My Top Ten Ways of Coping with Stress.

On an evaluation from a recent workshop, a woman wrote, "I wish you had talked more about how you cope with the emotions and stress". So here it is...my imperfect, rocky journey to occasional serenity in the face of caregiving.

1. I changed my expectations of life, friends, and problem solvers.
    In "The Road Less Traveled" Scott Peck writes, "Once we truly know that life is difficult--once we truly
    understand and accept it--then life is no longer difficult." So sometimes life is difficult and today that's
    OK with me.
    My friends and family are human and will let me down occasionally.  I don't expect them to be perfect so
    today it's OK with me.
   I no longer expect that problems will be solved with one phone call. I expect solutions to take 3 calls.
   Any less and I'm overjoyed. Anymore - well that's 3 strikes you're out and now I'm annoyed. And that's
   OK with me.
2. I even changed my expectations of myself. I thought I should be able to handle everything on my own.
   That just didn't work very well. I eventually began seeing a counselor. She helped me to see all kinds of
   strategies I had never considered. When I felt up against a wall with nowhere to go, it was Lynn who
   showed me I could turn left. After 4 years I even let my doctor know how much I was struggling. Together
   we talked about options, medical and non-medical so I was able to make some informed choices.
3.  I exercise. I run and I cross-country ski. I don't exercise alone. I chose these activities because I found
    social groups of supportive people who like to exercise and socialize. I hope everyone is as fortunate as
    I have been to  find a group of people that are expect me to get up, show up, get fit and go for coffee.
   The same applies to hobbies - look for a book club, an evening class, a bridge club - go even when you
   don't feel like it.
4. I focus. When I'm stressed and my mind is running in circles, I look for activities that require total
    concentration. I work on my family tree on the computer, sometimes I sketch - each of us is different but
   we all need to find a solitary activity that requires a one-track mind.
5. I problem solve by talking or writing.  Talking to friends, especially those who are also caregivers helps.
   Writing in my journal often works too. I'm not compulsive about this. I pick up my journal now and then
   and either write 3 pages of whatever comes into my mind or I start by asking how to solve a problem and
   write an imaginary conversation with a wise adviser.
6. On bad days I make myself get out of the house. I walk to somewhere I can get a coffee and do the
    puzzles in the paper.
7. When I'm aware that I need to slow down, I plan a "date day" with myself. I go somewhere I really enjoy
   - The Millennium Library, Fort Whyte Centre, a nail salon. I've gone to movies by myself and had a large
    bag of popcorn for dinner.
8. I find humour wherever I can. Laughter is a great release.
9. I take action - starting this program for caregivers gives me deep satisfaction. Being able to contribute to
    my community helps me feel that I have some control over the events that surround me.
10. I make an effort to avoid the "what ifs". I've wasted too much time worrying about things that never
     happened. If my life is calm at this exact moment, I enjoy it.

And of course there are days when I don't cope. I feel overwhelmed. I feel sorry for myself. I cry. I'm
short-tempered with others. I try to remember that these feelings will pass. I try to remember to be gentle
with myself. I just try.

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