What You Can Do About Loneliness

What You Can Do About Loneliness

“Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions.”—Robert Fulghum

Carrie, a full-time caregiver to her ailing 70-year-old husband, felt lonely. She said:

“I’ve been in a dark hole for quite a while. Sometimes, I believe everyone around me would be better off if I were dead. My friends can no longer visit; my few remaining relatives don’t seem to care. I often feel dead inside.

     “I can’t help it. I know I sound selfish, but I’ve spent more than twenty years with caregiving duties for one relative after another, and now my husband. When will it end?

     “I can’t see the light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel. I’m miserable.”

Carrie could be suffering from many different negative emotions: burnout, resentment, anger. She has no close connections and feels helpless and lonely.

And at this writing, the world is experiencing a worldwide COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which only exacerbates and upends Carrie’s already difficult situation.

Why are persistent feelings of sadness and isolation so dangerous?

Recent studies link loneliness to severe health conditions.

The State of Loneliness Today

“Sad because one has no friends or company.”—Oxford English Dictionary

Studies show older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as loss of family or friends.

As mentioned above, Carrie has “lost” her husband for all practical purposes due to his chronic illness and her having to care for him 24/7.

At the same time, the world, including here in the U.S., is in the middle of a pandemic: COVID-19 (coronavirus). Practicing “social distancing” (or physical distancing) is a significant way to prevent spreading the virus.

These guidelines restrict interaction with others. (More on this later in this article.)

According to the latest statistics on loneliness (2016-2020), data show loneliness in the general U.S. population; 61% of Americans were lonely in 2019. In 2018, the number was 54%.

These data are before COVID-19.

Long before coronavirus spread worldwide, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned of the dangers of loneliness. He worked hard to bring attention to the “loneliness epidemic.”

Murthy believes that loneliness takes a toll on physical and mental health and links social connection to a 50% drop in the risk of early death.

In Dr. Murthy’s new book, he discusses the toll of isolation on America’s health:

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

(Find his book on Amazon.com)

Serious Health Risks Linked to Loneliness

Though it is hard to measure, recent studies found these severe health risks related to loneliness:

  • Premature death (similar to dangers from smoking and obesity)
  • 50% increased risk of dementia
  • 29% increased risk of heart disease
  • 32% increased risk of stroke
  • Higher rates of clinical depression, anxiety, and suicide

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Effects of loneliness on general health include:

  • Trouble concentrating and remembering details and making decisions
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems; sleeping too little (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Appetite change; overeating or appetite loss
  • Digestive problems
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Recurrent pain, such as headaches or cramps
  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, or feelings of emptiness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness

(Source: WebMD.com)

(Note: This is not a diagnosis. If you experience any of the above to an excessive degree, please see a mental health professional.)

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Many nations, including in the U.S., are attempting to control and manage the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) thought to spread mainly from person to person.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease.

The director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Robert R. Redfield, outlined several steps we can take to protect each other:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet, or two arms’ length from other people who are not from your household indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Wear cloth mask (face covering) in public settings, especially when other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain. Note: respiratory droplets spread when someone coughs, sneezes, raise their voice, shouts, chants, or sings, and can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, or perhaps inhaled into the lungs. Some people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others before showing signs.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

There are also guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine. (Guidelines can change, so be sure to speak with your doctor.)

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is highly contagious, which cannot be stressed enough.

Thus, interacting face-to-face with others individually or in crowds is a significant health risk.

But to quote Dr. Robert R. Redfield of the CDC:

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus—particularly when used universally with a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Meanwhile, gone are trips to the movies, concerts, bar lounges, and attending churches and other worship places for services and funerals.

Even eating in restaurants is incredibly limited.

Numerous businesses have closed (some temporarily but many permanently), and countless other employer groups have asked employees to work from home.

Most schools are closed and have moved to virtual learning.

Staying connected to friends and loved ones in the middle of this pandemic is difficult, if not impossible.

Many people, like Carrie, are desperately lonely during this time, experiencing profound disconnection.

So, what can Carrie and others that have no close connections, do about loneliness?

What You Can Do About Loneliness

As discussed above, prolonged loneliness can be dangerous to your health—especially your mental health.

Social distancing recommended during the pandemic can leave you feeling lonely.

If we perceive ourselves as socially or emotionally isolated, if we lack deep friendships, if we lack any meaningful relationships at all, we could suffer “chronic” loneliness.

Chronic loneliness goes far beyond fundamental unhappiness; you must work to do something about it.

A Few Ideas:

  1. Stick to a Schedule. Make your days feel as normal as possible by staying with your daily routine. Follow your to-do list if you have one.
  2. Stay Active. Don’t focus exclusively on managing your mental health; engage in at-home activities for physical fitness. (Practice workouts at home with YouTube videos or go outside for a walk, when possible.)
  3. Keep Up-to-Date. Learn what’s going on in your community and the country because COVID-19 mandates and guidelines change. You don’t want to stress out by watching world news day in and day out, as this is dangerous to your mental health, but do keep abreast of the latest health information. Make sure you seek sites that give factual, up-to-date guidelines.
  4. Pray and Meditate. People who connect to their internal spirituality are more resilient emotionally if you are a spiritual person.
  5. Practice Self-Care. Add techniques like mindfulness and daily affirmations to help you feel more optimistic  
  6. Practice Empathy. You will feel less lonely and more social connectedness if you practice empathy for yourself and others. Feeling compassion will also help you manage your anxiety and reduce overwhelm.
  7. Participate in Online Communities. Join and participate in Facebook groups of interest to you to combat loneliness. I participated in an online caregiving support group when I cared for my husband, 24/7, that proved to be a lifesaver for me.

Join Voice-Chat app, QuarantineChat@dialup.com for serendipitous connections with people around the world affected by the virus. (Available on iOS and Android.)

  • Write. Daily journal writing is an excellent way to combat loneliness. Writing in a journal permits you to look closely and think deeply about everyday events in your life. You can chronicle the ups and downs, as well as the pains and joys of your life. You can express yourself without inhibition and get to know yourself better through journal writing.

Older adults (65+), particularly, self-isolate during the pandemic making them more susceptible to loneliness.

Just making regular phone calls to relatives and asking for help from family members will help stave off feeling alone. 

Additional Resources:

Volunteer Match

Find volunteer opportunities in your area.

www.volunteermatch.org

American Volkssport Association (AVA)

A national organization that promotes fitness with many local clubs that sponsor walks and other fitness events.

http://www.ava.org

Silver Sneakers

A national network of gyms with free membership for those with participating health plans, and a community of other adults seeking to remain fit and involved. Tools to help you stay in shape and have fun.

www.tools.silversneakers.com

Meetup

A convenient way to find events in your neighborhood. Discover and join from the comfort of your home. Events include outdoor & adventure, learning, career & business, health & wellness, and social.

www.meetup.com

Senior Theatre Resource Center

Plays for community theatre, online theatre, plays by theme, readers theatre. Information for older adults interested in performing.

www.seniortheatre.com

Encore

An online resource for those interested in utilizing their experience and knowledge to work—paid or unpaid—with social impact, to benefit future generations.

“We are older activists, innovators, and leaders, standing with younger allies to bridge divides, connect across generations, and create a better future together.”

www.encore.org

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Summary

Feeling lonely and being isolated is terrible for your health.

Higher rates of depression, a weakened immune system, heart disease, and early death are just a few of the tragedies associated with loneliness.

If you live alone, can’t leave your home, feel alone or disconnected from others, recently had a significant loss or change, a caregiver, and a lack of purpose, you must find an activity you enjoy.

Indeed, loneliness can affect your body and your mind.

But all is not lost. You can do something about loneliness.

“My books are always about somebody taken from aloneness and isolation—often elevated loneliness—to community. It may be a denigrated community that is filthy and poor, but they are not alone; they are with people.”—Chuck Palahniuk

Use the ideas discussed in this article to soothe the emotional suffering that loneliness creates.

And find your community!

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Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If the emotional pain of loneliness is too great, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for therapy or treatment. 

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”

— Robert A. Heinlein

According to the 2020 U.S. census data, the oldest of the estimated 73 million Baby Boomers will hit 74 years old by the end of the year, the youngest 56.

By the year 2030, all Boomers will be age 65 or older.

With time steamrolling ahead, what is one of the most significant quests for midlife adults today? Better health.

This article will focus on one area of health: sleep.

Why Sleep?

A German philosopher said that “sleep is to a man that winding up is to a clock.” It restores energy to the body, the brain, and the rest of the nervous system.

After a good night’s sleep, we awake in good spirits, eager to charge ahead in work before us, feeling much better, and looking better.

Moreover, sleep gives us a break from life’s cares and tensions. In sleep, we rest our bodies and have rest from such burdens as poverty, loneliness, poor health, and injustices.

Today, in 2020, we face a worldwide health pandemic: COVID-19.

Nowadays, life overflows with anxiety and stress!

Cervantes said centuries ago concerning sleep: “It is meat for the hungry, drinks for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.”

Proper sleep is vital to our health and well-being.

What Kind of Sleep?

Sleep is a natural condition that occurs regularly and in which one loses awareness of one’s surroundings.  Though it is a mystery as to what sleep is, the Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

“A state of rest in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes are closed, the muscles are relaxed, and the mind is unconscious.”

There are two kinds of sleep.

In one kind of sleep, which starts with drowsiness and gets deeper and deeper, profound restorative processes occur. Your breathing and your heartbeat slow down, your blood pressure drops, and your limbs relax.

Experts believe this deep sleep is an aid to memory. It lasts for about ninety minutes.

Afterward, you return to a sleep much lighter in some respects, and other respects, deeper. It is called the REM stage and marked by the side-to-side Rapid Eye Movement, which indicates that you are dreaming.

Your heartbeat greatly fluctuates, and your limbs grow tense, indicating that your mind and your body are involved in dreaming.

After about ten minutes of REM sleep, you will again go into a deep sleep for another ninety minutes and then back up, and so on throughout the night.

Most researchers believe that both kinds of sleep are essential for mental and physical health; one cannot take the other’s place.

As to how long you sleep, quality is more than quantity.

However, with aging sleep patterns tend to change.

Sleeplessness: A Common Complaint

If you have trouble sleeping, you have plenty of company, especially in industrialized countries like the United States where sleeplessness or insomnia is most common.

And insomnia is one of the more common sleep problems in older people.

Sleeplessness usually takes one of three forms. Some have a lot of difficulties falling to sleep in the first place. Others fall asleep readily but wake up early in the morning and cannot go back to sleep. With still others, the problem is that they keep waking up intermittently.

Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They awaken more often during the night and earlier in the morning.

Studies published in Science Daily (2018), show that “One in four Americans develop insomnia each year. About 25% experience acute insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for as little as three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks up to three months.”

It also appears that by and large, women have more difficulty sleeping than do men.

What Causes Insomnia?

One of a hundred different things can cause insomnia.

It could be inherited, a genetic defect in which the brain fails to produce serotonin, a hormone-like substance. This substance is said to act like a “sleep juice” that enters the blood and causes the body to become sleepy.

Your problem may be caused by some low-grade pain that is ignored while you are busy during the day but persists enough at night to cause you to wake up from time to time.

Your trouble sleeping could be a poorly ventilated room, or because your mattress is too hard or too soft.

Your trouble sleeping may be due to a stimulant such as coffee, tea, or a cola drink.

You may have had the habit of eating a heavy meal of food hard to digest shortly before going to bed. Or, just the opposite, hunger may keep you awake, even as constipation at times interferes with sleep.

Negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt, excessive ambition, emotional insecurity, and especially anxiety or worries, may keep you from sleeping.

Mental depression can also cause insomnia and, in particular, can nervous exhaustion. The same can be said for hostile or aggressive feelings, even though unconscious.

On the other hand, too much excitement, or chasing after thrills, can cheat you of sleep.

No matter what the underlying cause, you perhaps agree with this quote:

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

How to Defeat Insomnia

Must you resort to pills to defeat insomnia?

No.

In the publication Sleep Research, Dr. F.R. Freemon stated, “The promiscuous prescribing of sleep medications is the most common error in medicine.”

Taking sleeping pills may seem the most comfortable way out, but they can become addictive.

You should use them only in case of emergencies.

And older people respond differently to medicines than do younger people. Thus, it is crucial to talk with a provider before taking sleep medicines; avoid them if at all possible.

Try these basic ideas:

  • Ensure your bedroom is well ventilated, and your mattress is comfortable (not too soft or too hard).
  • Turn down the noise.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or cola drinks after midday.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal or spicy foods shortly before bedtime.
  • DO NOT take naps during the day.
  • Take a walk or do some light stretching if you sit all day at work (nothing too strenuous as this will stimulate and keep you from sleeping).
  • Learn to relax (meditation, restorative yoga, or reading).
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Try a warm bath to help you relax.
  • Use calming herbs and scents (lemon balm, passionflower, lavender, chamomile, valerian root).
  • Play soothing music.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.
  • Have the right mental and emotional state (the worst thing you can do is a worry when you can’t fall asleep).

(Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions)

I repeat, whatever you do, stop worrying. Worry only hampers your sleep. Usually, there is no danger in being without sleep for a period now and then.

The Swiss psychotherapist Paul Debois likens sleep to a dove. If you hold your hand but gently, it comes voluntarily and settles on it. But if you try to grab it, it flies away.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It depends.

One study found that fewer than six hours makes it harder for your brain to tune out distractions and focus.

Another article stated that some “short” sleepers (of around four hours) had good sleep quality.

A research paper published in Sleep Health, recommended the following ranges for sleep for healthy individuals and those not suffering from sleep disorders:

  • Teenagers—eight to ten hours
  • Adults and young adults—seven to nine hours
  • Older adults—seven to eight hours (or slightly decrease to 6.5 to 7 hours per night)

Be aware that sleep is an ever-changing field. To learn more about sleep duration, visit: https://www.sleephealthjournal.org

Here you will find a sleep duration recommendations chart.

Summary

Find the cause.

It is essential to find the real cause of your sleeping problem if indeed you have one.

Sleeplessness may be a symptom of some physical disorder, such as hypertension or upset stomach.

But often, the cause is in your mind rather than in your body.

Are you worrying about something?

Try to reason it out with yourself in a balanced way.

Prayer, expressions of gratitude, can put a person’s mind at ease.

Consulting a wise and mature friend regarding your problem may be beneficial.

In many respects, sound sleep might be considered a reward for the right living.

If you are a religious person, you undoubtedly agree with Solomon, who says of those exercising godly wisdom: “When you lie down, your sleep will be pleasant.” (Proverbs 3:24)

That godly wisdom would include producing the fruits of God’s spirit, such as “love, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control,” all conducive to good sleep. (Galatians 5:22, 23).

So, if you are having trouble sleeping, do not become discouraged. There are several remedies or adjustments in your life that you might make to correct the problem.

If you suffer from sleeplessness, why not try the simple ideas found in this article?  If they don’t work, see your doctor.

While it may be true that sleeplessness never killed anybody, it is equally valid that, as a haggard victim of insomnia, said: “It can make you wish you were dead!”

Finally, if you are an older adult, you absolutely can improve the quality of your life right now.

How?

Sleep.

When it comes to your health and well-being in later years: “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”—Thomas Dekker

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Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment. 

Beat Burnout: Strategies to Manage, Renew, and Replenish Your Energy

Beat Burnout: Strategies to Manage, Renew, and Replenish Your Energy

“I have so much to do that I will spend the first three hours in prayer.”

—Martin Luther

As I write this article, the global COVID-19 Pandemic is raging.

And it would be of no use to quote the number of infections and deaths because the numbers multiply each day worldwide.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has increased stress levels for many of us. We face new challenges about our home and family lives, social distancing, employment, and for some, isolation and quarantine.

Stress, anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion—I believe it is safe to say that we’ve all experienced these emotions, especially during this difficult time.

What Is Burnout?

Herbert Freudenberger and other researchers took up this term in the mid-1970s, and it describes “a state of exhaustion resulting from involvement with people in emotionally demanding situations.”

Also, “physical or emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress or dissipation.” (American Heritage Dictionary)

Symptoms of burnout can include:

  1. Depleted energy reserves
  2. Lowered resistance to illness
  3. Increased dissatisfaction and pessimism
  4. Increased absenteeism and inefficiency at work.

Burnout can be debilitating because it can weaken and even devastating, otherwise healthy, energetic, and competent individuals.

Burnout is unrelieved stress, the kind that goes on day after day, month after month, year after year.

Burnout is nothing to play around with or to take lightly.

It’s easy for a person to lose meaning in his work due to mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion due to the long-term unresolved stress called burnout.

The 5 Stages of Burnout

Burnout can affect anyone, at any time in their lives.

I think particularly about family caregivers, most of whom are under extreme pressure day in and day out caring for their loved ones.

But how would you know if you do have burnout?

Psychologists at Winona State University conducted a study where they identified five stages and the symptoms, though these symptoms can change from person to person:

Phase 1: Honeymoon Phase. You have a new job or business venture, and you feel excited but begin to experience stress because you want to prove yourself.

Symptoms in this phase could include:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Commitment to excel
  • Eager to take on more responsibility
  • Obsessively demonstrate your worth
  • Work becomes the only focus
  • An inability to “switch off.”

Phase 2: Onset of Stress. Values become skewed, and neglect of self begins to set in.

Symptoms in this phase could include:

  • Stagnation
  • Anxiety, fatigue, irritability
  • Life limited to work or business
  • Trying harder does not lead to success
  • Erratic sleep
  • Dismissal of family and friends

Phase 3: Chronic Stress. Stress levels rise and become more frequent.

Symptoms in this phase could include:

  • Resentfulness
  • Apathy
  • Feeling incompetent
  • Non-existent social life
  • Persistent tiredness in the mornings
  • Obvious changes in behavior

Phase 4: Apathy and Despair (burnout). You see no way out of your situation.

Symptoms in this phase could include:

  • Resigned indifference
  • Escape mentally
  • Social isolation
  • Pessimism
  • Self-doubt
  • Feeling empty inside

Phase 5: Habitual Burnout. Experience physical, mental, and emotional collapse. Symptoms become imbedded in your life.

Symptoms in this phase could include:

  • Chronic physical exhaustion
  • Chronic mental exhaustion
  • Depression
  • Loss of hope and trust

These five stages are a good standard for gauging a state of burnout.

The five stages can act as warning signs, signaling potential risk, and a need to readjust.

Who Is Most Prone to Burning Out?

Although burnout has proven to be the result of excess work and stress, medical experts are now discovering that some people are more prone to it than others.

Some people are less likely to suffer burnout regardless of how much pressure they endure.

In determining how prone you may be to burnout, there are two considerations to look at:

  1. Deep prevailing needs within us that can strongly influence behaviors that lead to burnout.
  2. Character traits that amplify the possibility of burning out.

First, consider Need for Achievement:

You are motivated to set challenging goals and push hard to achieve them. Getting feedback on your effort validates your success. A lack of feedback can make you feel stressed, disappointed, or resentful for not being noticed.

Need for Attachment:

You are motivated to fit in well with others.

You spend a lot of time maintaining relationships and making sure others accept you. The need for acceptance can lead to you conforming to the others’ wishes and desires at the risk of fulfilling your personal needs.

Need for Control:

You are motivated to influence others.

Need for control leads you to seek out roles of authority.

When faced with something uncertain, you fear you are losing control, which can cause you to be overwhelmed.

Character traits in those prone to burnout include:

Not able to express confidence:

You likely believe and act in ways that don’t better yourself.

This character trait creates stress when things don’t work out as hoped.

You likely overthink why things aren’t going well for you, which can cause you to blame others for your situation.

A lack of confidence also makes you more likely to give up in the face of difficulties.

Not able to accept challenges:

You don’t accept change very well, or the challenges that change brings with it.

This character of not accepting challenges creates stress because you would rather hang on to the way things are than accept change and the discomfort it brings.

Not able to remain committed:

You tend to see adversity as something negative rather than something that brings about the best possible outcome.

This character trait creates stress because instead of staying engaged and pushing through the difficulty, you check out and isolate yourself or become apathetic.

Thus, we have deep personal needs that can influence our behavior, lead to burnout, and character traits that can make burnout even more probable.

You can become more aware of and avoid burnout by having a clearer understanding of your personal needs and traits.

Manage Your Energy to Avoid Burning Out

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

—Aristotle

The most common response to the rising demands of life and work is to put more hours into getting things done.

But the longer hours mean that time isn’t the only resource you use up.

Your efforts consume your energy, as well as your time.

  • You spend your energy through physical, emotional, and mental activities.
  • Positive rituals intentionally scheduled and practiced renew your strength.
  • So, paying attention to your energy levels, and doing things to recharge yourself is critical to avoiding burnout.

Every activity we do reduces our energy.

Usually, when our energy drops, we increase our effort, but in the long run, this only causes more harm and makes us burn out faster.

It’s times like these that we must instead renew our energy levels.

Renewing Our Energy

There are many ways to renew our energy levels.

Consider these seven ways:

  1. Sleep. Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Rest is where recovery starts.
  2. Create rituals. Positive rituals will renew energy levels. My morning ritual, for example, is to
    a) begin with prayer, meditation, and expressions of gratitude;
    b) hydrate;
    c) follow along with two different line-dance routines on YouTube. After my morning ritual, I feel energetic and ready to begin my day.
  3. Slow down. As you sense your energy depleting throughout the day, slow down. Take a few moments to breathe deeply. Try the 7/11 breathing exercise where you count to 7 as you breathe in and count to 11 as you slowly breathe out. You will immediately feel less anxious or stressed, and more relaxed.
  4. Eat and Drink. Not too much. And stay away from sugary drinks.
  5. Take mini-breaks. Throughout the day.
  6. Practice gratitude. Do you have a gratitude journal?
  7. Practice forgiveness. Including forgiving yourself if need be.

Final Thoughts

Stressful situations in life can trigger a response in our body that taps into our energy reserves for support.

Lengthy and repeated stress responses—prevalent in the hectic lives we live—can have harmful effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health if our energy reserves get wholly depleted.

With higher levels of stress, the more frequent and necessary it is for us to renew our physical, mental, and emotional energy reserves to avoid burnout.

Burnout can seem like the end, but it’s not.

By changing how we prioritize our time and other valuable resources, we can make a complete recovery and emerge anew.

Much like plants and animals in nature retreat for a time of rest during winter, from time to time, we all must retreat to replenish ourselves so we may emerge anew.

If you are experiencing extreme stress that can lead to burnout, you have learned several techniques that you can adopt to recharge.

Just like in springtime, the bare tree emerges after a long winter to put forth leaves.

From burnout, you can also emerge with new energy, habits, and a new perspective, and a new life.

Working Family Caregivers: How to Improve Job Productivity and Increase Your Joy

Working Family Caregivers: How to Improve Job Productivity and Increase Your Joy

“Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” –Stephen Hawking, English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author

Family caregivers struggle. And those that also hold down jobs experience extreme stress and anxiety. Juggling work and caregiving duties cannot help but impact their productivity and job performance.

Working family caregivers also, at the same time, want to experience a measure of happiness and contentment.

Is this possible?

Consider just a few of the many consequences to working caregivers, according to a recent National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP study:

  • 6 out of 10 (61%) caregivers experience at least one change in their employment due to caregiving such as cutting back on hours, taking a leave of absence receiving a warning about performance or attendance.
  • 49% arrive at their place of work late, leave early, or take time off.
  • 15% take a leave of absence.
  • 14% reduce their work hours or take a demotion.
  • 5% turn down promotions.
  • 4 % choose to retire early.
  • 3% lose job benefits.
  • 6% give up working entirely.
  • 39% leave their job to have more time to care for a loved one.
  • 34% leave their job because their work does not provide flexible hours.

When it comes to productivity:

The same National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP study found that the costs of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to U.S. businesses is $17.1 to $33.4 billion annually.

You Can Improve Your Productivity with These Three Simple Daily Routines

Step One:

Relax and clear your mind.

Why?

A clear mind leads to greater focus and increased creativity.

How?

  • Meditate
  • Substitute unwanted thoughts for desirable ones (affirmations, daydream)
  • Write your feelings out in a journal
  • Call a friend
  • Exercise/get out in nature (walk, run, aerobics)
  • Breathe deeply (try the 7/11 breathing exercise: count to 7 as you breathe in and count to 11 as you slowly breathe out)
  • Turn off technology

Step Two:

Be organized.

Why?

Our most valuable resource is time.

Having a strategy to organize your day will increase your productivity and help you avoid time-wasting activities; a reasonable amount of order prevents anxiety and reduces stress.

How?

Plan your tasks the night before you go to work (my favorite strategy). This strategy is simple, and it works. Otherwise, you could spend hours debating what you should do at the beginning of your day, which is a time-waster.

Why not wake up, relax and clear your mind, and begin your tasks immediately.

There are many formulas to organize your work.

Try the “Eisenhower Box”:

I will not recount the many accomplishments of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, and a five-star general of the United States Army, but he did a lot.

And his methods for time management and productivity have been studied at length.

The Eisenhower Box

Source: Intuitive Accountant

Understand the difference between urgent and important tasks. What is important is often not urgent, and what is critical is usually not significant.

Urgent tasks, for instance, could include emails, phone calls, and text messages. However, essential duties contribute to the long-term mission, values, and goals of the company.

The Eisenhower Box makes it simple to separate urgent/not urgent differences. However, making the distinction over and over again, day in and day out consistently can be tough.

Tip: Never check email before noon. Use the morning to do what’s important rather than responding to what is “urgent.”

Step Three:

Avoid multitasking.

Why?

Multitasking is a time waster and does not work! You will not accomplish more, in fact, just the opposite. Having fewer priorities leads to better work. You can’t be great at one task if you are dividing your time seven or eight ways.

Thus, multitasking is counterproductive.

According to neuroscientist Dr. Jordan Grafman: “We cannot focus on several things at the same time; something has to suffer. Hence, multitasking can result in superficiality and poor retention. Also, the rapid-fire switching of attention causes people to make more mistakes and takes more time to get jobs done than completing them sequentially.”

The fastest way to get something done is to eliminate the task from your to-do list, which is not always possible.

You must force yourself to delete any task that doesn’t move you forward to accomplish your mission or lead toward your values or goals.

So be prepared sometimes to make hard decisions and delete tasks when possible.

Don’t do “busy work” for the sake of being busy.

The myth of multitasking is that being busy is synonymous with being better.

I like this quote from Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek:

“Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

In this regard, you should find the Eisenhower Matrix helpful. Using the Matrix will help you eliminate the things that waste your time each day.

You will be more productive at the more important things.

Tip: Never be afraid to let others lend a helping hand; delegate.

How to Find Joy

Yes, it is possible to alleviate the pain of the ups and downs of your job responsibilities as an employee while fulfilling your demanding family caregiver role.

Happiness is a choice you make.

There are ways to create a deliberate positive emotional state.

There are ways to feel at peace and have joy.

Tips:

  1. Express gratitude—daily; count your blessings.
  2. Force negative thoughts out of your mind.
  3. Concentrate on positive things.
  4. Talk about positive things.
  5. Surround yourself with positive thinkers.
  6. Find purpose in your caregiving role; you are helping others.
  7. Maintain a good social circle.
  8. Smile, laugh out loud!

Follow the example of evergreen trees:

In Canada and the northern United States, you can find hundreds of miles of evergreen forests. During wintertime, these trees endure intense weather conditions, such as heavy wet snow and freezing rain and ice.

But the evergreens thrive. Why?

Evergreens bend, flex, and adjust to their circumstances. They thrive not out of resistance, but through acceptance of what they cannot control.

So, dear working caregiver, how will you bend and flex with your life’s circumstances? How will you refuse to let worry and anxiety steal another moment of your happiness and contentment?

There is strength—not weakness—in learning how to bend and adjust when storms come our way.

Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions

Finally—

Notice Dr. Wayne Dyer’s description of happiness as a journey in his book, Pulling Your Own Strings:

“Instead, wake up and appreciate everything you encounter along your path. Enjoy the flowers that are for your pleasure. Tune in to the sunrise, the little children, the laughter, the rain, and the birds. Drink it all in, rather than waiting to get some always-future point where it will be all right for you to relax.

“Indeed, success—even life itself—is nothing more than moments to enjoy, one at a time. When you understand this principle, you will stop evaluating your happiness based on achievements, and instead, look upon the whole trip of life as something to be happy about. Or to sum it up, there is no way to happiness, because happiness is the way.”

Conclusion

Family caregivers perform a heroic and crucial role in our society.

When the family caregiver must also hold down a job outside the home, this can lead to extreme stress and anxiety.

The working family caregiver pulling “double duty” often experiences anger, resentment, and frustration.

Caregiving harms the worker.

Caregiving responsibilities have shown to contribute to reduced employee productivity.

Employees with caregiving responsibilities cost their employers billions of dollars more per year in healthcare costs than employees without caregiving responsibilities.

I could go on and on.

If you are one juggling work and caregiving, I hope you have found the ideas presented in this article that focuses primarily on productivity and organization, helpful.

Be assured; you are providing labor of love under challenging circumstances.

But you can feel joy no matter your situation in life.

“You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”—Wayne Dyer

Boomer Women: What You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements

Boomer Women: What You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” –Thomas Edison

My dear friend Charlotte, aged 67, called me with some bad news about her health.

She was out walking near her home when she began to lose her balance. She found herself shuffling along instead of walking smoothly.

Her gait was off.

Charlotte’s poor balance frightened and confused her. She wondered, what could be the problem?

She said that she figured she was just tired. After all, Charlotte attended exercise classes three times each week, which included strength training and yoga.

However, Charlotte told me that later that evening, when she tried to get out a friend’s car, she had difficulty and needed help.

Whoa!

Charlotte felt nervous and scared and made an appointment to see her doctor right away.

Long story short, after a physical examination and numerous lab tests, including a lumbar puncture, it seems that Charlotte has a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).

At the writing of this article, the doctor needs to perform more tests to be sure.

But if Charlotte discovers that she has NPH, it is a long-term condition and generally cannot be cured. The most common treatment is the placement of a shunt—something Charlotte’s loathe to get.

In most cases, no one ever knows the cause.

If the shunt surgery is successful, Charlotte will lead a healthy life, which means she will keep my independence and will not need nursing care.

I’m praying for my dear friend.

Meanwhile, the doctor listed about 20 different dietary and nutritional supplements Charlotte should take daily.

Whew!

If you know anything about me through my writing, you know that I research “everything.”

I was curious to know what gives with the supplements?

Unlike many people, including perhaps you, dear reader, I never took supplements of any kind. I assumed I was getting all of the nutrients I needed through food.

So, I went on a quest of discovery.

What Are Dietary and Nutritional Supplements?

Dietary supplements are not medicines and should not be considered a substitute for food.

Unlike medicine, dietary and nutritional supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They therefore do not need to prove that a product is safe and effective to sell them.

However, manufacturers of supplements are not legally allowed to say their products cure, treat, or prevent disease.

Marketers of dietary and nutritional supplements can only say their products “support” health or “may contribute” to well-being.

Dietary supplements are not medicines and you should not use them to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases.

There are more than 50,000 supplement products marketed in the U.S. 50% of the adult population consume dietary supplements.

However, the federal government can take action against companies and websites that sell dietary supplements when they make false or deceptive claims about their products, or if they promote their products as treatments or cures for diseases.

Who Needs Supplements?

“Thy food shall be thy remedy.” – Hippocrates (called the “father of medicine”)

One thing on which practically all nutritionists seem to agree is that eating too much fat can increase your risk of high cholesterol levels and increases your risk of heart disease.

Sensible eating habits include getting sufficient vitamins and minerals (often referred to as micronutrients because your body needs only small amounts of them).

Without micronutrients in your body, you could suffer from a vitamin deficiency, which can result in horrific diseases and medical conditions.

For example:

  • Scurvy (sailors would succumb to this disease due to a lack of vitamin C found in fresh fruits and vegetables).
  • Blindness (people still become blind in some developing countries from vitamin A deficiency).
  • Rickets (soft, weak bones that sometimes lead to skeletal deformities, such as bowed legs, which result from a deficiency in vitamin D).

On the other hand, the benefits of micronutrients include:

  • Strong bones
  • Prevention of congenital disabilities
  • Healthy teeth

Vitamins and minerals are not the same things:

Vitamins: organic and broken down by heat, air, or acid

Minerals: inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure

This means: Minerals can easily find their way into our bodies through plants, fish, animals, and the drinks we consume, while vitamins can be challenging to get into our system from the foods we eat because of cooking, storage, or exposure to air.

But minerals and vitamins together keep our eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system healthy.

For our food to keep us healthy, it should include:

  • Protein (found in fish, meat, poultry dairy products, eggs, nuts, and beans)
  • Fat (found in animal and dairy products, nuts, and oils)
  • Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and other legumes)
  • Vitamins (such as A, B, C, D, E, and K)
  •  Minerals (such as calcium, potassium, and iron)
  • Water (both in what you drink and water found in food

If you are not getting these necessary minerals and vitamins in your food, this is where supplements can help.

Jeffery Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University School of Nutrition, Science, and Policy says about using supplements, “It’s one thing you can do that’s not too hard to do.”

Dr. Blumberg believes that seniors, specifically, need to do what they can to protect themselves from heart disease and cancer, which happens to be the two leading causes of death among those over sixty-five years of age.

Nutritional supplements may include what’s missing in a typical diet.

To Dr. Blumberg, it’s clear: a diet that follows the food pyramid and daily supplements.

What does he recommend?

  • Vitamin B folate (protects from cardiovascular disease and stroke; found in dark green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, spinach, orange juice, and lentils).
  • Vitamin K (good for healthy bones; found in collard greens, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, and kale, which is the vitamin k King).
  • Vitamin E (conflicting evidence that this vitamin reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other conditions, found in fatty foods such as nuts and oils).
  • Calcium and Vitamin D (prevent bone thinning, which can lead to fractures; however, the best source is the sun).

Warning

Supplements do not make up for a poor diet. While they can help, they cannot replace many of the nutrients and fiber found in food.

There are government-recommended daily doses of vitamins and minerals considered to be relatively safe and useful.

However, megadoses promoted for the treatment of some illnesses may not be good for your health and can possibly interfere with the absorption or activity of other nutrients and can cause serious side effects.

The possibility of side effects, as well as the lack of substantial evidence supporting the use of megavitamins, should not be ignored.  

Bottom Line

  • Vitamins and minerals have no calories.
  • Food has all the vitamins and minerals.
  • If your diet lacks a vitamin or mineral over a long period, you will develop a deficiency.
  • The “best” form of most vitamins and minerals is the kind you get from food.

(Source: WebMD.com)

*See your doctor for diet and nutrition recommendations to treat a health condition.

So, What to Do?

  • Read the labels: Dietary supplements come with Supplement Facts labels that list active ingredients such as fillers, binder, and flavorings, etc.
  • Understand the side effects: You are most likely to have side effects from dietary supplements if you take them at high doses, take many different supplements, or take them in place of medicine.
  • Know the quality: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are established by the FDA that help ensure and identify, purity, strength, and composition of dietary supplements. These guidelines help reduce the chance of contamination or improper packaging and labeling of a product.

Seven Questions to Ask Your Health Provider

Before taking any nutritional or dietary supplements, ask:

  1. Do I need a supplement?
  2. What are the potential benefits for me?
  3. What does the research say about the benefits?
  4. Does this product have any safety risks?
  5. What is the proper dose to take?
  6. How, when, and for how long should I take it?
  7. Should I take it as a pill, powder, or liquid?

And Finally

The term “dietary supplement” describes a broad and diverse category of products that you eat or drink to support good health and “supplement” the diet.

A handful of vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements can never take the place of a healthy diet, according to David Grotto RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

Even so, the ADA recognizes that some people require supplements because they are not getting the adequate amounts of vitamins and or minerals they need in sufficient amounts in their diet.

These groups include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Nursing mothers
  • Strict vegetarians
  • People with food allergies or intolerances
  • Senior citizens

Also, people with diseases such as cancer, kidney, cardiovascular, or bone disease, just to name a few.

When I last visited a health food store, I discovered a dizzying assortment of dietary and nutritional supplements from vitamins to minerals to diet pills.

There seemed to be thousands of options!

But since Charlotte’s doctor had given her a list of “must” have supplements, she knew what to look for.

In summary—

Boomer women are concerned about the future.

Boomer women are trying to stay healthy.

Boomer women say they worry more about their health than their finances.

This article has presented several ideas to help you determine the pros and cons of using “dietary supplements.”

Do you still have questions?

Below I’ve listed several valuable resources you can trust.

“My supplements are similar to my training—I always commit to being a better version of myself.” —Ronnie Coleman

Resources Printed from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements

Educational materials on dietary supplements

Office of Dietary Supplements (http://ods.od.nih.gov)

ODS provides accurate and up-to-date scientific information about dietary supplements.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov)

NCCIH also provides scientific information about dietary supplement ingredients

National Library of Medicine (http://www.nlm.nih.gov

Medline Plus (http://medlineplus.gov)

PubMed (http://www.pubmed.gov)

NIH Health Information (http://health.nih.gov)