Remember to breathe

Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

I was putting the finishing touches on my article for this week's column when I paused to consider the headlines on McKnight's right now.

Don't be worried about Medicaid funding, be very afraid,” advises Editorial Director John O'Connor.

Staff Writer Emily Mongan alerts readers with these articles: “Access to nursing homes would dim under Republican proposal, AGS warns” and “Medicare could be next on Trump's chopping block, experts say.”

In “The LTC industry should be ashamed,” guest columnist Buffy Howard admonishes long-term care leadership because their treatment of nursing staff is leading caring professionals to leave the field.

Reduced funding, departing staff members, widespread uncertainty in the industry … even the most stalwart individuals might feel uneasy. I have postponed my earlier topic to consider what I could say as a psychologist to help.

Perhaps you've heard the tale about the boss who yells at the worker, who comes home and grouses at his wife, who is short-tempered with her child, who kicks the dog. Anxiety can spread like that too, from CEO to administrator to supervisor to charge nurse to aide to resident.

In order to better face whatever is ahead — and to avoid causing panic in those around us — we can make an effort to be serene and centered. Below are some tried and true calming techniques to help you remain levelheaded despite unnerving times.

Top 3 stress busters

Stress buster #1 — Exercise: Whether you join a gym, exercise at home or go for a walk around the block, exercise can help release tension and increase your energy level. My earlier column, 10 ways to incorporate mood-boosting exercise into LTC, includes options to build exercise into the workday and to model for others self-care in stressful times.

Stress buster #2 — Meditation:  With endless task lists and constant media stimulation, most people spend even quiet times lost in a jumble of thoughts including worries about the future. Meditation focuses on the present moment. One method of meditating is to find a quiet place to relax and concentrate on your breathing. Count each breath up to 10 and then begin again, letting go of your thoughts as they come into your mind. This takes practice! Just let each thought go and come back to your breathing. Another method is to use one of the many popular meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace.

Stress buster #3 — Deep Relaxation:  Deep relaxation, like meditation, becomes easier with experience. Sit comfortably in a quiet place and take a few deep breaths. Then, focusing on each part of the body in turn, imagine it becoming more and more relaxed. Start with your feet, then your calves, then your thighs, and slowly work your way up to your head. Imagine the tension flowing out your toes, your fingers, and the top of your head. Allow yourself to sit in this relaxed state for 10 minutes.

Not enough time for the top three stress busters? Here are some quick tips:

•  Count to 10 when you are about to “lose it.”

•  Do a mini-meditation by meditating up to 10 breaths.

•  Get to work early instead of coming in rushed.

•  Take a two-minute stretch break.

•  Share a laugh with someone else.

Just as anger or anxiety can be spread throughout a family or an organization (or a nation), a calm, reassuring presence can soothe others and help to unite the team so that it can continue its mission to thrive as a business and to provide excellent care for elders.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Gold Medal blogger in the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with more than 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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