Cheri L. Elson and Allen G. Drescher, Retired
21 S. 2nd St. ● Ashland ● Oregon ● 97520
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Four Rituals to Increase Happiness

I came across this article in the Business Insider recently and it really resonated with me. My daughter is a neuroscience major, so I am immediately attracted to anything with the word “neuroscience” in it. The title speaks of increasing happiness, a subject that also always attracts my attention.

According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, of UCLA, there are four fairly simple rituals that can increase your happiness:

  1. Ask “What am I grateful for?”
    Gratitude really does affect your brain at the biological level, activating the brain stem region that produces dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude can create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. And, you don’t necessarily have to find something to be grateful for. It’s the searching that counts.
  1. Label negative emotions.
    Sometimes, we just feel awful, and nothing we do seems to help. That’s okay – see if you can find a name for that feeling. Sad? Anxious? Angry? Helpless? Research shows that when an emotion is consciously recognized, or named, their impact was reduced. Likewise, trying to suppress negative emotional experiences did not result in feeling the emotion less – in some cases, it backfired. Meditation has used labeling for centuries; labeling is one of the fundamental tools of mindfulness. The bottom line is: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.
  2. Decide.
    Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety. Decision making includes creating intentions and setting goals, all of which are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the brain in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Don’t be concerned that the decision is the absolute best decision. “Good enough” is just that, good enough. The decision can always be adjusted in the future when more information is obtained. Striving for perfection overwhelms the brain with emotions and causes you to feel out of control. When a decision is made, your brain feels in control, which in turn, reduces stress.
  3. Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text – touch.
    Touch is incredibly powerful and touching someone you love actually reduces pain. A hug, especially a long one (20 seconds or more) releases oxytocin and reduces the reactivity of the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. Massage boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, which can help in creating new habits. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and by decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone).

It may sound trite when I say that finding your happiness when touched by progressive dementia is extremely important. The world is crashing and there is nothing but darkness all around and I’m asking you to look for gratitude? However, as the article states so well:

“Everything is connected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, with improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives your more to be grateful for, which keeps that look of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you will exercise and be social, which in turn, will make you happier.”

All of this will help you and your loved ones cope with the condition and live the fullest life possible.

You may agree with the premise of the article and be thinking, “How can I do this alone?” The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone. I can help. My training in life coaching and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), coupled with my personal experiences as a full-time caregiver of a close family member who was extremely ill, has provided me with tools I would be most honored to share with you. I am happy to discuss your personal situation with you to see how I might be able to support you in your journey – my initial consultation is always free of charge.

Cheri Elson
Gray Matters Consulting

If you would like to read the entire article, here is the link:

Caregiver Syndrome and How to Avoid It

A caregiver is anyone who provides care for another person in need. This could be a child, an aging parent, an ill spouse, or even a friend or neighbor in need. According to, in 2012, 36% of Americans, most of whom are women, provided unpaid care to another adult in the past year. As Baby Boomers age, it is expected that number will rise.

Caring for an aging parent or spouse usually begins with the best of intentions. Caregivers are special people – big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well-intentioned; they are motivated by and feel a great sense of satisfaction knowing they are doing right by their loved one. However, it is often at the expense of the caregiver’s health and results in Caregiver Syndrome.

Caregiver Syndrome is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from the caregiver’s lack of self-care. It is typically a chronic, long-term challenge as the caregiver often faces years of caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia are among the most likely to suffer from Caregiver Syndrome. If you are caring for a spouse; if you live with the person you are caring for; if your loved one exhibits behavior or care needs that are challenging to deal with; if you feel you have no choice about caregiving; if you are responsible for young children as well as the person for whom you are providing care, you are at more risk of suffering from Caregiver Syndrome.

Without sufficient help and support, the caregiver is left vulnerable to wide range of physical and emotional problems, putting the caregiver’s health at risk and affecting their ability to provide care. As their own health deteriorates, their ability to care for their loved one diminishes. Some of the physical health risks caregivers face include heart disease, depression, compromised immune system, weight gain, and sleep deprivation.

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the things that our loved one needs. I was the sole full time caregiver of a close family member for two years – I know how difficult it is to maintain balance and practice self care. I also know, first hand, the consequences of not taking care of myself – my entire system became so weakened that I ultimately broke out in Shingles! Nearing two years after the outbreak, I continue to experience pain and discomfort in my arm where the outbreak occurred.

The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is this: if you aren’t healthy, who is going to care for your loved one? Taking care of yourself is of utmost important. Remember, there is a reason why the flight attendants tell the passengers to put their air masks on before assisting anyone else. If you pass out from lack of air, how will you help anyone else?

Here are some tips to prevent or manage caregiver stress and help avoid Caregiver Syndrome:

  • Ask for and accept help. This was particularly hard for me – I was sure no one would be able to provide for my loved one the way I did, and what if something happened when I was gone? I was able to find a professional caregiver willing to come in for just a few hours a week, allowing me to go on a walk, watch a movie with my children, or just sleep, without worrying about my loved one. Having those few hours were extremely important in maintaining my own health.
  • Take care of your health. Find time to go for a walk, or other exercise, even if it’s not for an optimal length of time. Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders.
  • Join a support group. Being a full-time caregiver can be very isolating and caregivers often feel there is no one out there who can really understand what they are experiencing. Joining a support group puts you in contact with others dealing with very similar circumstances as you – they “get” it in a way others may not, and understanding you are not alone can help a lot.
  • Talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to work with individuals dealing with a wide range of issues, including those suffered by caregivers.

Coaches who focus on working with families are a wonderful resource for individuals facing Caregiver Syndrome. Coaching is solution-based, meaning it spends less time discovering “why” and more time working on a healthy solution to the issue at hand. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) in particular is a very powerful modality for working with caregivers. A central feature of NLP is that we have all the resources available to us already; we may simply not know how to access them at the right times in the most appropriate ways. Trained in coaching and NLP, I can help you access your resources and avoid the challenges of Caregiver Syndrome. I would love to speak with you more, one on one, about how I may be able to help you (and, through that, your loved one). My initial consultation is always free of charge.

Cheri Elson
Gray Matters Consulting

Other sites that may provide further information:

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks is beyond the patient’s capability. It is not a part of normal aging.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that begins slowly and gets worse over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild; however, as the disease progresses, individuals lose their ability to interact with or respond to their environment. How quickly the disease advances varies from person to person. Currently, there is no cure. Advances in medicine have been able to slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s.

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