Taking care of the caregivers

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A recent study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine offers practical advice for caregivers. The study was done with caregivers for those with dementia, but I’m sure it would be equally effective for any caregivers.

The lead author Judith Moskowitz, who also is the director of research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Feinberg, said teaching people to focus on positive emotions reduced their anxiety and depression in six weeks. Participants also reported improved physical health and a better attitude toward caregiving.

The intervention included eight skills that evidence shows increase positive emotions. An intervention such as this doesn’t require licensed therapists and can be easily provided.

Skills taught to participants in the study:

    • 1. Recognizing a positive event each day

2. Savoring that positive event and logging it in a journal or telling someone about it

3. Starting a daily gratitude journal

4. Listing a personal strength each day and noting how you used this strength recently

5. Setting an attainable goal each day and noting your progress

6. Reporting a relatively minor stressor each day, then listing ways in which the event can be positively reappraised or reframed

7. Understanding small acts of kindness can have a big impact on positive emotion and practicing a small act of kindness each day

8. Practicing mindfulness through paying attention to daily experiences and with a daily 10-minute breathing exercise, concentrating on the breath

The positive emotion skill sessions, called LEAF (Life Enhancing Activities for Family caregivers), were presented by a facilitator via web conference, reaching caregivers across the United States. Caregivers, already stressed, didn’t even have to leave home to get the help they so badly needed.

Next, Moskowitz will launch a second study funded by the National Institute of Aging. In this one,  she will compare the facilitated version of the intervention to a self-guided online version of the intervention. If the self-guided version is as effective as the facilitated one, the LEAF program can be implemented widely at relatively low cost.

Positive Psychology has been around for a while. It was first recognized in 1998 by Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness, but apparently this is the first time it has been applied specifically to caregivers. The University of Pennsylvania, where Seligman still teaches, has an entire center and curriculum devoted to the field.

Personally, I try to follow this advice; however, I find it is easier said than done. What about you? Do you do any of these eight activities? Are they working for you?

 

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The great outdoors

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Even after living on a relatively rural island in Florida for more than 20 years, I still consider myself a city girl. I burn easily in the sun and bugs love to bite me, so I really don’t like spending time outdoors all that much. But a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan has given me incentive.

People have always been urged to commune with nature to reduce stress, but just how much time was needed and what kind of experience would do the trick weren’t known.

Lead author of the research, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, says people who spent 20 minutes a day in nature saw a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The “nature pill” prescription is sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.

Participants were studied over an eight week period. They were to spend 10 minutes or more, three days a week anywhere outside that made them feel like they’d interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading.

The 20 to 30 minute window produced the highest reduction in cortisol. After that, the benefit continued but at a lesser rate.

I guess I can spare 20 minutes outside on a stressful day, and what day isn’t? How do you feel about taking a “nature pill?”

 

TMI

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Without going into too much detail, I had the occasion to be in a group setting recently with two “helping” professionals. Both of them have master’s degrees, as do I, but either their education was lacking or mine was.

As I recall, therapy begins with listening. Offering an extended monologue about one’s own life obstacles and how brilliantly one overame them is not helpful or effective. Neither is doling out platitudes. And neither, especially, is taking a tough love approach with a person one has just met and whose circumstances you have not bothered to ask about.

I left the meeting in tears with a burgeoning headache. I most definitely will not engage with these two again.

What has been your experience with therapy or counseling? Did you feel supported? Were you given any real assistance?

 

 

Sing a happy song

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A study done on popular song lyrics indicates songs are expressing more anger and sadness and less joy.

Researchers at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan studied songs from the Billboard Hot 100 lists from the 1950s to 2016. Songs from the 1950s and from 1982 to 1984 reflected the least anger while those from the mid 1990s on reflected more.

Sadness, disgust, and fear also increased in song lyrics over time, but less sharply than did anger. Disgust increased gradually, but was lower in the early 1980s and higher in the mid and late 1990s. Popular music lyrics expressed more fear during the mid 1980s, and the fear decreased sharply in 1988. Another sharp increase in fear was observed in 1998 and 1999, with a sharp decrease in 2000.

The study also showed that joy was a dominant tone in popular music lyrics during the late 1950s, but it decreased over time and became much milder in the recent years. An exception was observed in the mid 1970s, when joy expressed in lyrics increased sharply.

Note that the songs analyzed were the most popular, in other words the ones consumers wanted to hear, not necessarily the ones songwriters most wanted to write.

The researchers didn’t seem to look at what was happening in the world duting the various time periods they mention. Did these events affect what people wanted to listen to? Below are some facts gleaned from a quick Internet search.

We’re all familiar with the “Happy Days” mood of the 1950s. Microsoft was started in 1975 and Margaret Thatcher was England’s Prime Minister.The period 1982 to 1984 was during the Reagan years. George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988. His son George W. Bush won the contested election in 2000.

Conversely, in 1998, Bill Clinton was denying his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

I wish the researchers would extend their analysis to the past two years. There seems to be a correlation between Republican regimes and more positive emotions. Or am I missing something? What do you think?

 

EI for #MeToo

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I have begun writing a book that I’d love some feedback on.

First, let me say that I in no way condone violence or criminal behavior and I am definitely not intending to blame the victims. That said, I think young women out in the workplace for the first time should learn to exercise some emotional intelligence to avoid becoming a #MeToo statistic. Or if not avoiding a bad situation, at least having some tools to deal with it.

 

Here’s an excerpt from my introduction:

But what about acts that are offensive, but not necessarily criminal. If you don’t want to rely on a human resources department that may or may not have your back, what alternative do you have?

Dr. Wayne Dyer defines a victim as someone who runs her life according to the dictates of others. He says you can rarely be victimized unless you allow it to happen. Ultimately, you are in charge of your own life.

I maintain that in order to be proactive, what you need is high EI or emotional intelligence. The good news is emotional intelligence can be learned.

Daniel Goleman popularized the term Emotional Intelligence in several books on this topic. Emotional intelligence can be divided into four basic categories: how well do you know yourself, how well can you manage your emotions, how well do you understand others, and how much influence can you exert over them.

Knowing yourself includes being able to understand your own personality and how you are perceived by others.

Controlling yourself involves problem solving and making decisions. It also means taking responsibility for your actions.

Understanding others means being able to interpret their words and actions and predict the outcome.

Influencing others involves getting them to do what you want. Or not do what you don’t want. Can you communicate so others will hear you? Can you resolve conflict?

 

Please email me and let me know what you think. 

 

Coaching with compassion

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Dr. Richard Boyatzis is a big deal in organizational behavior circles. His official titles on his web page at Case Western Reserve University take up a full paragraph. He has written seven books and a slew of articles outlining his Intentional Change Theory. I first learned of his work through a MOOC entitled Conversations That Inspire: Coaching, Learning, Leadership, and Change.

Boyatzis projects great warmth, and his theory reflects his own personality. He  advocates fostering of what he calls positive emotional attractors. Simply put, this entails coaching with compassion instead of coaching for compliance. The leader, boss, or coach should not focus on the problem or try to fix the employee. They should help the employee envision an ideal future. Only through a shared vision is organizational change possible.

Negative emotional attractors have a longer shelf life in our memory. Boyatzis estimates it takes three positives to counteract one negative interaction. Negative emotions, of course, mean stress. Chronic stress increases cortisol which turns off the immune system and inhibits growth of new tissue in the body. Chronic stress constricts peripheral vision literally and figuratively. We’re not interested in seeing new ideas or new people. That inhibits change from occurring.

My problem with Boyatzis and the authors of best-selling leadership books in general is that in my long and exceedingly checkered work life, I have encountered maybe one or two bosses who through education or instinct seemed to practice this approach.

Is it me? Am I just a malcontent, or have I had incredible bad luck in bosses? I would love to hear from anyone who has worked for one of these supportive leaders.

 

 

Function over form

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Instead of beating yourself up every year when you fail, yet again, to achieve your resolution to lose weight, why not learn to appreciate the body you have? What a concept.

Researchers at Florida State University have put together a program that helps participants feel better about themselves. Professor Pamela Keel has studied body image throughout her career. She notes that the ideal body type as portrayed in the media is unattainable for almost everybody. Although the resulting dissatisfaction with their bodies is particularly prevalent among young women, it affects an awful lot of people. After all, the majority of Americans are overweight.

So what do you do to counter the bad feelings? Take a deep breath and stand in front of a mirror with few or no clothes on. But instead of berating yourself, think about the function of your body parts. In other words, don’t focus on how fat you think your legs are. Instead, think about how they get you everywhere you want to go. Doing this draws on the idea of cognitive dissonance.  Positive statements that conflict with the negative thoughts you’ve had about your body eventually turn those thoughts around.

And once you start thinking more positively about yourself, you begin to take better care of yourself, and that may actually lead to the weight loss you wanted all along.

Win-win.

 

What do you say when you talk to yourself?

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One of the facets of emotional intelligence is the ability to control one’s emotions. Researchers at Michigan State College and the University of Michigan have discovered a simple technique.

Talk to yourself in third person. There is a name for this–illeism. Who knew?

For example, when I’m stressed, instead of my thinking “Why am I upset?” I should think “Why is Fran upset?” You know how it’s always easier to think clearly about someone else’s problems? This works the same way. Isn’t that genius? Just that tiny bit of psychological distance apparently does the trick.

This has all sorts of implications. Could it be used to treat those with PTSD? Or what about addictions?

My suggestion: if you try this at home, do the talking silently. Referring to yourself in the third person out loud is a wee bit pretentious.