Alzheimer's blog

Use worry time to address concerns, make caregiving easier

By Angela Lunde May 1, 2012

"As soon as I wrote down the words, 'I wish you well' (as a way to remind myself to think it toward those I meet) the words spoke to me personally saying, 'I wish YOU well.' It was lovely."

Those were Donna's words reflecting on the last blog posting on the topic of retooling our thoughts. Through a simple practice called Kind Attention, Donna experienced a softening in her mood and a sense of loving kindness toward herself.

Yet I know from what you share, many of you struggle to find that tiny piece of relief and joy as Donna did. Instead the frustration, grief, resentment and worry create a heavy burden that can seem almost impossible to escape.

Marcia, a remarkable woman and caregiver I know, shared a story last week that she received from a friend. I think it offers a healthy and perhaps helpful message, on stress and worry.

A young lady confidently walked around the room while explaining stress to an audience; with a raised glass of water, everyone in the room anticipated she would ask the question, "Half empty or half full?" Fooling the group, she asked instead, "How heavy is the glass of water?"

Answers ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will ache. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it is the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

She continued, "And that's the way it is with stress, if we carry our burdens (or resentment, or anger, or guilt) all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on."

"So, as is with the glass of water, you have to put down the burden (the negative ruminations of the mind) for a while and rest before holding it again. Every day, make time to put aside all the burdens. Pick them back up again (if you need to) after a time of rest. When we're refreshed we can carry on with the burden."

I have to believe the story Marcia shared resonates with many of you. It's not about getting rid of the burden; it's about finding a way to lessen its weight on you and your life.

Let me offer another similar strategy.  Some of my colleagues recommend a daily practice of "worry time". Most of us would agree that when we're engaged in worry (or other negative emotion) it doesn't really help when someone suggests we stop worrying. On the other hand, if I were to simply suggest that you postpone worry, perhaps you might be willing and able to do that.

Here's what I mean. When worry or other draining emotion begins to consume your thoughts, acknowledge it and then commit that you will give it your full attention during "worry time". Until then, give yourself permission to put it out of your mind.

Worry time then, is a set time of 30 minutes every day.  During this time, you ... well, worry. I also suggest you write down what you're feeling and what's bothering you. It's quite possible that by writing down your concerns you may realize some issues are rather minor.

Next, take the most bothersome issues and begin to think about active, small steps, to address them. Sometimes part of the answer may not be in fixing the issue directly but with finding contentment in "good-enough-for-now" solutions. Or, you may come to the conclusion that there are some things you can't change or control but you can still pay reverence to how they impact you. Once your scheduled worry time is over, stop — you'll return again tomorrow.

There is a resource called the Duke Family Support Program's Tool Kit for Alzheimer's & Dementia Caregivers. The web address is listed below. It includes a list of Caregiver Affirmations. You might decide to look at these during "worry time". Here are a few:

  • I did what seemed best at the time.
  • My choices may be limited and beyond my control.
  • There are no perfect solutions and no perfect families.
  • If I had selected another course of action, I might now be having doubts about that as well.
  • New problems are not necessarily related to what I did or didn't do.
  • I can only do my best and be dependable. I can't do it all.

Duke Family Support Program's Tool Kit for Alzheimer's & Dementia Caregivers: ftp://ftp.tjcog.org/pub/aging/tjaaa/fcoc/caregvr.pdf

May 01, 2012