The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Caregiving During Crisis: Get My Anti-Stress Techniques

December 19, 2023 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 192
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Caregiving During Crisis: Get My Anti-Stress Techniques
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Imagine, one moment you're navigating the ordinary challenges of life and the next, you're thrust into the role of a caregiver grappling with crisis after crisis. This was my reality when I had to put my personal life on hold to care for a loved one. Join me as I share this intimate journey, shedding light on the immediate stress and challenges caregivers face when a sudden crisis hits or there's a significant shift in caregiving responsibilities.

But it's not all doom and gloom. In the midst of these storms, it's crucial to arm ourselves with effective anti-stress techniques. I'll share mine with you - five calming techniques that have been my lifelines during stressful times. From the power of deep chest breathing to the magic of calming scents, these strategies, I have found, can make a world of difference. We'll also chat about five additional coping mechanisms: taking a deep breath, going for a short walk, listening to a fun song, taking a power nap, and speaking to a confidante. We'll discuss the importance of fueling our bodies with the right kind of nutrition during these times, because no storm is too big to weather when we take care of ourselves first.

Get my free resource:  17 SHIFTS TO TAKE CONTROL OF CAREGIVER STRESS that will take you to the best version of yourself.

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Speaker 1:

Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. Before we jump into this episode today since it is what is it? December 19th I wanted to wish you the best of the holidays that's coming up. If you're Christian and celebrating Christmas, it may look different for you this year, but my hope for you is that you find small moments to enjoy and small moments to embrace Just the little things.

Speaker 1:

This week I am doing personally, I'm doing the last minute things to prepare for my family's Christmas, and I have. I have three boys, their, their significant others, three grandchildren and my husband, and we get together. We try to do it before, after the holidays, because we know that Christmas is a special time for their immediate family. Family, like my oldest son has the two girls my youngest son we have, they have their little guy and I always cherish the Christmas morning, and then they have their in-laws to go to as well, and so I don't want them competing and doing everything on one day, and so we're doing it on Saturday, the 23rd, and I am actually excited, more excited than I've been in the past and festive than I've been in years past, and I don't know why, and I'm just embracing it. The house is decorated, the presents are almost wrapped I just have a few more left and I'm having a simple meal and it's. It's really, really simple. I decided on pizza from our local pizza restaurant, some Caesar salad and, and we're celebrating. My two boys have December birthday, so we're celebrating birthdays and everybody else is bringing a dish to pass really simple, so that I am not in the kitchen and missing out on gift opening and we play some games and all that kind of stuff.

Speaker 1:

I want to be present this year, but I know in years past I didn't feel this way. I didn't feel the same. I went through the motions many years and tried to do my best because I was just not with it. I hid my emotions and stressed behind closed doors so I wouldn't ruin anybody's holidays. And if you're feeling this way, I know how you feel. I know how hard it is. It is my hope that you take time and take a breath and find a place to chill out and let it out and let things go and be okay with not feeling like festive for the holidays, being okay with it. I think last year I lost my mom and every year there's been caregiving involved in it. But this year I just feel a little bit okay and things could change by Saturday, but I'm going to just embrace it right now.

Speaker 1:

So let's get into today's episode because, with that being said, in this episode I want to talk about when times are not so good as a caregiver, meaning things are hard, things are challenging, your loved one condition is failing or you're personally challenging, struggling with it. It might be now, during the holidays for you, or you may have experienced it in the past, or you don't even know it, but it may be coming and you're going to feel it sooner or later. So what am I talking about? It's a time of caregiving when a new crisis arises, or, you might say, a change in your caregiving because of a challenge or a struggle, this feelings or the things feeling more challenging and you and your loved one are struggling. Maybe you're struggling physically, emotionally, financially or spiritually, because over the last year, as I was coaching clients, I've had so many clients in these crisis modes where something has shifted and changed and now it's more challenging. For example, maybe your loved one breaks a hip. Knock on wood that it doesn't happen, but they fall and they break something. That's a shift or a crisis.

Speaker 1:

I had one that their spouse lost their eyesight or their sibling had a stroke. Another one was mom was continuing to fail and you could see it coming, and that person had to make the hard decision to find help. Or I had a caregiver that lost her job to because of the caregiving commitments, and now she's financially struggling or caregiving while in a war zone. Yes, this caregiver is in Israel receiving a cancer diagnosis, as the caregiver yourself, and you're receiving it yourself, and now you have to add your health issues alongside of you continuing to care for your dad. Or you're caring for your child with autism and now your parent has a heart attack, and so now you're doing dual caregiving and you have to determine how to manage both. Or for me, one of them was in the past where I was caring for my spouse and my mom and I got the COVID diagnosis and I was hospitalized for like four days, and so that was my priority and I had to go ahead and figure out how to do that.

Speaker 1:

When you're in a crisis mode, meaning something has shifted, something has changed, you go into this immediate stress, your body starts stressing, trying to figure out this new normal, your mind is twirling and your, your body is going into overdrive. You are really trying to just survive and are figuring things out, and it could be short term, it could be long term. You have to put yourself on hold and just make it through the storm, and I'm calling it a storm. Navigating the storm is your priority. You know thinking about it. When a storm, physical storm does arise, every thing else has to be put on hold because you have to go ahead and work, work through your safety and getting through the storm.

Speaker 1:

I had so many of these happen in my six years of caregiving that I could write a book about the new crisis that happened as a caregiver. I'm sure you can too, if you really think about it. Whether they were small or they were big, there were so many. They could be as simple as you're ready to go for your appointment. You have to pick them up for their, their, their appointment, and your car doesn't start. That's a crisis and you need to get your loved one to their appointment. Or another one might be the home nurse scheduled every week. She doesn't show up today and you have a full day plan. Maybe you have work meetings planned, maybe you have your own personal appointments planned and now you have to shift and figure out the crisis. Crisis is part of the caregiving job that can throw us off and we can put so much pressure on ourselves to try to go ahead and work through it. We beat ourselves up for not performing at our best, whether it was physically, or we get emotional at the situation.

Speaker 1:

I want to share one that I had that happened in the past with my mom. I remember it was a Friday and it was my brother's 50th birthday party, and so I was going over to my mom's and I was picking her up and she was just acting strange. She was slurring her words, she just wasn't herself and she just seemed groggy and slurring her words and she was staggering a bit and I said, are you sure you're okay and we should go to my brother John's birthday party? And she wanted to go and so I was driving. So I walked her into the restaurant that we were going in and she wasn't alert. She was saying jokes and almost like she had too much alcohol or she was taking drugs, and we didn't stay very long and I took her home for the evening and just wanted to observe a little bit more and sit with her and maybe she had a UTI I was thinking of or urinary tract infection, maybe she just wasn't herself. And after about an hour at home I said I can't keep her here. I got to take her to the ER and find out what is wrong with her. So I took her to the emergency room. They assessed her and they said they could not find anything physically wrong with her. They did blood work, they did checked her urine, they checked, you know, her chest and everything, and they suggested I go home and then call the doctor on Monday and bring her in on Monday. I wasn't happy, but at least I had some results and I could check them off the list.

Speaker 1:

I stayed overnight and in the morning she seemed a bit better in the morning. But then as the morning progressed she got worse. And as she got better in the morning I said Mom, I was only like a mile and a half away. I said, mom, I'm going to go home and, quick, take a shower, change my clothes and I'll be back. Well, I got back and it was probably about 10 o'clock in the morning and she was screaming because there was bumblebees in her apartment and she was like in a fetal position in her chair because the bumblebees were swarming down at her and I knew her neighbor and down the road or down the apartment hallway and I'm like can you come over and help me look at her? I don't know what to do. And then I also called my brother and my sister and they came over as well and then she started seeing butterflies and it wasn't scary anymore. She was hallucinating on butterflies and asking people to get a net so we could catch the butterflies.

Speaker 1:

And we made the decision within an hour to take her back to the emergency room and we advocated in there to say we need to figure what's out, because we had a new ER doctor and the new ER doctor was thinking dementia, alzheimer's, what is going on. And so they put her into 24-hour observation because we more or less said we're not leaving until we get some results. And we went into 24-hour observation and worked with the doctor in charge of the 24-hour observations. They, you know, started going ahead and giving her IV and doing they put a catheter in so that they could look at more specifically at her urine intake and outtake. They did some blood work and everything kept coming back fine and I said, can you do a toxicology report, because I am not there with my mom, 24, seven, maybe she took something and we don't know about it and the toxicology report came back of showing that she had the med she was taking. They showed that she had I don't know how to say it and I'm not a nurse or a doctor but it looked like, more or less, she was taking too much of her medications and that was causing some of these situations.

Speaker 1:

And during this challenging time my life went from a normal caregiver to one of a challenging season. Everything that weekend had to be put on hold. I call this in my Empowerful Caregiver course. I call this season one of caregiving. It's the chaos, the storm. It's the new normal it becomes. You have new changes and things need your immediate attention. Not only did it, did I have to find solutions. I had to change my care now for her during this time and advocate differently when the doctor realized that the toxicology report came back. That way we had social workers meeting with us, we had extra eyes looking at her home atmosphere and we had an answer to those. They did a psyche valuation. They did physical evaluations on her. I felt like they were, that we were being interrogated but knew that they were only protecting my mom.

Speaker 1:

I immediately connected with the doctor after we got out of the.

Speaker 1:

We got out of the hospital. We got out of the hospital Sunday morning, so which was good, and we got her home. But I immediately connected with the doctor on Monday morning to say we need to figure out a better solution for mom with her medications, because the pill bottles in the pill boxes aren't working and she wants to live independently because she's healthy, she's happy. But she just couldn't remember because all of the doctors had all of these medications that she had to take, some in the morning, some at lunch, some after dinner, some at bedtime. And she was getting confused and if she didn't take the medications she would take them all at once or she couldn't remember so she would take them again. So with the help of her doctors, she got this. We ordered her this push out book that had little plastic, almost like a push out, if you see, like an advent calendar or days of Christmas calendar, where they push out the candy or they take the candy off each day. This is what it is and we found that the pharmacy can go out and send that out and it just takes two additional days, and so, if we plan it right, we can get it at the last week of the month and she would always have a book that she would open up and it would say Monday, we would date it and then she would know what she had to take on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, and then I could go ahead and look at how she was taking them and if she was doing them, and the doctor could also go ahead and talk with her about if she missed the dose and she didn't take it, don't go back and take the whole day. And so we never figured out if she took the whole day or if she took too much, and it was just downright confusing and the struggle was truly what was causing the issue.

Speaker 1:

But during this crisis, or in season one, it took days before we figured it all out. It required me to be with my mom at the hospital, at in her apartment, advocating, asking questions to the doctors, to the nurses, to her, to her neighbors, requesting additional tests to figure out what was wrong and to rule out things. I remember at one point they recommended putting my mom into a skilled nursing facility and or the medical wing of the mental health wing of the hospital. But until I requested the toxicology test, they didn't see it. And then they eventually, and we agreed on the psych evaluation to make sure it wasn't something from a mental health perspective, and once we could rule out that, I think the doctor felt better. We felt better. We could see her progressing every day when she wasn't overdosed on her medication.

Speaker 1:

Also, during that time I had to prioritize what was important At this time. Whatever weekend plans I had, they were put on hold and I had to advocate, communicate, have conversations with even with my siblings being present with my mom and observing her, because, as they had shifts in the hospital and different nurses, nobody saw exactly her progressing the way she did. The only care I could give myself during that time were occasional walks and breaks, drinking my water, eating healthy snacks and really focusing on meals. Like I said, my personal life was put on hold and I had to let things go. I didn't allow myself to stress out about working deadlines that I wanted to get done on the weekend or that stack of laundry calling my name, or even Dennis being home needing my care. I had to lean into my kids to say I need your help. Can you go ahead and check in on your dad and all that kind of stuff? Like I said, it's about navigating the storms and when you're in that situation, you have to do that.

Speaker 1:

One thing I learned to add during the crisis and storms is anti-stress techniques or anti-stress self care, because, I'm just going to be honest, people can say, oh my gosh, what's happening with your, I'm sorry, what's happening with your mom, but don't forget to take care of yourself. And I'm like WTF, I can't take care of myself. At this time, I can't do a lot. As many more came and went of these crises, I realized that I had to have anti-stress techniques or just-in-time techniques in place to get through the storm. I realized I had to listen to my body and learn to calm my nervous system and my mind, and that's what I wanted to talk about with you and I'm gonna give you some of my go-to techniques. If I didn't, it messed up and I'm using the word messed up, but I could feel my body physical body and negative mindset during that time, but it kept going for weeks after because your body was in this traumatic stress and eventually your body needs to wind down from that and heal, and so if you can get on top of it during that time, it will help you in the long run.

Speaker 1:

So the five go-to techniques I'm gonna share with you today are things that I use to calm my mind and body in these I call them these crisis or storm situations. Like I said earlier, with any type of storm situation, I'm gonna take a cup of coffee. I didn't realize my voice is kind of hoarse today. Okay, so here are my five go-to techniques to calm your mind and your body, and I'm giving you five. You may come up with more of your own, but I'm gonna give you five.

Speaker 1:

The first one is deep chest breathing. Now can you picture yourself saying breathing by your loved one's bed? No, I'm not saying this, but finding a space where you can go ahead and do a few deep breaths, meaning that you're breathing in with your mouth closed and you're breathing out with either a piercing lip lip or through your nose and you're feeling your diaphragm going in and out. An added plus that I have found and if you can go to like the pharmacy or like a Walmart or just a CVS or Walgreens and find little sample bottles of like vanilla hand lotion or lavender hand lotion or lip balm. That's one of those, because lavender and vanilla calm you down or, like citrus and lemon, kind of boost your mood and you get you awake. But I found that the best place for me to do these deep chest breathings is sitting in the bathroom in a stall on the toilet. You can laugh and people probably have heard me, but you're sitting down, nobody can interrupt you and you're just doing the and then you wash your hands and then you put the lotion on after. That's just been my technique, I don't know. Take it if you want it.

Speaker 1:

Number two is taking a break taking a five to 10 minute walk, outside preferably, because if you look up at the sun or the clouds and taking the fresh air, it just helps your mindset and all of the science behind it. It wakes up your body. If you have a fun song that you have on your phone and you have earbuds with you or you're not around, people put that fun song on. I love the song and I don't even know who the artist is. Walking on sunshine, whoa. I have some go-to songs I put on there, even if I'm in a bad mood or whatever. You just get out and even if you had to walk down the sidewalk in front of the hospital or if it can't get outside, walk in the hallways. But you're reawakening your soul and your mind and your body and you're getting it moving. I also find that I can think things better and put things into perspective when I get some fresh air. Definitely Number three is to take a quick 15 minute nap, and I'm not saying, take it alongside of your loved one, but if you have to, that's the only place you can go then do it.

Speaker 1:

But this sounds ridiculous and where can you find the time right now? But you can. Well, even when my mom was in this crisis mode, I snuck out and went and took a nap in my car. It was cold outside but I had my jacket and I turned the car on for a little bit in the parking lot and I took a nap. I couldn't function anymore and I recognized that I was crying at the drop of the pin or I was swearing like a sailor and I know it was lack of sleep. So but let's say you get out and you're sitting in a chair out of the room or whatever and you can't fall asleep.

Speaker 1:

Then do a meditation or relaxation where you just close your eyes and you think of something, or you put some soothing music on your headphones. Your body can't be in fast mode all the time. It helped, like I said, my emotions and my mood, and what you can do is talk to the nurse and saying I need to just go take a 15 minute pause, I'm going to go in and take a quick nap. They may even have a spot for you that you can get out of the room and take a nap. Or they may just say, yeah, the doctor's going to come in about 10 minutes, but after that I would suggest that you take a nap and you can give them your cell phone and then, just when you come back and go to the nurse's station and saying thank you so much, did anything happen while I was gone? You'll feel energized. We did that when my mom was in hospice. I did that when my husband was going for a stem cell transplant, because we had one day that was 10 and a half hours long and sitting in a room with no windows watching the stem cells are the them. Retracting the stem cells was so, so long.

Speaker 1:

My fourth one is talk to your go to person and you're like who's my go to person? Well, you need to find one person that knows you well enough, especially when you're stressed, that can listen to you in this storm. You don't want somebody to say you got it. No, you want somebody that knows how your mind and your body works. It may be your best friend. It may be another caregiver that you call now your accountability partner. It may be your coach. It may be you know your, your spouse or significant other. Whoever it is, this person will listen, will acknowledge your thoughts and your feelings, but will also ask you the right questions about how are you doing? Why are you doing to get away? Are you drinking your water? Why are you feeling that way? So and they say things that will keep things into perspective I can think of my girlfriend, julie, who keeps me grounded.

Speaker 1:

My husband, during caregiving for my mom, was kept me there and knew that. He said Kathy, you need to find some time to just go, go take a nap. I was just really, really stressed. And then I use my one of my friends, amy, who is one of my business accountability partners, and she will ask me a thought provoking question. And when you get off the call, this is how you know it's your go to person. You get off the call and you feel better. You feel so much better. So I drink, drink again. I get a like a little what do they call it? A frog in your throat. I don't know why they call it. If you know why they call it, let me know. Okay, number five.

Speaker 1:

I talked a little bit about this already, but number five go to technique for your to calm your mind and your body is giving your body and mind the right fuel, and most of us, when we're stressed and me included will ditch the healthy foods and the healthy drinks and we'll grab the sugars, the caffeine my favorite is mashed potatoes and pie with ice cream on it and any comfort food we can find. Now that's okay once, once in a while, but you will start feeling sluggish and more tired when you do that. Knowing how to keep your body performing at its best and means moving and taking in nutrients. Taking in nutrition to help you through this crisis or this marathon crisis. What about a good hot cup of tea? What about a protein shake or a healthy? My sister drinks the smoothies a healthy smoothie, or a yogurt with berries in it, or a meal with vegetables and protein.

Speaker 1:

One example that happened to me this weekend. I've been paying so much attention to what sugar does to me because sugar is, I'm addicted to sugar, and sugar causes me lots of physical symptoms as well as feeling sluggish. This weekend I had a Christmas party with my two siblings. We had a three little party and we went to margaritas and we exchanged gifts and I don't drink very often, so I had a virgin margarita coming off my recovery. I didn't want to mess with my body right now, and so I had a virgin margarita, but I didn't realize how much sugar and salt is in a margarita. And then we had, we all had our dish and I had a chimichanga and stuff like that, and I had so many chips and salsa there that I could see that my fingers were so swell when I got home. And then I wasn't hungry for the rest of the day and never had dinner, and then at the end of the evening I was hungry. So then what did I do? I grabbed, you know, just whatever I could grab that wasn't nutritious, and I could feel the sluggishness the following day and I wasn't performing at my best.

Speaker 1:

And it just is something you want to be aware of, especially when you're going through this challenging time of caregiving what can you do to get one step ahead and what can you do to make your mind and body feel a little bit better? And so that's why, when I talk about, I have a go-to bag. I throw in like a healthy protein granola bar or a almonds or some sort of nuts, and have an empty water bottle that I can continue to keep filling, because, if anything else, at least I have, I'm keeping myself hydrated and having some healthy snacks. Now, this list, like I said, isn't the ultimate list. You may think of other things that work for you, that are better, or you're going to add to it. Knowing what works and doesn't work is going to require you to kind of experiment, and once you figure out one or two things that work, it's going to help you in these challenging times. It really is.

Speaker 1:

And one last thing I had to do in my crisis is rest my guilt and my worry in my high achieving mindset. One of the values I gained from my parents was my work ethic and my high achieving work ethic, and I have this like tattooed in my mind. But when you are in a crisis or a challenge, filling your mind with all of the things that need to be done in addition to what you're doing right now. Taking care of the crisis is only adding and bubbling up the stress, and so how to let go and how to put these aside is going to be something that you're going to need to work on. Believe me, I tried to work alongside of my loved ones with my laptop, with my notebooks. I even had a zoom meeting and it worked for a bit in time, but it wasn't sustainable. It wasn't. It's kind of like trying to do three things at one time and not doing anything.

Speaker 1:

Well, when you are in a crisis, whether it's a long-term crisis or a short-term crisis, you need to assess your priorities and delegate or delete or delay them. The 3Ds Journaling them out will help you see them and make decisions. When my mind starts stressing about anything that I have outside of the crisis, I grab my journal you know I'm a huge journaler and I journal them out, and then I look at all of those and I look at which ones absolutely have to be done and I go ahead and think about who can help me with those. Who can I delegate these to? Who can I go ahead and push back a meeting or delay something Because I can't stress, feel guilty and worry about these things, because that's only distracting me and adding to more of that stress and brain power and I don't have the capacity for that. So, focusing your focus is on navigating the storm and getting through this as best as you can. As best as you can, and it's okay to go ahead and delete the thoughts about your laundry and stuff like that, or asking for help or just telling people well, I can't be there because I'm in this crisis right now.

Speaker 1:

To end today, let's go on a fun note here. I sure want to hope that this episode helped you think through caregivings, life's challenges and storms and provides you with just a sense of of trying to think of the word why can't I think of the word? A sense of permission, maybe, to go ahead and let it go and just focus on what you need to focus in on right now. It's hard and it's going to be hard. I can't tell you how many times that you know you had to go ahead and let things go. I couldn't go to an event because I was focusing on that and I just had to let it go and think good thoughts about the event, but also saying this is where I need to be. I also want to take a moment, since next week is Christmas, and wish you a happy, happy Christmas, however you celebrate it, like I said earlier, with moments of joy and really just moments of of calm and just finding things to embrace.

Speaker 1:

I will be back on December 26th again for another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. No, I don't stop during the holidays, I just find different ways to go ahead and record in advance, and so just know that I'll be going ahead and dropping one on the 26th and on the 31st. Oh, no, it'll be the second. Will it be the second? Oh, it'll be the second. So on the 26th and January 2024, second. Before I leave today and you leave today, can you help me close out the year of 2023 with a review from you, hopefully a five star rating, and that would be such a wonderful gift for me. It only takes a moment to scroll down and give me a five star rating. Tell me what your thoughts are, because my ultimate goal, and continues to be my ultimate goal, is to get more caregivers to listen to the Caregiver Cup podcast and tell you, listen next week the happiest a week for you. I'm hoping that you find a little bit of time for yourself and do something special during this holiday season. Bye for now.

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