National Care Planning Council
National Care Planning Council

Senior Services
from our Members

Books for Care Planning

    Long Term Care BooksFind books provided by the National Care Planning Council written to help the public plan for Long Term Care. Learn More...

Eldercare Articles

    Eldercare ArticlesThe NCPC publishes periodic articles under the title "Planning for Eldercare". Each article is written to help families recognize the need for long term care planning and to help implement that planning. All elderly people, regardless of current health, should have a long term care plan. Learn More...

Join the NCPC

Guide to LTC Planning

    Guide to Long Term Care PlanningFrom its inception, the goal of the National Care Planning Council has been to educate the public on the importance of planning for long term care. With that goal in mind, we have created the largest and most comprehensive source of long term care planning material available anywhere. This material -- "Guide to Long Term Care Planning" -- is free to the public for downloading and printing on all of our web sites. Learn More...

Controlling Stress with Mind and Body Calming Techniques

Controlling Stress

Here are some ideas on using popular mind and body calming modalities to control stress for aging seniors and where applicable for their caregivers.

Music therapy
Listening to music does wonders to alleviate stress. Choosing what will work for any individual is difficult; most people will choose something they 'like' instead of what might be beneficial. In doing extensive research on what any given piece of music produces as a physiological response, many unexpected things were found. Many of the so-called Meditation and Relaxation recordings actually produce adverse EEG patterns in the brain – just as bad as Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. The most profound finding: Any music performed live and even at moderately loud volumes even if it is somewhat discordant has a very a beneficial response.

Laughter therapy
Numerous studies show that laughter has the uncanny ability to wipe out stress. Here are some suggestions:

  • Look up jokes on the internet.
  • Try to see the humor in being an aging senior or a caregiver.
  • Write on a card "Have you laughed with your care-receiver today?" and place it in a conspicuous place in the bathroom or kitchen.
  • Read funny books or jokes, listen to funny recordings or watch humorous movies or videos that make you laugh.
  • Share something humorous with your care-receiver, a friend, or relative.
  • Attend social groups where there is a lot of comeraderie, joy and fun.
  • Be aware of how often you smile; it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
  • If you find that you are feeling hopeless, and humor or laughter is not affording you the up-lift you want, contact a counselor. And remember, laughter is the best medicine. Try it, you'll like it!

Laughter clubs
There is no medicine like laughter therapy. After 15 minutes of laughter, in the morning, at a local club, stress is relieved and you will continue to be able to handle new pressure throughout the day. Laughter has benefited many people who were on heavy tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Now they are getting better sleep and their depression is reduced. Under the Laughter Club concept, people laugh in a group without the help of any jokes. To make it more spontaneous and keep the sessions interesting and avoid boredom, laughter techniques need to be stimulating. That's the job of the club Certified Laughter Leader. These clubs are popular in India and England and are quickly catching on in the U.S. Just for laughs, you may want to start a local chapter.

If you have ten free minutes a day, you can reduce stress, improve insomnia, lessen anxiety and depression, and decrease your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Sound too good to be true? In fact, the meditative technique known as the "relaxation response" was described a quarter century ago by Harvard physician Herbert Benson, M.D. and has been scientifically proven not only to reduce stress and anxiety but also to improve symptoms of cancer, AIDS, and other conditions.

Just what is the relaxation response? Simply put, it is the opposite of the "adrenaline rush" we associate with stress and anxiety. Physiologically, our bodies respond to perceived threatening situations with an increased release of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, leading to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, accelerated breathing rate and increased blood flow to the muscles. Because these reactions prepare our bodies to flee the situation or to fight, this reaction has been termed the "fight-or-flight" response. The relaxation response described by Dr. Benson and his colleagues is a state in which our bodies undergo an opposite reaction - leading to decreased breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism.

Almost anyone can learn to elicit the relaxation response, and no special equipment is necessary. The relaxation response technique consists of the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, etc. while sitting quietly with eyes closed. Intruding thoughts are dismissed by passively returning to the repetition. This should be practiced for 10-20 minutes a day in a quiet environment, free of distractions. A seated position is recommended to avoid falling asleep, and you may open your eyes to check the time but do not set an alarm. Don't feel discouraged in the beginning if it is difficult to banish intruding thoughts or worries; this technique requires practice. With consistency and time, the relaxation response will occur effortlessly and smoothly.

For maximum benefits you should schedule time to practice the relaxation response into your daily routine. Many people find it helpful to practice this technique at approximately the same time each day; for example, upon returning home after a busy workday is it may ease your transition to a relaxed and enjoyable evening.

Another technique is practicing what the Buddhists call 'mindfulness'. At various times of the day try to focus on your breathing. Notice how the air feels cool when you inhale, and then feels warm when you exhale.

You can do this while you are doing the washing, making the beds, waiting at a red light, or even standing in a post office queue, etc. The instant benefit from this is that it brings you immediately to the present moment. It is also very effective if done during or before an important meeting, an exam, or even while sitting in the dentist's chair. As you breathe out, you will start to feel your body relax, and your mind will become more focused. Each time you feel yourself getting stressed or find that you have unexpected time on your hands, you can do a quick 60 second meditation.

Tai Chi
Tai Chi Ch'aun is a centuries old Chinese system of physical exercise based on the principles of effortless breathing. It can be practiced by an individual, alone, and in a limited space. It requires no equipment, except a loose-fitting garment that permits continuous rhythmic body movements. It can be learned by anyone regardless of age, sex, or athletic ability. Tai Chi emphasizes relaxation, receptivity, and inner calm rather than strength. The flowing stretching movements make the body limber, tone up muscles, and help release muscle tension. This is accomplished by practicing movements slowly and evenly in circular patterns. Many people also report it is an excellent and effortless way to lose weight. Online session or DVDs are available for practicing this technique.

Yoga is a wonderful way to release stress. Meditation, breathing exercises and sustained poses help you focus on relaxing your mind and body. Once having learned the techniques in a class, it can be done at home. Yoga also helps you develop greater control over your thoughts and worries.

Acupuncture can treat a wide spectrum of ailments since it approaches injury and disease by looking at the underlying cause as well as the symptoms. Since acupuncture treats the root of the problem, it is favored over traditional therapy because with acupuncture symptoms rarely return. Although acupuncture is renowned for its effectiveness in the treatment of pain, such as back pain, frozen shoulders and migraines it is also effective for many other problems such as stress and anxiety.

Massage therapy
Massage therapy works to improve an individual's health and well-being through the hands-on manipulation of muscles and other soft tissues of the body. Massage therapy is designed to stretch and loosen muscles, improve blood flow and the movement of lymph throughout the body. It facilitates the removal of metabolic wastes resulting from exercise or inactivity and increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissue. In addition, massage stimulates the release of endorphins – the body's natural feel-good chemicals – into the brain and nervous system. It provides a relaxed state of alertness, reduces mental stress and enhances capacity for calm thinking and creativity. Massage also satisfies the need for caring and nurturing touch, creates a feeling of well-being, and reduces anxiety levels.

Aromatherapy is the art and science of using essential oils, extracted from plants, for therapeutic benefit including stress management. It's efficacy is backed up by solid scientific research. Because aromatherapy can be done as a self-help technique, its use can be very beneficial as a stress reducer while you work. Most of the workplace applications are available in hand lotions for easy use in the office. Bergamot and lavender work well for stress and anxiety reduction. Pendants are also an excellent way to utilize aromatherapy oils in public. Nebulizers and misters are used at home. There are hundreds of unique oils and scents, and each has its own medicinal or therapeutic value. Here are some common oils: Anise, Sweet Basil, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Atlas, Blue Chamomile, Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Clove, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Sweet Fennel, Geranium, Grapefruit, Juniperberry, Lavender, Lemon, Sweet Marjoram, Nutmeg, Sweet Orange, Palmerosa, Patchouli, Black Pepper, Peppermint, Pine Needle, Rosemary, Sandalwood, Tea Tree, Vetiver, Yarrow, Helichrysum, Neroli, Grapeseed oil and Ylang Ylang.

Pet therapy
There is a saying that "dog is man's best friend." This is certainly true when it comes to dealing with your body's stress response. Many people feel more relaxed when companion animals are present. Several studies have shown that pets are good for us in numerous ways. For example, petting an animal is known to lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and brighten your mood. Another study found that simply watching fish in an aquarium made patients waiting to undergo medical procedures less anxious. In fact, "pet therapy" is frequently used in hospitals and nursing homes to increase socialization and to reduce depression, loneliness, anger, and stress.

Having tender physical contact with your pet is also good for you. Having an animal to hold, cuddle and caress has positive effects on people. Especially those who might have limited means to give or receive physical expressions of affection. Most of us have felt a warm fuzzy feeling inside just by getting your face licked by a puppy. After a hard day at work, this kind of attention can really help you to calm down and relax.

Talking to your pet can be very therapeutic. People often talk to their pets to share their thoughts, feelings, troubles, and worries. Although your pet won't give you any solutions for your problems, the very act of talking about your concerns with a good listener may help you find your own solutions. And you must admit pets are great listeners.

Finally, if you have a dog for a pet, you get to go for a walk at least 3 or four times a day. This affords you the perfect excuse to take time to yourself away from your stressors. These walks give you time to breathe fresh air, join with nature, collect your thoughts, make plans for the day, or just daydream. Also, watching your pet frolic and play can't help but bring a smile to your face and help to dry up your sea of troubles. Furthermore, the light exercise you get from walking your pet helps you to deal with the physical stress reactions you have acquired in the course of your day. Specifically, walking with your dog helps you to burn up the pent-up energy your stressors have caused.

Relaxing personal retreats
Take a relaxing, scented bath with candles. Every woman knows this is a sure-fire way to relax, but how many of you take time to do it? For the guys, stay thirty minutes in a hot shower, soak in a hot tub or go to the local sauna. Take a weekend break to a spa, even the guys. Get a facial; it's great guys. Take a weekend trip with your partner or with friends. There are tons of activities you can do to remove yourself from the daily grind, have fun and just relax.

Gardening has an important impact on the health of individuals through direct interaction with plants and the natural environment. Horticulture promotes individual health through exercise, stress reduction, social interaction, and mental stimulation. Gardening is recommended by such groups as the American Heart Association as a technique to improve general physical health and thus prevent many diseases. In addition, urban agriculture can plan a role in improved health through access to high quality fresh produce either locally produced or self-produced. The National Care Planning Council is a nationwide alliance of eldercare experts, advisers and providers who promote and support long term care planning.