By Sylvana Rinehart, Certified Concierge Care Advisor
If you are like me, you might be feeling somewhat uneasy and “out of sorts” lately. It has been a year of fears, hopes, sadness and many losses. Now we have a vaccine which is in itself a testimonial to incredible scientific progress and collaboration, but it brings a new wave of uncertainty due to distribution glitches. A major question now is when will we reach the magic number of people immunized to start “a new normal?” Another stress factor is the drastic economic downturn and financial hardship for a large portion of the population, affecting many singles, families, minorities and elderly citizens. As if this was not enough, we have had a difficult year with pre-and post-elections politics, insurrections, and natural disasters from fires to floods and cold weather. Our hearts at Concierge Care Advisors have ached along with the seniors and their families who have been separated from their loved ones due to the Pandemic – some close to a year – not being able to hug, touch and feel the warmth of an embrace or a simple kiss of a loved one. It is impossible not to be affected, either directly or indirectly, by all of this and fall into a downward spiral if one isn’t attentive.
In doing my research for this article I found that what we are going through in our lives currently is nothing new. Some of our seniors witnessed this in their younger years. In 1935, there was a series of catastrophic events – unemployment was at 20 percent, a potential polio vaccine was failing trials, and a thousand-mile dust storm carried away much of Oklahoma soil. Fortune magazine introduced its readers to “The Nervous Breakdown,” which was soon reprinted as a book. The nervous breakdown was deemed to be “as widespread as the common cold and the main source of misery in the modern world.” It was not considered “a mental illness but a physiological one.” In the 21st century we no longer talk about nervous breakdowns because it is frowned upon to take a break for several months and regenerate ourselves like it was possible in the 1930’s for some to go to luxurious sanatoriums to heal and come back with renewed energy. We now talk about “selfcare,” stress management techniques like Mindfulness, exercise and proper nutrition. I will share with you my approach to dealing with stress and anxiety.
According to Emma Kavanagh, Psychologist and author of The Devil You Know, “one of the most powerful coping mechanisms is looking for the good in the environment. If we train our brains to focus on the positive, it changes how we interact with the world cognitively. Encouraging ourselves to go out into the world encourages the prefrontal cortex to work more effectively, which is good for creativity and attention encouraging better function.” I have found that to be true and it works for me. Luckily, I consider myself a positive person, and my “glass is always half full.” As soon as I feel my energy dipping down, I know it’s time to start a new regimen. Nature is what nurtures me, so I go on an early morning walk, alone, because when I walk with my husband and my dog, invariably one of them needs to stop to smell every bush on the way – (not the two legged one!) This is my time free from electronic devices or to-do lists. It is time to be “in the moment” and enjoy the forest I walk through, look at the trees, the leaves, listen to the birds, feel the ground I walk on, and smell the early morning air. As soon as I am out of the forest and can see the Sound and the Olympics, I take a deep breath and feel thankful to be able to witness this gorgeous sight regularly. I come home invigorated and with more bounce to my step to confront my day. One could say that during that half hour and roughly two miles brisk walk, I practice Mindfulness. Amy Sullivan, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, says that Mindfulness “teaches us how to stay in the here and now, instead of toward fear and uncertainty in the future.” One easy exercise involves going no further than your own pantry. Grab an orange or other citrus fruit, and then take some time to really examine it as if you’d never seen it before. “Go through the process of describing it, peeling it, and eating it, using all five of your senses” — sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, advises Sullivan. “As you are focusing intently, you will tune down your autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for producing that panicky fight-or-flight response you get when you’re anxious.”
A red flag for me is lack of sleep and irritability with my loved ones. When that happens, I know it’s time to exercise and take matters into my own hands. As many of you may know, it’s hard to exercise when you have aches and pains, but the lack of exercise is even worse on your body. Before Covid-19, my husband and I would use exercise machines at a small gym and took weekly Tai Chi classes at our Senior Center. Both have been canceled for a year now. Walking is the only form of exercise I currently practice. If you cannot walk outside, walk the hallways and up and down stairs, take the steps instead of the elevator when possible. Park a distance away from your your destination so you get some walking to and from your vehicle. In the morning I walk on my own, and in the evening, I walk with my husband and our dog. We usually have nice conversations during our half hour walk, and it has become a daily routine, rain or shine. I must confess that it helps to have a dog to whom we have an obligation!
The other stress management tool we have at our disposal, and the most difficult one to consistently adhere to, in my opinion, is our food consumption. I am clearly on the “see food diet” and one would think it is easy for me to control what I eat as I am the one who mostly stocks our fridge and larder. We eat fish and vegetables at least twice a week, have lean meats and vegetables most of the time, and fruits daily. Our alcohol consumption has greatly been reduced since the Pandemic but I find myself with tighter fitting clothes. One thing that has given my husband and I great pleasure this last year is cooking together. We come up with great meals and every night we will sit down and take time to enjoy the food. I usually eat very fast (very bad for digestion and increases stress according to nutritionists.) I try to slow down but somehow it doesn’t work for me. If I have finished while my partner is still eating, I will continue to graze… Then there are the chips, crackers, and other processed foods that are so tempting and pleasing to snack on whenever one feels like a “treat.” Not to mention the occasional cookie or ice cream! My new mantra is that I want to continue to have all of the above but I can have it in moderation as long as I exercise and practice Mindfulness.
In closing, if you feel that your life has been turned upside down and somewhat off balance, you are not alone. Talk to a friend and family. Don’t ignore your feelings, try to do something about them and if all fails, please seek professional advice. Be kind to yourself… and others.