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?