Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mini-Vacation by Pet

For my mini-vacation today, I pet the cat--and I don't even own a cat.

For you pet owners (even if your children are the "owners"), you already have a good handle on the "Mini-vacation by Pet". When you're feeling down or overwhelmed, you call to your pet and the roaming, four-legged kind comes to share a hug or a brief tussle. Or you meander over to the rabbit, bird or guinea pig cage and watch the little creature do its rabbit, bird or guinea pig thing. Mini-vacation by Pet is a marvelous event.

At this moment in my life, I don't have a pet, so I borrow my neighbor's. In our neighborhood, a quiet circle of townhomes, we have the official neighborhood cat. There are plenty of dogs who appear regularly at the end of their owners' leashes, but only one outdoor cat who has made the townhome circle and the surrounding land and woods his personal territory. His name is Fritz. He's slate grey with snow white markings and a quiet confidence that has most of the bird population shaking in their feathers. He transforms into Fritz, the Hunter, hunched and stealthy, when he's on the quest of a squirrel to tree.

He knows when I open my front door. He stops what he's doing and trots over to curl through my legs. I make sure that his head, neck and ears get a lot of attention because that's what he likes. I take time to talk with him and feel the soft fur under my fingers. I appreciate his lean, athletic form and his long grey tail. He purrs and meows and we share a few moments of simple companionship. Then as if by mutual consent, we both move away, he to another neighborhood adventure, me back into the house.

And I feel better. Simple as that.

Have you taken your mini-vacation today?

Blessings on your caregiving!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beware the SHOULD

There is one word in the English language that I'd swear is responsible for 75% of caregiver stress--SHOULD. As in, "I should visit Mom more often." Or "I should be doing more for my father." And you don't even say it aloud, but over and over in your mind. No wonder you're stressed.

And then there are the siblings of SHOULD adding another load of stress:
  • I ought to...
  • I need to...
  • I have to...
  • I've got to...
  • I must...

In my conversations with caregivers, I sometimes will ask "Why?" when someone shares a caregiving activity that seems overwhelming. "Why do you drive to your Mom's house every Saturday (a total of 6 hours of driving)? Your brother lives two blocks away." Answer: "Because I just HAVE to!" said with a slight whine and a plea for understanding.

Caregivers, this is not a good enough answer. This answer has a ring of martyrdom to it. If this is your answer for your caregiving, a good question to ask is, "Why am I doing this? For my parent or for me? Why does even thinking about this caring activity get me so stressed? Why do I think I HAVE to?"

Don't become a martyr. Be a caregiver. For yourself first, then your spouse, your kids, your parent. In that order.

As soon as you hear yourself (aloud or in your mind) use SHOULD or its siblings, stop. Right there. And remember SLICK:

  • S = Is your parent's or someone else's Safety at risk if you don't do your SHOULD?
  • L = Is you parent's or someone else's Life at risk if you don't do your SHOULD?
  • I = Is your SHOULD Important to your parent's basic needs--meals, clothing, shelter, healthcare?
  • C = What are the Consequences (to your parent, to your state of mind, to your family) if you don't do your SHOULD right now? (You might be surprised at how small the consequences usually are!)
  • K = Can someone else--someone you Know or your parent Knows--do your SHOULD?

If you've answered Yes to any of the first three questions, then your SHOULD needs some priority and you can use C and K to decide how to fill that SHOULD. Putting some emotional energy and effort behind this SHOULD is probably a proper thing.

If you've answered No to all three SLI questions, then it's all right to take this concern out of the SHOULD bag and change your language to "I'd like to..." "I'd like to spend more time with Dad." "I'd like to get that grass cut over at Mom's house sometime in the next week." Just changing the language takes off the pressure. Again, use C and K to decide how this activity you'd like to do will fit into your schedule--or into someone else's.

Beware the SHOULD and its siblings. Ask, "Why do I feel I should...?" Remember SLICK. Change the language to "I'd like to...".

Don't let a minor SHOULD stress you out. Kick that bad guy to the curb. Save your energy for the SLI stuff in caregiving.

Did you get your mini-vacation today?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Should I Be Anxious?

There are a LOT of statistics making the rounds of the Internet, some with no references to back-up the data, some reported by the American Institute of Stress and re-reported in ezine articles. One I've just read states that 75 - 90% of all doctor's visits are caused by stress-related illness. Headaches, high blood pressure, back pain, heartburn, ulcers--there can be a stress component to these and many more physical complaints. Even if only half the statistics are true, they are enough to tell us that stress, and the accompanying anxiety or anger, can affect our health, our mood, our lives.

We know that everyone has stress in their lives--caregivers have their own unique versions of stress--but the important factor is how we handle that stress, the anxiety, the anger.

In June 2010, ABC News did a report on anger management and Dr. Redford Williams from Duke University shared a 4-question check that you can take when you're feeling angry. I think it works just as well for anxiety. When you feel irritated or get that stomach-churning nervous feeling, ask yourself:
  1. What situation is triggering this feeling? Is this an important situation? Is someone in danger? Is there some injustice happening? Is it important to my well-being?
  2. Is it appropriate to be angry/anxious in this situation? Would my friends get angry in this situation? Would anyone feel anxious?
  3. Is the situation modifiable? Can I change anything about what's happening?
  4. Given the circumstances and possible consequences, is it worth it to do anything in this situation? Should I act on my anger/anxiety?

Pay close attention to Question 3. For caregivers, especially those of us who like to be in control, this is usually the most important question. In caregiving, we must often accept that we can not do anything in the current circumstance.

A "No" to any one of these questions, Dr. Williams says, means that the situation does not warrant intense emotion or action. Take a couple of deep breaths, remind yourself this is life with some frustration thrown in, use any mini-vacation techniques that work for you.

Four "Yes" answers, however, mean that this is probably a situation where your anger or anxiety is justified, and you should consider acting to change the situation.

I don't have many anger flare-ups, but I am a master of anxiety. I can get tied in knots about the smallest things. But when I use the 4-question check, I can objectively judge whether I need to be anxious about the situation or just LIB (Let it Be). Nine times out of ten, it's an LIB. For Number 10, I try to decide if I need to change or whether I need to influence the situation.

In caregiving, there are many opportunities for stirring the anxiety pot, but the 4-question check can help you calm that pot and realize that you can save your anxiety for another day.

Ah-h-h. That feels good!

Blessings on your caregiving.