One test of the usefulness of our program and techniques is whether we really practice what we preach. We are not perfect models of what we believe in, nor are we people of super-resilience. I think in an earlier post I acknowledged that my life was far from handing me a cornucopia of resilience skills, and I think I am safe in saying that would also be true for Debbie.
Nevertheless, there were things in our early experiences that helped us develop a fighting spirit and a sense that we can improve by learning what we need to do and doggedly putting what we learned into practice.
For some months we have been dealing with extremely stressful situations. I cannot be explicit about them because that would violate the privacy of others, including others that we care deeply about. I think it’s okay if I say that it involves the approaching death of someone who has been important part of our lives. This is aggravated by dementia of a beloved member of our family, and intense pressure put on even the tiniest of fractures between members of the extended family.
So what has helped us to deal with these things?
We have both increased our use of deep relaxation. We listen to one of the short audio recordings we designed ourselves, narrated by Debbie. These take only 10-20 minutes.
Even fitting this into our pressured schedules can be hard, but it is well worth the effort. These sessions take us to a level of relaxation that drastically reduces our stress responses.
In spite of there being a lot of interference with sticking to exercise regimens, we both have continued to exercise. Exercise reduces stress reactions in many ways; it reduces stress enhancing bodily chemicals and increases natural bodily chemicals that calm and sooth us.
One of our ways of exercising is to hike in wooded areas which we are fortunate to have tucked away even in our metropolitan area. We usually take our dog, Luke, and his intense enjoyment of being off leash in a place full of surprises and fascinating odors, helps us to experience the joys of being in nature.
Speaking of our dog, he shows clear signs of feeling our distressing experiences very deeply. Dogs, and many other animals, are geniuses at sensing distress in members of their “pack”. So we decided to have what (I blush to admit this) we have dubbed “lovey-dovey time”, just before bed time. He quickly learned that when we say “It’s lovey-dovey time”, both of us are going to lie down beside him and massage and pet him for a while. He, who is normally a very rough and tumble dog, becomes soft and gentle during those sessions.
Research shows that when you pet an animal, the animal’s heart rate and blood pressure go down, and so does yours. Debbie and I both have marveled at how much better we feel during and after these sessions. We had read about it in research studies, but experiencing it is something else.
Debbie and I have an understanding that we’ve got each other’s backs, and that is a core purpose in our lives.
In our last post, we discussed the positive impact of emotional support at home. We have extended that beyond home.
- Every night we go through a debriefing between the two of us, thus augmenting each other’s individual perspective.
- We have extended this theme of support to the extended family by planning coping strategies as a group, with everyone’s viewpoint getting a hearing.
- We have steadily worked to create a store of past experiences of support and trust throughout the extended family, so we can speak more frankly with each other than would otherwise be possible.
- Whenever possible we have been cooperative with family members who might have reason to oppose us.
We still have to take hits; our phone rings over and over again, often making it impossible to relax at night. That is one of the costs incurred by being positive and constructive with all of the people who have a stake in this. Because we have developed our means of individual support and support of each other, we can afford these intrusions, even though they add to our stress load.