem a bit awkward to color as an adult, but the simple benefits of focusing on one thing will help you tame that part of your brain that thrives on stress: the amygdala. When you worry about your mom’s last doctor visit or your dad’s ability to bathe himself, your amygdala revs up and encourages you to worry more. With an amygdala out of control, it is nearly impossible to make decisions that will benefit anyone.

You never know when you will need to turn off your panic response, so why not
carry around something to color. While waiting to board a flight, a fellow passenger told me about her tricks for surviving a transcontinental flight. She not only had a coloring book of the AmsteMandala-150x150rdam canals, but a full set of travel color pencils and a sharpener. She was prepared for travel stress—missed flights, long lines, bad food—because just like caregiving, there will be stress in travel.

A clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic suggests that when we are focused on coloring, the distractions of our own lives evaporate into the background and allow us to be totally in the present. When we reduce mind clutter and distractions, we address caregiving challenges in a spirit of “let’s find a solution” vs. “nothing will help.”

I know how uncomfortable coloring may seem to many of you. It felt strange to me at first, too, but when I finally tried it some years ago, I found it to be both mesmerizing and rewarding. It’s a solo activity to help you find peace of mind and it can also be something you do with your loved ones. Sometimes simple conversation is stressfull. In those times, coloring separately can ease the stress, but still allow you to share time together doing the same activity.

Make it simple on yourself and start by downloading coloring samples. Open your mind and allow yourself to just color. See if by tuning into coloring, you are able to shut off your panic response. And remember, it’s not necessary to stay within the lines.

A Valentine’s Day Reminder for all ages

I will never forget where I was and how I felt when my dad informed me that he had asked a woman out on a date. A date? My dad…but wait, he’s married to my mom. My mom had died in January of 2002 and it was the fall of 2003 when we were having this conversation. I knew it wasn’t too soon, but none-the-less it felt, well, weird. My dad was informing me that he had asked a woman out because we lived in a small town and he was sure I’d hear about it from one of the many local town criers if he didn’t tell me himself.

He also wanted me to meet her, which I did. Is this what it feels like when ones parents meet their child’s first date? I wasn’t sure what my role was, so I asked my dad just what he wanted from me. My approval? My advice? Then, after I breathed in and out several times, I realized that my dad simply wanted me to share this part of his life with him. Nothing more was required of me.

snow heart in mittensForget attaching the adjectives “cute and little” in front of “older couple.” The Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) is redefining intimate relationships. My dad’s generation is formally known as the people who “had to get married in order to have sex.” They are now forming new relationships, ranging from walking down the traditional marriage path to living in separate houses in different states. It doesn’t matter if they share a bed or not. What matters most is intimacy—closeness, companionship and love. Valentine’s Day serves as reminder that we all—no matter our age—need relationships that sustain us. Happy Heart Day all!

Beating depression by being both busy and engaged

When I have too much down time between projects, I can easily spend more time sleeping or surfing Netflix than is good for me. I get stuck. My depression blooms when I am not engaged in IMG_2826 - Version 2meaningful activities. I lean on my SANE Method*, knowing that the first word, Supported, is crucial to moving through a tough period. I have a circle of safe and positive friends on whom I can call.

I also understand the importance of being busy. I don’t usually subscribe to “busyness for busyness sake,” but at times there is value in simply getting out and doing something—anything. This won’t sustain me in the long run, but it works to move me through to meaningful activities.

Family caregivers can easily fall into variations of a similar trap: thinking that the appearance of their parents being busy trumps the actuality of being involved in an activity that’s engaging and meaningful to them, or thinking that — like some impromptu cruise directors on the Good Ship Getting Older — it’s somehow now up to the children to constantly be planning activities for mom and dad.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of value, mental and physical, in spending time with your parents to help them stay active and busy. But I believe it’s the “slow times” and the hours when your folks are on their own, pursuing their own interests in their own ways, that provide the greatest payoffs for their emotional and bodily health.

Just as is true with yourself, the goal is to help your parents get into things they will find enjoyable over the longer term — including activities they might do solo and under their own direction — because those are the ones they’ll do regularly and sustain by themselves.

If you notice your parents isolating themselves more and more, try opening a conversation about what brings meaning to their lives. And ask them how you can support them. Your support — whether is be simply listening to them or assisting them with ideas — can be one of the single most important things you do for your parents.

*Supported, Appreciated, Not guilty and Energized.