Many of us have taken on an expanded role during this pandemic: serving as caregiver for vulnerable family and friends. Even if we are just checking in or doing some extra shopping, the additional responsibility—not to mention concern—adds to the already heightened level of stress and worry we are experiencing.
Let me share with you some simple strategies from our Head of Special Programs, Audette Rackley, MS, CCC/SLP, that are grounded in our years of experience with care partners such as military/veteran spouses, those with a family member facing early-stage Alzheimer’s, and parents of children with social cognition challenges:
- Find the humor: Shared laughter strengthens social bonds and rewards your brain with dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Be intentional about finding at least one opportunity a day to share a laugh with someone else, even if it is on you!
- Shift your perspective: In heeding recommendations for staying safe and doing the same for those in our care, we run the risk of over-focusing on all the possible risks and ruminating on all the bad that could happen. This is a “scarcity mindset,” which makes one feel trapped and diminishes the fact that much is still possible. Instead, practice an “abundance mindset” by considering new ways to do your favorite old things at whatever level is still possible. Reframing the possibilities can strengthen and grow our brain’s neural connections.
- Journal a daily victory: Is your mind in a whirl? Give journaling a try; it slows us down just enough to help us focus and reflect. And when we pause, we reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Here is a prompt to get started: What moments of joy, sadness, frustration, peace, loss or celebration have you shared? A victory of shared emotions could be as simple as finally getting out of bed, smelling a flower, listening to birds sing, eating 5 bites, enjoying ice cream, feeling like talking to an old friend, etc. This activity reinforces the brain’s preferential bias for the positive – especially as we age.
In caring for the more vulnerable among us, you are performing a selfless service that pays it forward. I offer these tips to give you comfort, hope and knowledge that these responsibilities are cognitive challenges that can strengthen your brain’s mental agility. Just think: by helping others, you are helping both your brain and those you care for to thrive.
Thank you for being a member of our BrainHealth community! Stay well.
Published April 30, 2020
See more messages from our Chief Director, Sandra Chapman, PhD here.