As we close the book on the tumultuous year that was 2020, many people continue to experience a great deal of stress. While the COVID-19 pandemic persists, there are a variety of reasons to feel anxious. Uncertainty about a vaccine, worries about exposure, and isolation are among the most common.
Because chronic stress is linked to health issues ranging from headaches and weight gain to diabetes and heart disease, it’s important to learn healthy ways to navigate tough times. When you don’t have positive ways of coping, unhealthy behaviors are more likely to develop.
Many people find regular journaling eases stress. It can be a productive way to sort out your feelings, focus on your blessings, and keep grounded. In fact, University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker believes regular journaling may even improve your health.
Journaling your feelings and fears helps you find solutions and peace. It can strengthen your immune system, increasing your odds of fighting off infections and staying healthy.
How and Why You Should Journal
One study highlighted the importance of journaling about what is really getting you down. Researchers found that 47% of patients with a chronic health condition experienced improvement in their physical and emotional well-being after writing honestly about what was impacting their lives. In contrast, people who journaled solely about everyday activities only had a 24% improvement. The bottom line was writing about what really hurts is difficult but meaningful.
If you’ve never tried journaling before, here’s some advice for getting started:
- Your journal doesn’t have to be expensive or particularly beautiful. While something nice to write in might entice you to journal more, even a spiral notebook will work.
- Journal at least four times a week to document your fears and hopes. Twenty to thirty minutes at a time is optimal for many people.
- Write without stopping; don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Just keep going.
- Write this for your eyes only. You’ll be more inclined to be open and honest if you don’t worry about what others might think.
- If writing about something makes you too upset, stop. Take a break and try again another day.
The Therapeutic Value of Journaling When You are a Caregiver offers more tips on journaling for better health. While written for family caregivers, much of the advice can be applied to anyone.
Heritage Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand how fearful people are of being exposed to the coronavirus. Older adults are at highest risk for serious health consequences if they develop it. Coronavirus Precautions has tips to help you reduce your chances of being exposed, as well as information on our communities’ prevention measures. As conditions change, so will our response.
If you have ever kept a diary, you probably already know the clarity getting your thoughts down on paper can bring. Writing is a therapeutic form of self-expression known to relieve anxiety and stress.
The Therapeutic Value of Journaling for Caregivers
Caring for aging parents or another senior loved one can be tough on many different levels. There are moments of joy and then there are times of sadness. The rollercoaster of emotions is often difficult to manage.
Journaling is one tool family caregivers can use to process their own feelings and record life events. It provides family caregivers a safe place to honestly record their innermost thoughts.
Words that Heal
Journaling can also be a powerful healing tool for caregivers. A few common benefits include:
- Physical Health: Journaling positively impacts physical well-being. Research shows it can reduce symptoms of chronic diseases like arthritis and asthma.
- Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Caregivers may experience a wide range of emotions every day from sorrow and despair to joy and gratitude. Writing can help you understand and process difficult feelings like anger and resentment. It can also allow you to find moments of happiness amidst the toughest days of caregiving.
- Personal Time: Every family caregiver needs a few minutes of personal time every day. Journaling is a way to slow down and focus on your own feelings and fears.
- Problem-solving: Writing your worries down on paper allows you to access the right side of the brain. It’s the part of your brain where creative thought comes from. Let’s say you’ve been struggling with how to talk with your mother about her diabetes and the impact a poor diet is having on her health. After journaling about the problem, you may realize one solution is to talk with your mom about moving to a Michigan senior living community. Healthy meals that meet her dietary restrictions will be provided for her.
Journaling Prompts about Caregiving
If you would like to give journaling a try but aren’t quite sure how to get started, this exercise will help.
Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes once every day. Use the time to write freely and to complete each of the following sentences:
- Today I feel…
- I’m looking forward to…
- I’m worried about…
- I’m grateful for…
Remember, when you are a caregiver, it’s important to make an extra effort to take care of you. By caring for your own health and well-being, you can be present to more fully care for your senior loved one.
If a senior in your family has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you might find yourself wondering how they are feeling. As the disease impairs their communication skills, it can be tough to assess their emotional well-being. Dementia experts have long believed that people with even advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia can experience sadness and joy. However, there wasn’t any concrete evidence to prove it.
In 2010, a study conducted at the University of Iowa showed how emotions linger after memory fails. Let’s look at the study and how you can spark joy for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
What Research Shows about Alzheimer’s, Emotions, and Memory
The study was comprised of 34 older adults who were split into two groups: a group of adults with Alzheimer’s disease and a group of healthy adults.
Researchers first asked each participant how they were feeling and documented their responses. Once a baseline emotional status was determined, participants were shown eight movie and television scenes considered to be sad. Five minutes after participants were done watching the scenes, researchers asked each participant what they remembered and how they felt. They repeated these questions after 15 minutes and then again 30 minutes later.
After taking a five-minute break, the study resumed.
This time, participants were shown movie and television clips believed to stimulate joy and happiness. Researchers then asked each participant the same sequence of follow-up questions as before.
The study seemed to indicate that even though the participants with Alzheimer’s couldn’t recall what they watched, they did remember how the scenes made them feel. Their memories were gone, but the emotions lingered. Unfortunately, this research suggests that sadness is the emotion that lasts the longest.
While this study was small, it offers preliminary support for the need to create meaningful days and a positive environment for adults with Alzheimer’s. So, what can you do to spark joy for a loved one with dementia? Here are a few ideas you might find helpful.
Creating Happy Days for Adults with Dementia
- Exercise: Physical activity can help calm anxiety. It also promotes feelings of accomplishment and purpose, especially outdoor activities. Walking is a great option. During colder months, stretching or chair yoga can boost happiness.
- Music: Music therapy has well-documented therapeutic benefits. Play music from your loved one’s happiest days. If they are able, encourage them to dance or shuffle around a bit with you. They will not only benefit from the activity, but from the memories the music sparks. If you have kids in the house, try to get them to join you!
- Gardening: This is another life enrichment activity shown to benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease. Get supplies for a stand up or raised garden bed, container garden, or window box. These forms of gardening have a lower risk for falls. A word of caution: use only non-toxic plants in case the older adult ingests them. You might want to quickly review this list of toxic plants.
- Nature: People don’t always realize what a stressbuster spending time in nature can be. For an adult with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, caring for birds, watching the butterflies, and just relaxing in the sunshine can lift the spirit.
- Arts and crafts: One of the best parts of enjoying arts and crafts is the variety of ability levels these projects can encompass. From simple activities like putting photos in an album to more detailed ones like watercolor painting, the very process of creating is empowering.
- Pets: While you might not have time to adopt a dog or cat, a visit to a petting zoo or humane society might give your loved one a chance to enjoy a little pet therapy. Some rescue organizations look for volunteers to spend time with the animals they are trying to rehome. You could make it a weekly outing if your senior loved one is able to safely do so.
Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand the vital role life enrichment activities play in promoting joy and self-esteem in our residents with dementia. From raised gardening beds to music therapy, residents in our dementia care neighborhoods enjoy specialized programming designed to work with their abilities. Call the Heritage dementia care community nearest you to learn more today!
As 2021 draws to a close, most of us are looking forward to a fresh start. While many people use this time to make New Year’s resolutions, few stick to them. Since 2021 was another turbulent year, making wellness the focus for the upcoming year is more important than ever.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
Before you set any goals for 2022, it may be helpful to learn why so many people fail to stick with their resolutions. According to personal growth experts, there are many reasons people don’t meet their goals. Setting unrealistic resolutions, being impatient, and not having clear targets are a few leading reasons people give up. Resolutions rarely last more than a few weeks.
As you prepare to welcome 2022, remember to make your resolutions clear and attainable. Instead of listing “lose weight” or “exercise more” as goals, be more specific. How much weight do you want to lose each month? What is your overall weight loss goal? What kind of exercise will you engage in and how often? Setting specific, measurable objectives increases the likelihood of achieving your resolutions.
Think Holistically in 2022
While a well-balanced diet and regular exercise are important parts of your 2022 fitness plan, wellness involves much more than the body. It also means focusing on your mind and spirit.
Here are a few ways to get healthier in the new year:
- Limit screen time: Whether it’s scrolling social media or binge-watching the latest Netflix series, too much screen time is linked to a sedentary lifestyle. It can also contribute to stress and depression. Between COVID-19 challenges and nonstop political news, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you stare at screens too long. Limit your daily screen activity by setting very specific goals, including what types of programs you’ll watch and how much time you’ll spend on social media. While staying connected is important, overconsumption is unhealthy.
- Volunteer virtually: If you are limiting public interactions because of the coronavirus or winter weather, you can still donate your time and talent to a great cause. Nonprofit organizations have lost a lot of volunteers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have begun to create virtual volunteer jobs. Your local United Way agency might be able to help you find a virtual opportunity near you. Another option is to search an online volunteer network, like Volunteer Match. In addition to on-site volunteer jobs, they also maintain a database of agencies looking for remote support.
- Learn to meditate: Living in the moment is a matter of discipline. It is also necessary for a healthy life. Meditation is one way to accomplish this, and it can be performed anywhere. It’s also a good way to manage chronic pain. A few resources to help you get started are Headspace and Calm.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Before you go to sleep each night, write down 5–7 good things that happened to you during the day. Even simple joys such as playing catch with the dog or watching a cardinal at the bird feeder can help you develop a habit of focusing on the positive. During tumultuous times, journaling can help keep your mind and spirit on a healthy track.
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If you found this article to be of interest, bookmark the Heritage Senior Communities Blog and visit often. We publish new articles every week on topics ranging from healthy living to caregiving and senior care. It’s a great way to stay on top of the latest news on aging with success!
Winter can be a tough time of year for family caregivers, particularly those in colder climates like Michigan and Indiana. Cold, snowy days make it difficult to leave home. When you factor in the added worries associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, a caregiver might feel especially isolated. Those caring for a family member with dementia or another disease that impacts verbal skills may be exceptionally lonely.
These factors all put family caregivers at high risk for developing the winter blues. As we head into a season known for challenging weather, these tips may help ward off a case of the caregiver blues.
Blues Buster Tips for Family Caregivers
- Commit to a healthy diet.
Juggling the demands of caregiving along with your own responsibilities can take a toll on your overall wellness. A caregiver’s once-healthy diet may be sacrificed in the interest of saving time. Fast food and convenience foods might be quicker, but they can leave you tired and sluggish. These foods also contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
One of the few positives associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in grocery stores offering delivery services. There is also a wide variety of home meal services. If you aren’t able to fit grocery shopping and meal preparation into your busy schedule, take advantage of these services.
- Get daily exercise.
Caregivers sometimes think because they are busy all day, they get enough exercise. While the bustle of hectic days can feel like a workout, it’s probably not providing enough physical activity. Physical fitness activities increase energy, improve sleep, and beat stress. Each is vital for overall health.
Some caregivers find two or three shorter workouts easier to manage. Instead of trying to find 30 continuous minutes to exercise, work shorter fitness sessions into the day. Research shows it reaps the same health benefits as exercising for 30 straight minutes. Resistance bands, chair yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and 10-Minute Beginner Zumba are all activities you can do at home.
- Nurture the spirit.
Caregivers experience a range of emotions as they care for a senior loved one. From sadness to fear and guilt, it’s easy to second guess yourself. That can impact your mental health.
Activities such as meditation, journaling, or joining an online caregiver support group can nurture your spirit. In the midst of a dreary winter day or COVID-19 concerns, dedicating a few minutes a day to mental health is vital for caregivers.
- Enjoy a few laughs.
The old saying that laughter is the best medicine is true. It’s also something caregivers might not do very often. As you navigate your days this winter, look for opportunities to laugh. It will boost your mood, and likely help you beat the blues. Stream an old comedy in the evening, like The Office or Clueless. Invest in a joke book to read aloud with your loved one every morning.
Try looking at the difficult situations caregivers find themselves in from a different perspective. Humor can make tough tasks less emotionally taxing for you and the senior.
- See your doctor.
When you are focused on being the best caregiver possible, you may neglect your own health. Staying on track with physicals and routine health screenings is an important part of protecting your health. For example, a yearly physical might help identify a thyroid problem that may be causing you to feel blue.
If it’s been a while since your last physical, call your doctor to schedule an appointment. During your visit, make sure to inform them you are a caregiver under stress.
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We hope this information aids caregivers this winter. If you find this article to be of interest, bookmark the Heritage Blog and visit often. We routinely share the latest news on aging, senior care, caregiving, Alzheimer’s, and more!