"Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day" Alice Morse Earle
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Hi @lioness I'm not a nutritionist so hesitate provide you specific feedback on your question. Sounds like you are paying good attention to what you are eating and making lots of really good choices!
Research on the impact of healthy lifestyle activities on brain health has long been an area of focus in aging and disease prevention. However, many studies focus on the impact of ONE activity at a time–diet, physical exercise, cognitive exercise, mindfulness, yoga, stress management, etc. This week, the National Institutes of Health highlighted new research evaluating the COMBINATION of healthy lifestyle behaviors and risk of Alzheimer’s disease. I encourage you to read the full news release by the NIH here. To be clear, this was not a HABIT based study. Rather, data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) and Memory and Aging Project (MAP) were analyzed and published in a high impact peer-reviewed medical journal Neurology (published by the American Academy of Neurology). You can see that paper here, if you like.
The bottom line is that those in the study who adhered to four or all five of the health behaviors they studied had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The health behaviors studied included physical activity, not smoking, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, following the MIND diet, and cognitive activity. Now, this is an observational study, which is not quite the same as an intervention study, but still informative. In the news release, the NIH highlights several studies that are ongoing that ARE intervention studies to try to further answer the question of how CHANGING behavior impacts us if we are not naturally developing these health habits on our own.
This research is especially interesting to the HABIT team. HABIT is a health behavior change and cognitive rehabilitation program for those living with Mild Cognitive Impairment. We also focus on developing a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors in addition to cognitive rehabilitation strategies to aid the memory symptoms themselves. We’re glad to see others reinforcing the message that no one behavior change is THE change for healthy aging, but rather a combination of healthy behaviors are likely to be most beneficial for brain health.
It can feel like a lot to focus on so many lifestyle changes at once–That’s ok! First note what you are already doing (how much exercise do you already get?), and then set small goals to gradually build your healthy habits over time. You can do it!
Thank you so much for joining me on this resiliency roadmap journey! I hope you’ve been reminded of your strength and perhaps added a few more tools to your coping toolbox. With this one last post, I want to bring all the components together one final time. Remember, everyone’s roadmap will look different–the goal of this series was to give you coaching so that you develop the roadmap that is most likely to work for you. Each day you reflected on one component and hopefully made some notes. Now, lets bring them all together here so you have one more moment of reflection. You can use this Resiliency Roadmap to bring your plan together.
You learned that there a number of different signs of stress that can include physical symptoms (e.g., back pain, fatigue), emotional symptoms (e.g., worry, irritability), cognitive symptoms (e.g., trouble concentrating, catastrophizing thought patterns), and behavioral symptoms (e.g., snapping at others, withdrawing from activities). Identifying your constellation of symptoms (and hopefully sharing that pattern with loved ones) will help you (and them) recognize stress as soon as possible so that you can go to your coping toolbox for support.
We all find different aspects of a stressful situation difficult. For some, it may be the loss of control of a situation. For others, it may be when a situation separates us from family. And for yet others, it may be disruptions in a routine or financial pressure. Being able anticipate what features of a challenge are most likely to be the highest stress for you will allow you to plan some coping techniques to mitigate that impact.
Next you brainstormed all the positive coping techniques you already use! Being sure to identify and commit to those existing resiliency-building strategies helps you give more intentional time to these strategies (and not letting them fall by the way-side when challenges arise). I gave a few additional tips including: Be sure to take breaks, limit your media consumption, remind yourself what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, and get some time outdoors.
I’d encouraged you to try this website for the free breath pacer (http://www.xhalr.com) and discover the inhale, pause, exhale timing settings your body likes best for use in your Resiliency Roadmap summary for easy reference. Then remind yourself to practice your paced breathing daily so that you’ll be able to lean on it more robustly in times of stress.
In this post, I gave you resources to try progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, mindfulness, and meditation. Were there specific techniques you liked best? Did you try any of the apps I suggested? Summarize the tools you’ve added to your tool box from this post on the Resiliency Roadmap.
My favorite! “Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” So often we do not even realize the negative self-talk we have running in our thinking patterns. I gave you some broad types of unhelpful thinking patterns (Overgeneralizing, Catastrophizing, Maybe it is true, but…) and some challenges questions to ask yourself with the goal of shifting your thinking into a more helpful frame. Which challenge questions resonated with you? And, what helpful and healthy thinking patterns resonated with you (e.g., acceptance, self-compassion, humor, optimism, belief in your abilities).
“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day!” In this section of your Resiliency Roadmap I encouraged you to describe your plan for giving intentional attention daily to times of joy and gratitude. Also, a reminder that this is not about denying those things in life that are a challenge and pretending everything is “fine”, but really about being sure that our positive emotions get equal (or more) attention during those times.
And finally-this section was about identifying what social support means to you. Who is your support network, and what types of support are most valuable to you (e.g., emotional comfort, encouragement, acts of service, advice, companionship)? And, do you feel that cultivating new supports would be a good idea for you? If so, what’s your plan for that?
Using the Resiliency Roadmap from the link here, here is my completed roadmap! Each of ours will be unique even as we have some similar content and features!
Although this resiliency workshop can help you feel confident and empowered, many of us may still need to reach out and ask for professional help. I want to be the first (but I hope not the last) to encourage you to do this if you feel at all like you need more help. If you are experiencing daily distress and having trouble finding joy and getting things done, please start with talking to your primary care doctor about what’s going on. He or she may recommend some additional tests or some medical therapies. He or she may also suggest professional therapy with a psychologist or licensed counselor. They may already have specific mental health providers they recommend. You can search for a psychologist or mental health professional by looking at providers in your area on your insurance panel, asking your primary care physician for a recommendation, or searching Psychology Today.
Happy Friday! This is the last topic in our resiliency roadmap series. I’m grateful for all the positive feedback we’ve gotten along the way and for all the comments and suggestions you all have made about each topic. I want to encourage our new readers to take a look at our Introduction to the series and then work your way through the other pieces of the roadmap (recognizing your personal signs of stress, recognizing situational factors that cause stress, identifying positive coping techniques you already use, learning diaphragmatic breathing, learning other formal relaxation techniques, cultivating helpful and healthy thinking patterns, and giving attention to positive emotions) before coming back to this topic. Today is our final topic-social support.
In this session, I want to remind us all that we do not have to get through anything alone. The rest of the roadmap series until now is, admittedly, very focused on building YOUR toolbox. This is important because the more you believe you have the tools to handle challenges, the more you will be able to adapt to or bounce back from those challenges. But, that doesn’t mean we always MUST go it alone. Sometimes the tool we need is leaning on others.
The relationship between social support and health has been studied in many populations (e.g., patients with cancer, weight loss, maternal health, caregivers) and in many cultures (e.g., American, Turkish. For example, this meta-analysis found that higher perceived social support was related to lower subjective burden in caregivers of adults or older adults. And this meta-analysis found a positive relationship between social support and mental health.
You are probably thinking, this is obvious, what’s the catch? The catch is that many of us neglect our social support networks or tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” reach out to them in times of challenge (take a look back at our Day 6 topic on unhelpful vs. helpful thinking for a reminder of the dangers of “should”).
First, who makes up your social support? Taking a step back a moment, this question is important. For some of us, having a robust network of friends and family with whom we communicate often. For others of us, it is a smaller network you may talk to less often, but you know you can always rely on one another when needed. . For some, our faith community is an important part of that support network. Some of us may be in formal support groups, on-line discussion groups like Mayo Clinic Connect, or other social groups like a men’s group, quilting circle, book club, etc. So, what does social support mean to you? Who and what groups do you feel you can really rely on in times of challenge (and who do you support when they are challenged)?
The other part of social support beyond the who is the what. Social support can be emotional comfort, encouragement, services to one another (like helping get things done or giving a ride), problem-solving support or advice, or just comfortable companionship. Just like the who, the what can vary based on individual preferences and needs of the situation. It is important to recognize that the same whos may not do the same whats for you, but that you need a mix of both. Knowing what whos do what whats (and when) for you specifically is important. (Is it just me or did that end up sounding like Dr. Seuss wrote it? I’m ok with that, he was amazing!).
So, are you someone who has a smaller network and really appreciates having someone in that network who will let you express those strong emotions and provide comfort? Are you someone who appreciates a large network of family, friends, co-workers, etc who are willing to pitch in with “service” support when needed? Or, you may be a mixture of all of this (many of us are). I encourage you to spend a moment answering these two questions:
Before COVID and social distancing (physical distancing really) you probably had a routine that allowed you to maintain those connections. You went to services in whatever faith is important to you, you attended your support group, you got together for dinners, lunches, brunches, etc. with those important to you. Now, most of that has been on pause. So, how do we maintain those connections in the time of this physical distancing? In our presentations to the staff at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, we’ve heard lots of innovative suggestions–group fitness challenges, group text messages, FaceTime/Duo calls, Zoom happy hours, Virtual book clubs, trading photographs each day, sending around jokes for a laugh, getting back to being pen pals through letters and cards, etc. I’d love to hear the ways you are doing this!
All of the above assumes you feel you have all the social supports you need, which I hope is true for all of you. However, the reality is that some of us felt like we didn’t have the social support we needed even before COVID changed our lives. So, if you need to start cultivating some support networks, I hope this series gives you the opportunity to reflect on that and get started. I’ll offer a few recommendations here, but this is where I also welcome comments from you! What would you, our readers, say to one another in terms of ideas for cultivating that support network? Here are mine:
What are your ideas?!
On Tuesday, I’ll post one more entry on this topic, bringing us around again to the full roadmap. I’m hoping you’ve made some notes for yourself along the way, and Tuesday we’ll be able to put them all together. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve put together!
We are nearing the end of our resiliency roadmap journey. I hope you’re seeing all the tools you already had available and are adding to your toolbox. Welcome back for those of you who have been following the series all along. If you are just finding us–Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve found us. As always, I want to encourage our new readers to take a look at our Introduction to the series and then work you way through the other pieces of the roadmap (recognizing your personal signs of stress, recognizing situational factors that cause stress, identifying positive coping techniques you already use, learning diaphragmatic breathing, learning other formal relaxation techniques, and cultivating helpful and healthy thinking patterns) before coming back to this topic.
This quote by Alice Morse Earle is perfect for this topic. However, I said this last time, and I want to emphasis it again today: sometimes bad things happen to us or we make a mistake (sometimes a big one). It is important to acknowledge that. But, it is also important to acknowledge in everyday there is always something (big or small) that brings us joy or for which we are thankful. On days that are full of joy, it is easy to bathe in the emotional aftermath of a day of positive experiences: joy, thankfulness, and happiness. With all that lovely serotonin (a neurotransmitter related to mood) flooding our system, we feel great! But what about those days filled with stress? How do we get a serotonin dose on those days?
Fairly recently on this newsfeed, I discussed some research into gratitude and experiments related to the impact of gratitude practice. I encourage you to review that full post for all the details. To summarize, the results showed that when people focused on and recorded all the frustrations they experienced during the day, they had much higher negative emotion ratings and much lower positive emotion ratings ratings than when people focused on and recorded things they are grateful for. The impact of this practice is stronger if done on a daily basis (as opposed to weekly). Beginning a daily gratitude practice overall improved satisfaction with life, optimism, feeling connected to others, and improved sleep in comparison to a group that was not instructed to start a gratitude practice.
I wish to emphasize that gratitude is not a practice of ignoring the negative or stressful aspects of life–those are real, often very serious, and acknowledging those emotions is important. However, gratitude is about acknowledging the positive even as we process the negative.
If you’ve followed along in the resiliency roadmap series so far, it won’t surprise you that I’m giving you homework. Just like other tools we’re recommending, using the tools regularly and building them into your routines means you’ll be more likely to use them in times of stress and be less distressed by stress when it happens.
With that, I hope you’ll try to join me as I fight my own tendency to focus on my frustrations and hassles and instead focus on those things I’m grateful for or have brought me joy. Here’s my two step homework assignment for us to do together.
I look forward to hearing from you on the above. If you are interested in continuing a gratitude discussion, I’d encourage you to join in the gratitude discussion group here on Mayo Clinic Connect!
On Friday, we’ll meet again and discuss the importance of social support and brainstorm ways to reinforce our social support networks in the time of COVID social distancing.