Monthly Blog Archives: January 2017

Four tips to laughing with your folks

I love being with my dad when he watches any of Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies. He literally cries uncontrollably and I end up cracking up just watching him. Laughter often comes spontaneously, but there are some days when I have to purposefully seek out fun. Busy caregivers can easily get buried in all the tasks of giving care. “I don’t have time to goof off,” I had one family caregiver tell me. I hear you and I understand that there are many moments in life that feel nearly joyless.

So how do we bring back the fun? How do you play, goof off, act silly during a day? I am fortunate that the man I married is never without a joke—however screwy. And even though most of his puns and word plays are “groaners,” I laugh (as do his daughters; one Mallory and Johnof them seen in the picture,  being silly with dad). It’s good for our emotional health to laugh and it certainly lifts our moods, but that’s not the only benefit.

If we constantly work, work, work, without relief, then our brains — and our bodies — begin failing us. Want an upside? Playing actually helps us get things done. Think about times you’ve struggled to complete a task, becoming more and more frustrated with yourself. Then someone does something funny, you laugh — and suddenly the task is not so difficult. When we shift our thoughts and do something out of the ordinary, our brains are refreshed and begin humming along again. Our bodies benefit, too. It’s been said that when we laugh, we release endorphins — the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Some researchers also contend that as well as lowering blood pressure, laughter increases oxygen in the blood, which encourages healing. Whether or not that’s true, I’ve found that a good laugh is worth its weight in gold.

When it comes to spending time with your parents (something your parents crave and you may dread), nothing says you can’t spend your time together playing. If you’re constantly checking your phone when you’re with your parents, or fidgeting trying to find something else to chatter about while wondering how soon you can beat a hasty retreat, odds are you really need to play.

Try these four tips:

  1. Watch a funny movie together (Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels is one of my favorites)
  2. Put on music from their era and dance (Nothing beats 50s dance music with my dad!)
  3. Reading aloud from a favorite joke book (I’m a sucker for Garrison Keillor’s Pretty Good Joke Book)
  4. Retell funny family stories (Like the time my then little brother Dave had to “relieve himself” on a car trip. Dad pulled the car off the highway, only to have Dave face the car, spraying the front fenders, causing my dad drive in reverse down the highway shoulder!)

Caregiving means taking care of some tough issues. Don’t let it consume you. Give yourself permission to laugh and include some fun time! You can find many more tips in my updated edition of The Unexpected Caregiver. And please, share your tips with me.

How long should I grieve?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI remember crying at the oddest times after my mom died. I burst into tears while sitting on the toilet once and another time when presenting in front of a group. Tears come and it’s okay.

Grief is a reaction to loss and is ongoing in many caregiving situations. The person may be alive, but we’re watching pieces of them disappear. Caregivers suffer from a double grief: grieving the end of a loved one’s life, but also grieving the small, constant changes that continually take away and diminish the person we once knew. There’s also another grief: the loss of our life as we once knew it and as we had planned it to be (we don’t have more than one life).

Generally, we don’t “get over” grief. There is no set time frame for grieving, but we do want to move through it rather than get stuck in it. For some, grieving has been such a constant companion during caregiving, that once our loved one dies, it is more of a relief than a continuation of sadness. There is no judgment about grief, but please recognize that this period of time — however long or short — is part of the process. Allow yourself time. Feel what you feel, share with others and seek support. Then give yourself permission to move beyond grief. The goal isn’t to forget. The goal is to survive the time of grief, find a way to hold onto the memories and cherish what you had.

Taken from the New & Expanded Edition of The Unexpected Caregiver®: How to keep Mom & Dad active, safe, independent and yourself S.A.N.E.

Three Easy Exercise Tips for Busy Caregivers

Ever since I was on swim team in junior high, I’ve understood the value of exercise. (That doesn’t mean I’ve always done it… just, I’ve understood the value of it.)

Since I’m not always consistent, I get it that many family caregivers drop their exercise time in order to fit in another care task. How can you change that and put exercise at the top of your list?

I can be very hard on myself for not doing “enough,” but let’s turn that around! Whatever movement you can get into your day is good. Did you ever see the Blue-Cross, Blue-Shield commercial, “Do Dance” that introduced the “Do Groove Guy“? This commercial aired in 2004 in Minnesota to encourage people to get healthy by moving and doing or grooving. It’s a fantastic message: exercise can be as playful and individual as you make it.

Version 2These days I mix up my daily power walks and yoga with exercises I learned from a trainer I hired a few years back. I also dance–whenever and to a variety of music. The less time I spend worrying about when I will exercise and just move, the better. All that good oxygen that gets into your brain from movement will help you be move creative in your caregiving. Keep in mind these three tips:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  2. Get outside. Fresh air and a brisk walk does wonders
  3. Arm circles—10 forwards and 10 backwards will get your blood flowing

If you can focus on sneaking more movement in during your day instead of pressuring yourself to get “enough” exercise, I know you will be a happier caregiver.

Making SANE resolutions after the stressful holidays (Wait…haven’t I already missed the deadline?)

You’ve just gotten through the holidays and next up is writing New Year’s resolutions. Ugh! I like the idea a friend of mine shared on Facebook; she writes a letter to herself at the end of each year, sharing her hopes, dreams and fears. She seals it up and reads the letter a year later. I may have to start writing my “letter” in November, however, because after the holiday hubbub, I’m feeling a bit melancholy.

I also feel a bit vulnerable when writing down what it is I want to achieve or do or be “when I grow up.” So I listened to Brené Brown’s TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability. What struck me this time was when she said, “We can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.” Bingo!

impossible-possibleNow I can breathe, let go and figure out what I want for 2017. When I developed the SANE Method™ (Supported, Appreciated, Not Guilty and Energized) for caregivers, I knew it could also be used in many other life situations. Letting go of one year and looking forward to a new year is one such time the SANE Method™ can be used. Here’s how I used SANE™:


Support. I needed comfort and encouragement, so I called on a friend who could listen (without judgment) to my fears and hopes for the new year. Just the act of letting go of the negative allowed my dreams to spill out onto the page.

Appreciated. I am so thankful I asked for help. Finding ways to be grateful towards others is good, but self-appreciation can be even more important. It feels odd at first to purposefully appreciate your own actions, but just keep doing it. After a while, you will stop looking outwards for gratitude and start looking within.

Not Guilty. I used to feel guilty about asking for help (I grew up in Minnesota where we “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”) But no more! I’ve learned from wise friends and life experiences that feeling vulnerable is my wake up call to reach out. I don’t have to be in charge all the time. Vulnerability reminds me that I am one person in a much larger village and that looking to others for help is okay.

Energized. Because I’ve worked through the first three letters in the SANE Method™, I have energy to face future challenges. Now when I tweak my resolutions, I can look at them in a completely new light and really unleash my creativity. Doing this brings about more zest for life. And if I start going down the rabbit hole of feeling scared, I simply revisit Support.

You have not missed the deadline for writing your New Year’s resolutions. There is no deadline. And whether it’s writing your resolutions or noodling out how you will fit caregiving duties into your already busy schedule, try the SANE Method™. I know it will work for you, too.