The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Navigating Midlife and Caregiving with Karen Viesta

December 12, 2023 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 191
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Navigating Midlife and Caregiving with Karen Viesta
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
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Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the emotional and physical upheaval of midlife, especially while juggling the demands of caregiving? Join us as we navigate this challenging terrain with Karen Viesta, a certified health and lifestyle coach and the inspiring voice behind the Wellegant Woman podcast. Karen brings her own enlightening journey of midlife reinvention to the table, offering invaluable insight into the messages our bodies and minds send us during these transformative years. She presents actionable steps for managing the stress of caring for children and aging parents while also prioritizing self-care, from maintaining good sleep hygiene to finding pockets of tranquility amidst chaos.

But there's more! We also dive into the power of perspective shift, breaking down overwhelming tasks into manageable steps, and recognizing when our nervous system is on high alert. Karen introduces a compassionate approach that centers on small wins and building self-trust rather than an all-or-nothing mentality. This conversation is sure to offer you not only practical guidance but also the encouragement and inspiration that you need to redefine midlife on your own terms. Join us for this soul-nourishing episode and let Karen's wisdom guide you towards a path of calm, self-care, and trust in yourself.

Find Karen at wellegantwoman.com

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Speaker 1:

Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. Hey, you are in for a great treat today. It's an insightful chat and interview I had with the incredible Karen Viesta. She's the force behind the Wellagant Woman podcast. Karen is a certified health and lifestyle course and is on a mission to redefine midlife for women. She navigated her own midlife reinvention and she's passionate about helping women transform their bodies and their lives, creating an extraordinary journey of health and vitality in every new decade.

Speaker 1:

In the interview with Karen, she dives into the disorientating world of caregiving, urging us to decode the messages our body and minds are sending us. Recognizing these signals becomes the first step in reinventing ourselves as caregivers. Amidst the challenges of caregiving, karen shares her personal encounters and actionable steps to kickstart your reinvention journey. So lean in, grab your favorite beverage, put on your earbuds and soak in all of her wisdom. This interview is bound to spark inspiration and guide you towards a path of encouragement. So, without further ado, let's jump into today's episode. Well, caregiver Cup listeners, you are in for a great episode today. I have a guest today that is a life coach and a lifestyle coach and a health coach. I was connected with her through Crystal Prophet, who is my podcast coach? I know you've heard about her name on some of my previous episodes Karen Viesta. Did I say it right, karen?

Speaker 2:

Yes, you did.

Speaker 1:

Yes, she has this amazing podcast that hasn't been out very long and is recognized by Apple as a number nine, ranking out of 50 in the Midlife Women Series, and I thought, oh my gosh, we just need to go ahead and get Karen onto this podcast.

Speaker 1:

Because, karen, I think that many of the caregivers listening here are in their midlife or approaching their midlife or maybe are just tipping to the later scale, like I am, from a midlife perspective, and I think it's really good for us as listeners to go ahead and hear from a coach that is talking about midlife when it comes to us as caregivers, because not only are we as caregivers caregiving, we're also trying to manage the season in our life that is called midlife and trying to figure that out at the same time. I kind of feel like it's Karen. It's like two swim lanes we're in our midlife, we're swimming along and trying to go ahead and manage that life, and then we also have caregiving in the other swim lane. And how do we do all of that? But before we get started, let's go ahead and let you formally introduce yourself, tell us about yourself, your podcast, what you do, before I go ahead and drill you with questions.

Speaker 2:

Sure, of course. Well, hello everybody. I'm so happy to be here. My name is Karen Villosta, I am a health and lifestyle coach and I work specifically with women over 40 who want to, both you know, create wellness in their bodies and also wellness in their lives.

Speaker 2:

I think you know, kind of to your point, Kathy, our definition of wellness has really expanded, you know, and it encompasses a number of different things, and midlife is such a transitional time in a woman's life, both physically and emotionally. There's so much going on. It can be very disorienting, and I sort of came to this work the way most of us do, right through our own struggles. When I hit perimenopause, it happened to be the same year that I ended a 24 year marriage. So I had this major physical transition and I had this major emotional transition kind of hitting me all at once, and it was just what I call a perfect storm. I had no idea what to do to feel normal again. You know, I just I wasn't sleeping. I had a lot of anxiety. I had, you know, probably, the experience a lot of caregivers have when something traumatic happens and you're just sort of left trying to, you know, keep your head above water.

Speaker 2:

It was a really challenging time, and I had a hard time finding hopeful voices. I had a hard time finding people who could guide me, whether it was from a health perspective, whether it was, you know, from an emotional health perspective. It just it felt like I was really kind of trying to figure it all out on my own, and so I decided that if I couldn't find the expert that I needed, then I was going to become that expert and I took some certifications. I was already certified as a health coach, but I took some advanced certifications in women's wellness. I went for my life coaching certification.

Speaker 2:

You know, I just threw myself into all of it because I knew that it was the kind of thing I needed to manage both physically and emotionally, and I have a feeling that that's what you and a lot of your caregiver audience you know, a lot of your audience of caregivers is probably seeing as well that we can't always separate the physical from the emotional, because both have such a tremendous impact on each other. So that was really, you know, that began my journey, and then I just became so passionate about sharing this information because I think there's such a tremendous need for women to receive this information. I don't think we're very well prepared for this time in our lives, and you know. To get to the topic of caregiving, it's so interesting because you know my demographic is probably much like yours. You know women over 40. And some of them are caring for children and aging parents at the same time.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they call that the sandwich generation. Yeah, they call it the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so you think about all of the transitions that a woman's going through physically on her own, and then you're compounding it with a lot of child care responsibilities, professional responsibilities, family responsibilities, with respect to perhaps caring for a spouse or aging parents. It's tremendously disorienting and it really requires that women just figure out a whole new way to operate within their lives. I mean, that certainly was my experience, and I was not a caregiver to aging parents, but I did have two teenage children at the time, and so, as I said, it just required that I really learn a new way of being and a new way of caring for myself.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I want to talk about before we talk about the ways or suggestions. I think I feel reassured when you talk about this, because I remember the point that I was sitting on the couch, I came home from my taking care of my mom and I was having this emotional breakdown, panic attack, and I didn't understand why. Because you talk about the emotional and the physical things that happen and I think I wrote down the word magnified. I don't know why, but everything when you're going through this perimenopause, midlife in general, seems to be magnified, especially like you were going through a divorce. My caregivers are going through caregiving, but they're also going through other major changes in their life as well. So can you elaborate on what and kind of what women see and face at this time and maybe some whys and some just reassurance that you're not alone? We all experience some form of midlife issues or symptoms, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

And in a lot of ways, I think it's really our body telling us that we can't be doing things the way we've done it before. I mean, sometimes, I think, a lot of the symptoms we experience, it's like our bodies are sending us messages constantly letting us know that things are not right and that we need to make adjustments. So what's happening on a physical perspective and it's, as you said, magnified when we have emotional changes and traumas is that the hormones that keep us balanced are no longer functioning efficiently. So, women, while estrogen is decreasing, progesterone is also decreasing. Progesterone is the hormone that helps us to sleep, it helps us to relax, it helps us to manage stress, it helps calm the nervous system. When we have less of that, things do feel magnified because we don't have as good of an ability to regulate. Cortisol is our stress hormone. So, of course, when we're going through things like caregiver responsibilities, like divorce, any kinds of big transitions whether it's a move, a career change, empty nest, whatever the case may be our stress hormone is going up. So we've got this terrible cocktail of stress hormones going up. The hormones that typically help us to regulate stress and calm ourselves down are decreasing, so everything feels magnified.

Speaker 2:

Now anxiety. You mentioned anxiety. I suffered from terrible anxiety when I was going through my divorce and in that year I thought I was attributing it to my circumstances. Only later did I realize that I learned that anxiety is a huge symptom of declining hormones and perimenopause and perimenopause can start as early as our late 30s. That's when hormones begin to decline. So when I say women are not prepared for this, many of us just don't even have this information, don't even know, when we're experiencing these symptoms, what's happening to us physically, and then we compound that with a lot of emotional stress and our hormones. It sends us into even more of a hormonal hell, as I like to call it.

Speaker 2:

Nothing is working the way it should and so, again, as you mentioned, it feels like we're on our last nerve all the time.

Speaker 1:

And we're not sleeping.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, we're not sleeping. And then we start questioning ourselves to say what is wrong with us. And then, as caregivers, we have these situations that are so traumatic with our loved ones. Then we start beating ourselves up for feeling guilty, the way we feel, and then we're worried about every little thing and then it starts showing in the way we react to things and our decisions and our health it just plummets. I mean, I can tell you I developed digestive issues and stomach issues and depression issues and I really now think, looking back, that if I was more equipped with a health coach like you, I probably could have understood and been a little bit more graceful on myself.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, it's true, and that's the first step is to understand that what women are experiencing at this time is very real. It's very normal in the sense that not that I'm saying it's normal to not feel good, but it's normal in the sense that you're not imagining it. These are physical changes and we have, thankfully, some more knowledge and information now than women had years ago. We know a little bit more from a health perspective of what we can do to help our body's balance. It's help our body balance itself a little bit better. We have more strategies. We certainly have more support. I mean, thank goodness there are podcasts like yours to support women who are caregivers, who are in midlife, dealing with a lot of change, a lot of transition and feeling terrible. I think it's really a wonderful time to be a woman in midlife and I think that, thankfully, we have a lot of resources at our disposal, so it's a matter of people just simply looking for, seeking out those resources and availing themselves of those resources.

Speaker 2:

And so yeah, I'm happy to share some strategies from a health perspective.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so yeah, because you hear and I think I saw it on your podcast and your website you hear words like I feel stuck, I feel overwhelmed. So if we're identifying that we are definitely in that zone, what would be some resources or steps that we could take to go ahead and work on that midlife well-being that we need to work on?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's the thing I hear the most from women is that women feel really stuck, they feel really overwhelmed and they feel really frustrated and, again, that's understandable, but it doesn't. We also need to understand that it doesn't need to be that way, that we have to control over more than we think we do, and that's good news, that's a comforting thought.

Speaker 2:

So I believe everything starts with mindset, and I know that sounds sometimes. People hear that and they hear it a lot, so it becomes something they're like oh, I don't want to hear anymore about mindset. But it really does, in the sense that we have to practice having healthier thoughts. The same way that you don't run a marathon if you've never, you can't run a marathon if you've never run before. If your negative thoughts are so well-practiced, if they're so habitual, it can be really easy to get stuck in those thoughts and we have to begin to shift our perspective and shift the momentum in the other direction. Now we have cognitive dissonance, which means that we can't go from saying my life is out of control and I'm frustrated and I'm resentful and everything is just terrible right now, to feeling like I have perfect control over my life and things are wonderful.

Speaker 1:

We just mentally we can't make that leap.

Speaker 2:

So we have to do it gradually and I think a really good thing to practice is just slowing down. I think when we're in a stressful time we tend to treat everything as if it's an emergency. We're moving at breakneck speed all the time. Everything happens so fast and I think sometimes just the act of slowing our mind, slowing our body, just thinking thoughts like OK, I'm going to get through this, I'll figure things out One step at a time, there's no hurry when we get good at practicing that, it just takes that emotional charge out of situations.

Speaker 2:

So I think, to start with the mindset of I'm going to figure this out, I can do this and I'm going to figure it out, it sounds like a very small thing, but I think part of what creates a lot of stress is that women don't have confidence in themselves that they can figure it out. Women don't have the ability to quiet their mind a little bit, slow things down, just break things into manageable steps. I think we want to swallow the whole cow at one time. We don't realize we have to take little bites, just one little bite after another, and we will get through it.

Speaker 1:

But yeah, and I just wanted to add too yeah, because there are going to be things in the caregiver space that we can't control. For example, now my husband's new, his re-diagnosis of his cancers are back. I can't control that, but there is so many things from a mindset that you're saying that we can work on, we can go ahead and control, and I like that piece.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we can never control anything but ourselves, and so the more control we exercise over ourselves, the less out of control everything else feels. So we still may not have a lot of control over that, but we won't feel so out of control all the time. Good, yeah.

Speaker 2:

So that's really the first step and I think the priority number one for women going through a traumatic situation, or a traumatic situation or just a trying time is to calm the nervous system as much as possible. Our nervous system is on high alert and that's why we have that feeling that everything is magnified and that's why we have that feeling that everything is out of control. So the more we can do on a day-to-day basis to calm our nervous system, the better off we'll be and the healthier we'll be, because a nervous system that's dysregulated, that is the beginning of disease.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I can't tell you that how much it's kind of like I go through these seasons as a caregiver. And I can't tell you how much I recognized last week my nervous system kind of escalating again and I could feel it in my stomach. I could feel it. I don't know what it was, karen, but I could just feel it. I was like jittery inside and lack of focus. I think when you can recognize your own nervous system and realize it, it's kind of scary that you can recognize it, but when you recognize it you can figure out. Okay, you can't let this go on too long, kathy, because I know what happened before.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and that's another benefit of slowing down is that you begin to recognize it. When we're moving at breakneck speed, we can't feel things in our body in the same way. When we begin to slow down, we become much more intuitive to what's happening. Now, for some women, when their nervous system is dysregulated and their body is kind of in that state of being on high alert, they're going to feel it in their you know tightness in their chest. Other people are going to feel a knot in their stomach. Some people are going to feel, you know, a tension in their head, like a tension heading. We all have ways that this manifests in our body and, you know, key, as you said, is recognizing the signs, like, okay, you know, my nervous system is on high alert, I need to calm it down. And the way to calm it down, you know I'm not a big believer in the sweeping overhaul of everything and if you listen to my podcast or followed me at all, you know that that's just not my you know modus operandi. I believe in the small, manageable changes that work within the context of our life that we can do consistently over time. That's really how I think we achieve the big results. So, you know, I think the best approach is to kind of layer one small change on top of another, and in that way we're not, you know, we're not doing something that we can't sustain. You know, that's the way we can sustain these practices, because nothing works if we're going to do it for a week and then things get busy and we abandon it all together. Yeah Right, so it has to be something that works within the context of our life and it has to be something that we can be consistent with in order to have any meaningful, lasting change. So, you know, calming the nervous system could be doing five or 10 minutes of meditation. It could be, you know, a few yoga stretches in the morning. Maybe somebody doesn't have time for a 45 minute yoga class, but maybe they can do a few stretches when they get out of bed.

Speaker 2:

Maybe just some deep breathing. You know, one of the most important things we can do is learn how to breathe, and there are, you know, tons of videos online on YouTube. You know, breathing from the diaphragm. They say that when you breathe properly, five really good deep breaths almost has the effect of taking a sedative. That's how powerful our breathing can be.

Speaker 2:

So even just, you know, when we're in the car, like making sure we're doing that sort of diaphragmatic breathing, you know things like that go a long way. They don't sound like they're such a big deal, but if we do them consistently they go a long way. You know, taking a bath at night before we go to sleep can really help calm the body so that we can get a better night's sleep. Good sleep hygiene is so important because you know and I know and you know, when we're exhausted and we're depleted, everything that happens is so much worse and we have a much harder time managing our mindset or making healthy choices when we're coming from a place of just physical exhaustion. So anything that we can do to calm the nervous system and promote good sleep is going to benefit us, you know, tenfold.

Speaker 1:

Right, yeah, and I think that's probably one of the hardest things for caregivers to shut themselves down and relax when they're trying to burn the candle at both ends. You know they're trying to work and take care of mom and get their household going. And, yeah, finding that sleep hygiene and taking that last hour before you go to bed and turning off all technology and trying to trying to, you know, find that quiet time like a bath or, you know, meditation practice before you go to bed is so helpful.

Speaker 2:

And it's not going to be possible every night, you know. And that's the other thing. Like I think we can get stuck in this all or nothing mentality of like either I do it perfectly or I'm not going to bother at all, and I think part of moving through these times is just extending ourselves. Some grace that you know. If two or three days go by and you can't do it, you can't do it. You'll get back to it when you can. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because I think right now there's three seasons that a caregiver goes through. And the first season is when they just become a caregiver or something challenging is going on and their life is chaos. It's kind of like I can kind of relate it to like a mom bringing home a newborn baby. You're just in survival mode, you know. And then eventually season two for a caregiver is they're figuring it out. It's still not right, but they're trying these pieces, and then eventually everybody wants to get to season three where they're trying to re-engineer and shift.

Speaker 1:

So I like the fact that you talk about you know everything's not going to work out, because when you're in season one you know you're just surviving and so what could be some things that they could do to survive, to keep their nervous system down, versus season two is when they're starting to say, oh yeah, that bath that night does the trick. Now I'm going to try to do that four or five nights a week because I can get some good sleep. Do you have any other suggestions of somebody that's really in that chaotic part of their life and they're in survival? What might be some quick fixes for them and I hate to use the word quick fixes because there's nothing that's ever going to work perfectly.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, I think one thing that's really helpful is just finding little pockets. So if you're in season one and you don't have the ability to really be very consistent with anything because life is just so tumultuous at the moment, then you know, as I said, doing some deep breathing while you're in the car, you know finding those little pockets where you can just spend some time with yourself, spend some quiet time, or, you know, develop a practice that feels good and then, when you know it's almost a mental conditioning, like, okay, soon I'll be able to do this more consistently, but for right now I'm just going to find little opportunities, little moments when I can be kind to myself, when I can call my nervous system, and I will eventually get to a point where you know it becomes more routine and more of a practice. I think you know, taking the pressure off. I'm sort of I can speak to this because I think in a lot of ways I used to have that very all or nothing mentality about things.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm, me too.

Speaker 2:

And it's a perfectionism. It's a form of perfectionism and what ends up happening is that when we can't do things perfectly, we want to punish ourselves by not doing it at all. We abandon ourselves and what happens over time is that we lose trust in ourselves. You know, we decide we're making these big changes and then, when we can't do it, little by little it chips away at our trust in our self and our confidence. So the way to build that back is to have these little wins and to just say you know what, even if I don't do it every day, maybe as much as I can, I'm just going to find these little moments, these little pockets, and I'm going to do something kind for myself and I'm going to try to practice calming my nervous system as much as I can. I'm going to try to practice more positive thoughts as much as I can. And then when you do that, you know, eventually you begin to have a little more confidence in your ability to figure things out.

Speaker 2:

So that's number one, and you know you ask for another strategy. I'll just very quickly say you know, planning ahead for the chaos. I mean, I know, when I was going through my divorce and you know again, I had teenagers at a house, I had a job, I had, you know, it just felt like I was totally overwhelmed. I would sometimes just say, ok, I know, as much as I love to cook fresh, healthy meals for myself, I know I'm not going to be able to, so I am going to stock a few things in my freezer. I'm going to anticipate those nights that I have a crazy day and I cannot find the bandwidth to prepare a meal, you know, and I just sort of had things on hand so that I could feel like, all right, I'm eating somewhat healthy during those times and so I think as much as possible.

Speaker 2:

You know it's like like you said, you know, when you have a new baby and you bring a new baby home, you, you anticipate that you're not going to have time to cook. You anticipate that, yeah, my house might not be cleaned for a few weeks because, you know, a week or two, whatever the case may be. I mean, you, you learn to cut yourself some slack. But you can also, little by little, you know, safeguard against things feeling too out of control by having some, some backup plans, and I think, as much as we can plan ahead and give ourselves like a little bit of a cushion, knowing we're going to have those crazy out of control days, that that helps a lot as well.

Speaker 1:

I think that's a good strategy and it goes right back to the mindset. If you have that mindset saying I know things are going to be crazy because I know that there's caregivers out there that are trying to work full time they got to take their parent to the doctor's appointment that day. They got to come home and make up the time that they were away. It's just this mad vicious circle. And yeah, just trying to go ahead and saying it's OK, it's OK Right, yeah.

Speaker 2:

You do the best you could.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I relied a lot on the bags of veggies and I'm going to make myself a salad and all I did is opened up the bag and poured it in the bowl and I'm like I have a salad. It's not the best, but it's none of it is a life sentence.

Speaker 2:

You know, like I think we sometimes believe that, you know, whatever is happening now, whatever things are like now, this is how it's going to be forever. And you know, just having in mind, I'm a big believer in having a relationship with your future self. You know, anticipating who you want to be a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, whatever the case may be. And I think having a future focus really can help guide our actions in the present, because, you know, if we have a vision of the kind of person or the you know, as the case may be, the kind of caregiver that we'd like to be, that can help guide our actions today and and you know it's it's a great way to keep us focused on the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are not always going to be what they are now. We can sometimes catastrophize.

Speaker 2:

We're going through a rough time, so we're always in the habit of imagining worst case scenarios. We're always in the habit of assuming that things are not going to get better. As much as we can, just to keep telling ourselves those messages of things are going to work out, I'm going to figure this out, things are going to be okay, I can handle this. Those little mindset shifts really do help us to take better action and, in turn, get some better results.

Speaker 1:

You couldn't have said it better, because my motto has always been saying when you look back on yourself, are you going to be proud of who you became and how you transformed and how you handled the challenges? Because you have to keep looking forward and facing forward. I love your podcast because you talk about the reinvention of yourself. You're constantly looking at reinventing yourself. I'm just going to plug your podcast and then you can share a little bit more If you're looking for ways to build your confidence.

Speaker 1:

I've been listening to you, karen, on the Wellagant podcast, wellagant Women podcast. It's just simple things like you all have to go out and listen. She does things on what to wear and how to put on, and makeup and skincare. Those are all little pieces that you can do to go ahead and treat yourself, because we're so stuck in this world of caregiving and it's just nice to be able to listen to something that I'm going to try this and treat myself to it.

Speaker 1:

It's all about getting up and feeling good about yourself and maybe by putting on a different color and you've put on gray for the last week because that's how you've been feeling, that might be just what you need and you put on that bright pink shirt because it looks good with your eyes and your skin and you feel better than that way. But thank you very much, karen. I think this is going to help people kind of see that it's not all in their head. They're feeling their hormones, they're feeling this because of the way that their body is handling this midlife and all of the challenges that they have, and just some simple tips and ways to go ahead and do that, especially when they're in that chaotic season, is going to help. Now, if they want to go ahead and learn more about you or follow your podcast, or go ahead and see what your services are, where can they go ahead and reach out to you?

Speaker 2:

So my website is WellAgainwomancom and I have a number of free resources, some of which might really resonate with your caregivers, just about taking care of ourselves supplements, various health-related topics, but, as you said, also lifestyle topics, because all of it helps to inform how we show up every day. So there's nothing. I don't believe style is frivolous, I don't believe beauty is frivolous. I think all of it contributes to how we feel about ourselves and how we show up every day. So that's why I say wellness has kind of an expanded definition. In my opinion, all of these different aspects of us are part of wellness. So the website is where they can reach me. My podcast is WellAgainwoman Redefining Midlife. It's on Apple and Spotify and all the places and, of course, I'm on all the socials. So yeah, and I would love it if your listeners would message me with any questions they have. I'm always interested in connecting with people and kind of hearing about their experiences and seeing where I might be able to help them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because I think the caregiver life is part of that midlife journey that they're on. Not everybody gets to experience it during midlife, but I really believe that somewhere down the line we're all caregivers in some way. Somehow we have our children, we're caregiving, maybe for a parent or a significant other, and sometimes it's unexpected and sometimes you can see it. It's going to happen soon, and so taking care of yourself is so very important. Well, thank you very much, Karen, for going ahead and sharing our experience Everybody. I'll have the links in the show notes so that you can go ahead and give Karen a shout out, but thank you again for listening. Bye for now.

Redefining Midlife for Caregivers
Perspective Shift and Calming Nervous System
Promoting Calm and Self-Care for Caregivers