During one of her appearances on Your Caregiving Journey, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You, Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, explained that, when we reach a level of stress that’s too high, we can’t think straight. Picture rating your stress along a scale of 1 to 10, with a 10 being the highest stress level. When you hit a 7 or higher on the scale, you reach irrational thinking.
Think about it. Remember what you said or did during times of extreme stress. Most likely, you spoke words or took action or made a decision that later, when calm came back, were the wrong ones. You had to apologize or reverse course simply because the stress made thinking clearly impossible.
Caregiving can be like rolling waves of extreme stress. It’s also a time that requires you to make decisions, answer questions and give instructions, regardless of your stress level. How do you manage your stress so you can make the decisions, take the actions or share the necessary information? Some tips to help you:
1. Concentrate on controlling only the controllable. The controllable includes healthy food choices and exercising when you can as well as your response to situations and circumstances. The uncontrollable is what others do or choose. You’ll only add to your stress by trying to control what’s not within your control.
2. Minimize the number of small decisions so you’re ready for the important ones. I heard that President Obama takes away the small decisions of his day, like what to wear, so that he can focus entirely on the serious decisions he faces. In essence, he avoids decision fatigue. You can do the same during times of stress. Wear simple outfits that make you feel comfortable and attractive, eat similar healthy meals, grab the same nutritious snacks, drive the same routes. You’ll minimize some of your stress while saving your brainpower for those big decisions.
3. Take regular breaks from what brings you stress. You may feel like you must sit constantly by the hospital bed. Your presence is important–and so are your breaks. When you remove yourself from the stress, even for just a few moments, you can better manage the stress that waits for you.
4. Talk it out. You may make a situation worse by keeping your thoughts to yourself. You can talk yourself into believing just about anything. When you speak your thoughts, you often realize you thought yourself into a corner. Talk out your worries and assumptions to a sounding board which can focus you on the facts and the realities.
5. Ask for clarification. When faced with decisions about treatments and other options for your caree, you’ll be given lots of information which can be very confusing. Ask as many questions as you need to absorb the details.
6. Bring a note-taker. It’s really hard to write and absorb at the same time. Ask another family member or friend to be the note-taker for you and your caree when meeting about a diagnosis or treatment or a discharge. You will miss some important information; the note-taker will catch what you miss before it falls through the cracks. Don’t have a note-taker? Record the conversations with a tape recorder or your smart phone. Let the healthcare professional know you will record the discussion to ensure you capture the information correctly.
7. Request time to consider a decision. During a medical crisis, you’ll feel surrounded by physicians and specialists requiring a decision. Ask for the time you need to discuss options with your caree and other family members, as appropriate. Often, the right decision comes after you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.
How do you manage your decisions during a stressful time? Please share your strategies in our comments section, below.
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