There are always choices to be made. You can dwell on the sunny side of life or the dark and stormy side – you can cultivate a positive outlook or a negative outlook.
When your thoughts tend to view life challenges and situations as something you can deal with, you probably have a more positive outlook on life. When your thoughts tend to find the worst in everything or reduce your expectations by considering the worst possible scenarios, you probably have a negative outlook. As you can imagine, outlook makes a major difference in a person view of the world.
This outlook often starts with self-talk; the endless stream of unspoken thoughts running through your head. Self-talk can come from logic and reason or from misconceptions and misperceptions.
Judith T. Moskowitz, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago, developed a set of eight skills to help foster positive emotions.
1. Noticing positive events
2. Savoring positive events
3. Expressing gratitude
4. Practicing mindfulness
5. Reframing events
6. Noticing personal strengths
7. Setting and working toward attainable goals
8. Displaying acts of kindness.
However, maintaining a positive outlook is more challenging when you are the primary care provider for a loved one. Let’s look at how Jennie managed to re-capture her positive outlook.
Jennie is an only child, who became her father’s primary caretaker after her mother died five years ago. He lives with Jennie, her husband, and their teen age sons. She manages all of his affairs, in addition to working, keeping the home, and doing things with her family. Jennie’s Dad was overweight and had Type II diabetes; so, she took him to appointments, kept him on a special diet, and cared for him with her husband’s help until recently when he was diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Now his demands and mood swings have increased dramatically and Jennie finds herself becoming more overwhelmed and negative about life.
Years ago, Jennie learned about cultivating a “positive outlook.” She quickly caught herself saying words such as “always” and “never” to describe temporary setbacks, blaming herself for things outside her control, and feeling hopeless.
She knew these thoughts and feelings were not necessarily true, but in part caused by what she said to herself – her self-talk. So, she made changes.
One change she made was to dispute the negative thoughts and make different explanations by focusing on changeable and non-personal possible causes.
A second change Jennie made was to interrupt a string of her negative thoughts by saying “stop” and, then, focusing on a more positive set of thoughts.
Finally, she set aside time for positive activities such as reading a book on her Kindle, having coffee with a friend, or spending time outdoors.
Jennie knew that a component of a positive outlook was gratitude, so she kept a gratitude journal. There was a lot to be grateful for - her job which was mainly online, their lovely home, her very supportive and helpful husband, and her healthy, vibrant children, for example.
She also knew that maintaining a sense of purpose was important. Studies she read said that when people see themselves as contributing to a higher purpose, they are more likely to have a healthier outlook on life and be more resilient. Her purpose was to take care of her family and her father. What was missing in her purpose was taking better care of herself given the added demands on her time and energy.
Jennie realized that her feelings of being overwhelmed and negative were a sign she needed to focus more on her own wants and needs. She decided on two adjustments: one was to set and keep boundaries with her Dad. They might not stop at Starbucks for a coffee or go shopping every time she took him for an appointment. The second was to incorporate more self-care.
She gave herself permission to set aside more time for herself and for her family daily. She accepted fewer clients. She held a family meeting and told them of her needs. The boys agreed to spend time with their grandfather twice a week so she and her husband could have time together if only for a walk, her husband agreed to take him to play pool twice a week so she could spend time with each of the boys, and the three of them agreed to spend Sunday mornings with him, so, she had a block of time to do whatever she wanted. She decided to give this plan a trial run for a couple of weeks to see if it helped her outlook.
Finally, she remembered that she had choices, she was in the habit of telling herself how stressed she was and how difficult this was . . . and it wasn’t easy.
So, she decided to make a concerted effort to focus on the good of the day – how nice the boys were with their grandfather, how willing her family was to help out, and that this would pass.
Sometimes, though, it was impossible for Jennie to maintain her positive outlook. When that happened, she just let it be knowing that it would pass as it had before. What have you found that helps maintain a positive outlook during the most difficult times?