by Ed Moran, LCSW
I was an October child. In astrological terms it makes me a Libra, symbolized by the scales. I like to think this means I’m successful at viewing both sides of an issue. This ability provides me with a stellar sense of objectivity and allows me to find a comfortable balance in my life, which is a key to maintaining emotional health.
However, as caregivers, our lives take on the additional responsibility of another person’s well-being, and that can easily throw off our sense of balance.
There are so many things in our lives that can stand in the way of achieving emotional well-being. Constant stressful environments, loss and grief, divorce, and strained family relationships are just a few. Everyday we face countless assaults on our emotional health, especially as caregivers. This is a fact that we cannot deny or change. As much as we try to avoid it, stress and anxiety are natural — and surprisingly healthy — components of everyone’s life.
Yes, that’s right. Believe it or not, anxiety and stress serve a useful purpose.
We need certain levels of stress and anxiety in order to grow as individuals. It is through the battles with stress and anxiety that we learn how to manage these daily assaults that otherwise wreak havoc on us, both emotionally and physically, and wear us down to the point where we can’t function to our fullest capacity. And when we can’t function, everything and everyone around us is impacted in a negative way.
So what’s the answer? How do we turn the stress in our day-to-day lives, especially as caregivers, into something we can use to strive toward a consistent state of emotional health? Here are some tips:
- Get Enough Sleep: Sleep recharges our bodies and mind, which allows us to take on whatever the day may bring.
- Learn to Balance Work and Play: Too much of either one is not healthy. It is easy to get caught up in the daily caregiver routine and forget to enjoy the time with your loved one. Take a field trip or find some interesting activity to do together, just for the fun of it.
- Surround Yourself with Positive People: Frequent exposure to negativity can wear you down.
- Set Appropriate Personal Boundaries: As the saying goes, nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.
- Avoid Drugs or Alcohol When You’re Under Stress: Temporarily altering your consciousness won’t lead to any positive long-term changes.
- Do Something Just for Yourself: Go to a movie. Take a walk. Enjoy a sunrise or sunset. Find a person, whether paid or volunteer, who can give you 2-3 hours of respite — it’s essential.
- Learn to Let Go of Things You Cannot Control: Blowing horns and cursing at other drivers is an exercise in futility and definitely NOT conducive to emotional well-being. Remember that even when you’re not behind the wheel.
- Positive Self-Encouragement: This can change your overall outlook on life.
- Make Time for Leisure Activities: This can take your mind off what’s troubling you and help to recharge your emotional batteries. Finding a senior center that has activities for your loved one and allows you some leisure time is an excellent way to create some balance in your schedule.
- Talk to Someone You Can Trust: It’s important not to suppress your feelings. Let them out.
- Have a Sense of Humor: Laughter is the best medicine.
For many people, emotional well-being can be achieved and maintained using tips such as these. However, there are certainly times when biology and genetics can make life seem overwhelming and unbearable. In cases when more severe anxiety or depression is the culprit, help is available. A trained professional can help you identify the source of your pain so that you can tackle it together. In some cases, medication can be helpful while you work through your difficulties.
Is emotional health attainable? Yes. Is it easy? No, it’s not. For many people, there is a lifetime of pattern behavior that need to be altered in order to improve emotional well-being. There are often major lifestyle changes involved in this quest, so it’s important to understand that improvement will be gradual. However, when the day comes that you can sit in rush hour traffic on I-95 and simply say, “Oh well,” you’ll know your life has been changed forever.
Ed Moran, LCSW, is a clinical social worker at Family Centers, Inc, which serves New Canaan, Darien, Stamford and Greenwich, CT. He provides psychotherapy for children, adolescents and their families and runs after school support groups for middle and high school boys. For more information, visit www.familycenters.org or contact Ed at 203-655-4693.
Photo by Andrew Horowitz.