Archive for the ‘Stress Reduction’ Category

Reframing Negative Emotions When Life Throws You A Curve

Posted on February 10th, 2016 by karen

Help When Life Throws You A Curve

by Alana Pietrantuono, LMSW

When a loved one falls seriously ill, family members are faced with an unexpected turn of events, one that likely alters the plans they had spent their entire lives constructing. Accepting these changes is a challenge for anyone — they can leave you feeling as though your life has come to a screeching halt.

Joyce, a 35-year-old nurse, was on the verge of purchasing her first home. She had worked hard for many years and finally saved enough money to realize the dream of owning her own place. But when the health of her father, Charles, a 74-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer, took a turn for the worse, Joyce was forced to put her plans of home ownership on hold.

You see, Joyce had been her dad’s primary caregiver ever since her stepmother, Janet, passed away two years before, and it became clear to her that some serious sacrifices would have to be made in order to help her dad. She felt she had two choices: she could either quit her job and move in with her father to take care of him full-time, or continue working and spend the money she had saved for her condo to pay for his around-the-clock care at home. Charles would not consider moving to a nursing home, as he insisted he was still grieving the loss of wife and didn’t want to leave the house where he and Janet had lived together.

Joyce, for her part, was utterly destroyed by the loss of her home-owning dream. And while she felt guilty about this overwhelming emotion, she still couldn’t deny feeling angry and cheated. “I never thought that this is what my life would become,” she said at our first meeting. “I can’t even cope! But I can’t imagine leaving my father either. I would be a terrible daughter.”

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Meditation For Health

Posted on December 3rd, 2015 by karen

Single Cloud

by Karen Keller Capuciati

When friends tell me about their health issues, I often suggest they start meditating. And I usually I get a look that says, That’s nice, Karen, but I need a real solution to my problem.

But research on this topic is actually beginning to flourish. The National Institute for Health (NIH) is exploring the benefits of meditation for conditions as varied as asthma, panic attacks and heart disease, and there have been promising results. A number of studies indicate an actual cardiac benefit from various meditation techniques, while other research has demonstrated that meditation may indeed reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

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Breaking The Alzheimer’s Code: One Hundred Hankies For Joe

Posted on November 6th, 2015 by karen

alzheimer's providing security

We are happy to re-post this very special blog from August of 2014.


by Karen Keller Capuciati

I’m at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Annual Education Conference, held a few months ago in Cromwell, Connecticut. Jolene Brackey, the keynote speaker, is what you might call an Alzheimer’s visionary. After graduating from Iowa State University, Jolene began working as an interior designer but soon came to realize that she was more interested working with the people at the Alzheimer’s special care unit across the street from her design firm. She enjoyed the interaction with older people and began formulating her own unique ideas for helping people with dementia live in the moment.

She walks out into the audience and chooses a gentleman entirely at random. She asks him for his wallet and keys.

As the man dutifully hands over the items, Jolene declares, “I’m just going to place them up there behind my podium for a few hours. Okay? So that you don’t lose them.”

The man seems a bit confused but willing to play along.

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Caregiver Salvation: A Delicate Balance

Posted on October 29th, 2015 by karen

Caregiver Stress

by James McGinn, LPC, NCC

“My mom had always been fiercely independent and self-sufficient all of her life,” said Deborah, who, like many of my clients, was struggling with the increasing dependence of her elderly parent. Deborah’s mom, Helen, had been a proofreader for Springfield’s Republican newspaper for decades. Although her retirement in 1986 was bittersweet, Helen was at least partially comforted by her lifelong passion for reading, which brought her to the local library several times each week. As Helen grew older and less mobile, her library sojourns became less frequent, but, fortunately, the librarian with whom she’d built a friendship would drop books off at Helen’s home on her way to or from work.

Sometime around the year 2000, when Helen was in her early 70s, she began to experience distortions in her vision that was eventually diagnosed as macular degeneration, a progressive worsening of the eyesight due to retinal damage that accompanies old age. Macular degeneration can be slowed with vitamins and supplements but has no medical or surgical cure — blindness is the unfortunate prognosis. It’s a disease that regularly impacts millions of people around the world, but it hit Helen particularly hard. Reading had always been her refuge: she’d been able to compensate for the deterioration of other abilities and functions by maintaining an active mind through her love of books, as well as by completing the crossword puzzles in the newspaper everyday. Now, however, with her sight degrading, Helen was at a loss as to how she would cope with her steadily increasing limitations and maintain what little independence she had left.

Deborah had been an active support for her mom for some time, assisting her with errands and transportation needs, but she decided it was time to take on more responsibility for Helen’s daily care. While the obvious solution in cases like this is for the child, or children, to step in as the primary caregiver, it’s a complex and stressful arrangement to say the least. In addition to handling a multitude of duties on behalf of an aging loved one, a caregiver must also contend with the reversal of the parent-child dynamic, as well as the parent’s emotional response to losing their independence and stature. In other words, aside from supervising Helen’s finances, medical treatment, and daily routine, Deborah also had to face Helen’s injured psyche, which the older woman often expressed as criticism and displeasure with her daughter’s decisions.

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Forgive, Release, Let Go

Posted on October 22nd, 2015 by karen

Forgiveness Stone

by Lisa M. Wolfson

I have always been an advocate for self-improvement and growth, but in recent years, as a breast cancer survivor, my desire to make necessary changes has become a priority. I’ve come to realize that inner peace is at the core of maintaining a happy, healthy life.

Struggling with situations that don’t serve me well, but often feeling guilty about letting go of them, has been a continuing source of disquiet for me. Harboring resentments for the actions of others has brought me down and into a dark place. I would tell myself “let it go.” But how do I accomplish that?

When someone’s behavior hurts us or makes us angry, we may hold onto a resentment for the person or situation they’ve created or helped to create. We think of forgiveness as a timid act, an act of giving in. We focus on the source of our pain and decide that forgiving the person who caused that pain allows them to win. What we overlook is that dwelling on the pain hurts us more, lowering our energy, overwhelming our concentration, and undermining the better angels of our nature. In short, the act of holding onto pain hurts us more than it hurts anyone else. It holds us captive and renders us helpless.

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Meal Train: The Best Thing Since Chicken Soup

Posted on October 15th, 2015 by karen

Chicken Tortilla soup from Rosie in New Canaan CT

by Karen Keller Capuciati

When you have a sick friend and you want to help out, sometimes you don’t know what to do. Offers to help — Don’t hesitate to call me! — seem perfunctory. You don’t want to be intrusive or force your sick friend to assign you a job, but you’d really like to show your love and concern . . .

Helping can get complicated.

Well, it just got less complicated. Meal Train is an interactive online service that allows family, friends and neighbors to sign up for delivering meals to friends and loved ones going through difficult times and/or significant life events, whether it’s surgery, cancer treatments, grieving a recent loss, arrival of a new baby, or just to ease the strain of everyday caregiving.

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The Card

Posted on October 1st, 2015 by kim

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we at In Care of Dad proudly rerun this invaluable blog by breast cancer survivor Christine Taylor detailing the love, support and inspiration she received during her treatment and in the many years since.


by Christine Taylor

The first anniversary of my cancer diagnosis has arrived, and I now find myself having thoughts like “One year ago today I got the phone call” and “One year ago today I met my surgeon.”

I vividly remember the panic and fear I experienced back then. A year ago, my world was spinning faster than it had ever spun before, and I stood frozen in the middle. Now, a whole year later, I’m feeling healthy and stronger than I ever have. The entire experience has taught me about perspective.

In the midst of the swirling chaos that my life became last year, I also received the biggest outpouring of love and support I have ever experienced. All of the cards and sentiments people passed along were beautiful and I cherish them all, but there is one that stands out and has served me well as a tool for getting through the toughest times.

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The Nine Secrets To A Long Vibrant Life

Posted on September 3rd, 2015 by karen

Blue Zone healthy habits

by Kim Keller

If you were told you could live into your 100s, with good health of both mind and body, would you be interested?

If the answer is yes, then you might want to read this article, and maybe even take notes!

According to the findings of a joint investigation by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the National Geographic Society, and bestselling author Dan Buettner, the key to longevity — what these social scientists have labeled as “Blue Zones,” meaning communities around the globe where lifestyle choices have led to unusually long and healthy lives — is a combination of diet, exercise, family bonds, spirituality and personal fulfillment. The study explored places throughout the world where indigenous populations live vigorous and dynamic lives into their ninth and tenth decades. The researchers have examined the societal habits of these communities and noted what they have in common in the hopes of helping us all live longer and healthier lives.

The formula for longevity comprises these nine common features:

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20 Simple Ideas To Regain Mental Focus

Posted on August 13th, 2015 by karen

Tips for Regaining Focus

by Kim Keller

Stress and anxiety chip away at our ability to concentrate. Left unchecked, we can become paralyzed, virtually unable to move forward effectively in our lives.

Here are 20 simple actions you can take to reduce stress and regain your mental focus:

  1. Stay Hydrated — Water transports oxygen throughout your body, which in turn boosts your energy level and helps keep you alert.
  2. Wiggle Your Toes — Sounds silly, I know, but this great little “mindfulness” trick brings you back to the present moment and helps you refocus. Olivia Fox Cabane recommends this tip in her book, The Charisma Myth. Try it sometime.
  3. Create a Routine — Having a regular daily schedule simplifies life, which consequently eases stress by removing a major issue (laying out your itinerary for the day) that used to occupy your brain.
  4. Use the Mind Dump Exercise — When my brain is flooded, this exercise gives me comfort: I take 10 or 15 minutes to write down, as fast as I can, anything — anything at all — that comes to mind. It often starts with something like this: Why am I feeling SO stressed out?! I need to stop saying yes to everything! I need to get more sleep. All I want to eat is junk food! And on it goes. While the pages I create tend to be jumbled and chaotic, the exercise helps relieve anxiety and produce a sense of mental clarity.
  5. Don’t Worry AloneNed Hallowell, M.D., a bestselling author and world-renowned expert on ADHD, offers these next four tips, starting with Don’t worry alone. “Worrying alone tends to become toxic,” writes Hallowell, “because in isolation we lose perspective.” The benefit of sharing your fears and concerns is that “when you worry with someone else, you usually end up problem solving, as you feel more empowered and less alone.” So find someone to talk with and get the worries out of your own head.
  6. Get the Facts — “Toxic worry is rooted in wrong information, lack of information, or both,” explains Hallowell. Spend the time you’d normally waste on worry by getting the facts and learning what is true.
  7. Make a Plan — Use your energy to create a plan that helps you work through the problem, instead of using your energy to worry and fret. A plan will make you feel more confident and in control of your life.
  8. Think Happy Thoughts — “Thinking of things that promote warmth, connection, and happiness reduces the hormones associated with stress, fear, and anger that can impede concentration,” says Dr. Hallowell.
  9. Create a To-Do List — Trying to remember all of the little tasks on your plate takes too much mental effort. Instead, keep a list of everything you need to do, no matter how big or small, all in one place. I find it useful to review the list each night and make a smaller list that separates the items based on the tasks that must be completed the following day and those that I’d like to complete but aren’t quite as urgent. A to-do list is a great way to reduce anxiety.
  10. Use All of Your Senses — Make a point of practicing mindfulness by engaging all your senses. Next time you look at a tomato, for example, smell it, touch the skin, appreciate the shade of red, and, of course, taste it. Apply your senses whenever you can, and not just the most obvious ones. Take a moment to listen to the sounds of the day. Touch and smell things you normally just look at. Bring your entire sensory arsenal to bear on your everyday encounters.
  11. Noise-Canceling Headphone — To protect myself from distractions, I take breaks from phones, email, texting, etc., by wearing noise-canceling headphones and listening to music without words. This amplifies my focus and helps me fixate on whatever I’m trying to accomplish.
  12. Schedule Time to Worry — To avoid continual, uncontrolled worry, I find it helpful to allow myself actual worry time: I’m not going to worry about this tonight, I’m going to sleep, and I’ll make time in the morning to stress about this. It only works, though, if I make a pact with myself to devote equal time to reflect on what’s good in my life. This combination of scheduling worry time and giving equal attention to gratitude never fails to give me perspective. And comfort.
  13. Work in Small Doses — Whenever I’m overwhelmed, yet eager to be productive, I set a timer for, say, 10 minutes and then force myself to concentrate fully throughout the short time frame. When the timer goes off, I take a quick break, then I start again. At the 45-minute point, I take a longer break — 15 or 20 minutes. I’ve used this timer technique for years, and I just recently found out that there is an actual name for this approach: it’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
  14. Know Thyself — We all have times during the day when we can best focus; mine is in the morning. I try to organize my day so that anything requiring a lot of concentration and brainpower happens in the morning.
  15. Move —  Take a walk, dance, run up and down the stairs, anything to wake up your body and your brain.
  16. Get Rest — The converse to number 15 is also true. Sleep is a great healer. For the longest time I just accepted the notion that I wasn’t a good sleeper, that I wasn’t blessed with that particular gift. But in recent years I’ve come to realize that my inability to sleep well was just another bad habit I needed to break. So I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into the subject, and that prompted a number of In Care of Dad articles. These, in particular, I found helpful. Take a look. Sleep Strategies Part One and Part Two.
  17. Clean a Closet — Removing clutter and getting organized gives you a sense of accomplishment and a great lift. It creates momentum to tackle even larger problems.
  18. Memorize Something — Memorization keeps your mind sharp. Try a poem or the US state capitals. If that gets too easy, learn the lines to your favorite play.
  19. Eat Well — Reduce your sugar and caffeine intake. Eat foods that will give you natural energy, like fruits and veggies. Create a diet for yourself that reflects excellent nutritional balance.
  20. Take Time to Meditate — I know, I know, when you’re stressed out and overwhelmed, who has time to meditate? But trust me, finding 10 minutes a day to focus on your breathing and your inner calm will set the tone for you. Just get started. First thing in the morning, before your coffee, set your timer for 10 minutes, find a quiet spot to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take in a deep long breath. Hold it for a moment and then release a long slow exhale. To get me in the proper frame of mind, I say “in” as I take that deep breath, and then I say “out” as I let go and exhale.
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If Only There Was A Second Time Around

Posted on July 9th, 2015 by karen

If Only There Was A Second Time Around

by Kim Keller

As another anniversary of our father’s passing — July 16th, to be exact — approaches, my sister Karen and I find ourselves once again filled with regret for all the lessons learned, far too late in life, about how to help someone you love through serious illness.

Dad’s health issues lingered for quite some time, but during the last year of his life, he deteriorated at a tumultuous pace. It was a painful ordeal, and if it were possible to go back in time, Karen and I would do many things differently.

We would have more actively:

  1. Insisted that our father seek better medical care earlier in his illness. The critical lesson here: sometimes you just have to travel farther for better hospitals and doctors. Dad made his choices based primarily on location, and while we often questioned the quality of his doctors and their related facilities, we weren’t comfortable pushing this point with him, until it was far too late in the game. Given what we now know, we would have kept researching hospitals in the region until we found a teaching hospital with MAGNET status. Teaching hospitals generally attract higher caliber doctors, and a MAGNET designation indicates an impressive level of quality care bestowed upon patients by the nursing staff. Naturally, there are great hospitals that are not teaching facilities, as well as many without MAGNET status, but it’s an excellent place to start.
  2. Focused on how Dad could reduce the amount of medications he was taking. He had lots of specialists, especially as his health unraveled, and each doctor added a new prescription or two. Not enough attention was paid to the possible side effects and adverse interactions caused by combining so many medications. In fact, rather than scrutinizing the burgeoning list of drugs that were being pushed at our father, each new medical issue that cropped up heralded another new prescription. Given what we know now, we would have discussed the medication list with all the various specialists, starting with these five questions: (1) Are any of Dad’s symptoms a possible side effect of another medication? (2) What are the potential side effects of each drug? (3) Is this drug safe and/or effective for someone over 65? (4) Are there any issues to watch out for when this drug interacts with Dad’s other current medications? (5) Is there any harm in changing Dad’s diet and/or exercise regimen rather than prescribing another new medication? And to help us with our own research, we would have used, which is a great tool for fleshing out medication problems.
  3. Talked with our father about end-of-life issues. Dad already had a living will in place, so we thought we were covered in this important area, but we were wrong. We soon discovered that many common scenarios needing to be fully vetted are not handled by the average living will. For example, do you continue with aggressive treatments when they can’t cure you but can only sustain a bedridden life? Not an easy question to discuss, and we certainly never discussed this as a family, but at a certain point late in the illness, Dad was no longer able to give his input, and continuing treatments no longer held any promise of recovery. We decided to maintain the full-on treatments, but we’ve never been sure this was what Dad wanted. If we’d known back then about the critical importance of a wide-ranging end-of-life discussion, we would have used It’s an important resource that walks you through the fundamental questions that every family needs to consider.
  4. Established ourselves as coordinators for keeping track of all communication between and amongst the various medical personnel and caregivers attending to Dad. Karen and I just didn’t understand, at least not at first, that someone had to pull together all the various pieces of information relating to Dad’s care, from medication mandates and treatment instructions to exercise orders and diet alterations. Counting on the medical teams to coordinate and communicate was not realistic. We eventually learned to keep track of everything and to communicate everything. There was nothing too big or too small. Here are some of our charts and checklists.
  5. Created a support team around us to help us anticipate needs, develop a plan, make better decisions, and clue us in on available resources and tools. Frankly, back then we didn’t even realize we needed a support team, other than our father’s medical attendants. Dad had been sick for so long that we never would have believed we were facing his final year. Without a support team, we spent way too much time being reactive, putting out fires, floundering with decision-making. If we could do it all over again, without the pain and torture that Dad surely experienced, we would’ve reached out to people who had been down this path before. There are many places to start building a team: in-home care agencies, for example. Or local religious organizations, many of which have outreach programs, geriatric care managers, and senior centers. When we finally did build our team, we were relieved and finally confident that we were making sound decisions. We didn’t understand at that point how close we were to the end, but we were at least able to spend our time in a far more important and valuable way: loving our father and enjoying every last minute with him.
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