Worry, another of the seven emotions associated with caregiving, is a state of anxiety and doubt over genuine or potential problems.
Worrying is a normal part of life. But for the Alzheimer's caregiver, oftentimes the worry is persistent and uncontrollable. Chronic worrying can be paralyzing and cause a number of physical and mental problems, including heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, depression and mental anguish.
The good news is that chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken.
One of the first steps to curb the worrying is to identify when it becomes chronic. Recognize that you are preoccupied with "what-if's" and "worst-case scenarios."
To overcome constant worrying, use relaxation and breathing techniques to lower the mental and physical symptoms associated with the emotion. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi, listening to soft music and prayer are all methods that can be used throughout the day to reduce worry.
Additionally, as with any anxious or worrisome emotions, exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment because it releases endorphins, which can relieve tension and stress, boost energy and enhance a sense of well-being. Exercise can also interrupt a worry cycle.
It can be helpful for caregivers to set aside a "worry time," allowing about 30 minutes a day to do nothing but worry — about anything and everything.
Another idea is to write a "worry list," which can aid in taking away the power of these anxious thoughts. If things on the list are still bothersome, the caregiver should only spend time thinking about them during the specified worry period. Additionally, during this time, caregivers can reflect on various questions that are leading to worry: Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation? What am I scared of that might happen? Is this worried-filled thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me or hurt me? What would I say to a friend or family member who had this worry?
Caregivers can gain better perspectives and create more balance in this routine, and also come to realize that their worries may not seem as important anymore.
Worrying rarely leads to solutions, so caregivers should evaluate the situation and put some problem-solving practices in place.
If caregiving has become too overwhelming, for instance, the caregiver should look at care alternatives, such as paid home caregivers, respite care or long-term care settings. If there is no solution to the worry, then he or she should focus on what can be changed rather than on circumstances beyond his or her control. Sometimes the uncertainty just has to be accepted.
Good ways to keep worry in check include finding a support system through family and friends, acknowledging and observing worries without judgment, letting go of worries that are counterproductive, and, ultimately, staying focused on the present by using mindfulness as a daily practice.
Next week's column will deal with fear.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.