16 ways to help you get through the anxiety and fear of the pandemic

Empire of the sunWe’re all experiencing some level of anxiety during this crazy time. And if you’re a caregiver, you’re dealing with your own stress and the anxiety of the person you are caring for. Watch for a blog next week about calming the person that you care for. Or, search through the archives on this site.

Here are some practical things that really work to help create order and calm.

  1. First thing in the morning when you wake up say an affirmation or prayer. “This will be a beautiful day,” “I will do the best I can,” I am strong and healthy,” ” I can get through this.” “I am strong and confident.”
  2. Create a schedule and try to stick to it. For example:
  • Shower
  • Make breakfast
  • Do an online yoga or cardio class
  • Wash clothes, clean house
  • Clean your office
  • Work on a creative project, i.e. write, knit, paint, etc.
  • Have lunch
  • Walk outside, if the weather permits
  • Etc.

It seems very simplistic, but it helps. And when you check each item off the list it adds to a sense of accomplishment.

3. Include a self-care ritual in your day. Take a bath, call a friend, do a manicure. Wash and style your hair. Whatever makes you feel good.

4. When the negative thoughts start flowing, stop them in their tracks. I heard about this technique recently from a friend, who got it from her therapist. Change the mental dialogue in your head by replacing the worst case scenario you imagine with a best case scenario. Instead of dwelling on doom and gloom, think hopeful thoughts. Of course, this technique only goes so far. If the person you are caring for has mid- to late -stage Alzheimer’s, for instance, hoping for a total recovery isn’t very likely. But you can still think positive thoughts that focus on what you cherish about the person instead of  what you dislike about his or her behavior. Or when you start to panic about what will happen to your loved one if you get sick, replace that thought with a visualization of being strong and healthy.

5. Watch a funny movie or YouTube video. There are tons of movies online, and as of today, March 20, Hulu is currently offering a free 30-day trial. The Metropolitan Opera is offering Free Live Audio Streams. Vocal artists are offering online concerts while you’re stuck at home.

6. You can work out in your living room thanks to fitness studios that are live-streaming workout classes for yoga, meditation, cardio, etc. free during the coronavirus outbreak.

7. Create a ritual of lighting a candle and playing classical music at dinnertime.

8. Use aromatherapy to calm the nerves and uplift the mood. Use essential oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Check online for ways to order aromatherapy oils. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn.

9. Support serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. Your brain is 60% fat and depends on the fat you ingest from food. Healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in olive oil, walnuts, flax and avocado will improve your mood. It is important to cook with a healthy fat such as olive oil, walnut or avocado in order to feed your brain! Canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower are not able to provide you with the fat your brain needs.

As a nutrition educator, I also like to recommend foods that increase the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, support your brain’s ability to process more serotonin.

10. If you’re lucky to have a caring partner, give each other a massage. It’s a wonderful way to tune out the world and relax. Or do a self massage with warm oil. Olive or coconut works perfectly.

11. Avoid an excess of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. These will just make you feel more jittery in the long run, and add extra calories.

12. Avoid listening to the news before bed. When the coronavirus outbreak first occurred, I found myself glued to the news and I suffered the price. My sleep was restless and I had nightmares. Limit yourself to tuning in 2 or 3 times a day at most, for a limited period of time. Don’t keep the TV or radio on all day, and certainly not while you’re eating or before bed.

13. Limit your social media time, too. There are a lot of scary things on Facebook, etc. While it’s important to stay informed, too much information can overwhelm us and make us even more frightened.

14. Stay in close contact with family and friends. Reach out to those you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Laugh about old times.

15. Do some volunteer work, unless you are a caregiver. Your spiritual/religious community has things you can do to help others like calling congregants to check-in and see if they need anything. Or donate money to a food bank or emergency assistance organization. It’ll make you feel good.

16. It’s officially spring! Get outside and do some yard work. Plant some seeds for a spring garden and watch as the seeds sprout into nature’s gift of flowers and greens.

Stay positive and healthy. We will get through this together.


Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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High blood pressure is a risk for (MCI) mild cognitive impairment

Close up of digital monitor device with cuff showing high diastolic and systolic blood pressureDid you know that high blood pressure puts you at risk for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)? The problem is, MCI can eventually develop into dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study involving 9,400 adults that was published in JAMA (January 28, 19) indicates that you can reduce your risk of MCI by lowering your blood pressure.  Adults in their 50s or older with high blood pressure participated in a clinical trial led by scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. The purpose of the trial was to evaluate the effect of blood pressure control on risk of dementia. The participants received either intensive blood pressure control or standard treatment.

Intensive control was used to bring systolic blood pressure below 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while the purpose of standard treatment was to lower it to under 140 mm Hg. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. It is the top number in a blood pressure measurement, as in 120 mm Hg over 70 mm Hg.

The results revealed that significantly fewer of those who received intensive blood pressure control went on to develop Mild Cognitive Impairment, compared with those on the standard treatment. The lead investigator Dr. Jeff D. Williamson said that “three years of lowering blood pressure not only dramatically helped the heart, but also helped the brain.”

However, the study did not show that intensive blood pressure control reduced the incidence of dementia. The authors suggested that low numbers and the study finishing earlier than planned could be reasons for this.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment? 

MCI is a condition in which the individual has some loss of mental acuity, such as forgetting appointments, losing the flow of a conversation, and difficulties making decisions and keeping track of finances, as well as trouble with reasoning. The individual is still able to care for him or herself and live a fairly normal life.

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of people 65 and older have MCI. People living with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. But MCI doesn’t always lead to dementia. In some cases, MCI remains stable or resolves on its own. Some medications may result in symptoms of MCI, including forgetfulness or other memory issues.

There are no pharmaceutical drugs approved in the U.S. for the treatment of MCI. However, the study discussed above, is a good indication that high blood pressure that is controlled through changes in lifestyle can help prevent MCI.

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

It’s called the “silent killer” because it is insidious. It often has no warning signs or symptoms.

If your blood pressure is high it causes strain on the vessels carrying blood throughout your body. This can injure the vessels and lead to plaque buildup as a response to injury. Eventually, this can lead to narrow blood vessels and then clotting of passageways, which can cause damage to the heart and/or brain. High blood pressure ultimately increases your risk for getting heart disease, kidney disease, dementia, and for having a stroke.

Taking Your Blood Pressure

When your doctor takes your blood pressure, he/she is measuring the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. The heart contracts and relaxes during each heartbeat. When it contracts, the blood is being pumped out of the two ventricles (chambers) and your blood pressure goes up. Systolic pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) is the peak reading of the pressure produced by this contraction.

When the heart relaxes, blood fills the ventricles and your blood pressure goes down. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number in the blood pressure reading) measures the pressure between the beats as the heart relaxes.

What’s normal blood pressure?

High blood pressure used to be considered 140/90 or higher.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (a division of the Institutes of Health), normal blood pressure is now considered to be lower than 120/80 according to the guidelines released in November 2017.

The guidelines state that for BP above 115/75, every rise of 20/10 mm Hg doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since 2017, the American Heart Association has advised that people with high BP should receive treatment at 130/80 rather than 140/90.

In the new guidelines, the AHA also recommends that doctors only prescribe medication in cases of a previous heart attack or stroke, or in the presence of risk factors such as: age, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Rather, at the earlier stages of hypertension, another word for high blood pressure, patients should make lifestyle changes. Here are a number of ways to do that:

10 Ways to support healthy blood pressure and prevent MCI

  1. Eat a nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat heart healthy diet. Learn about the MIND diet.
  2. Beware of your intake of sodium.
  3. Include foods high in phytonutrients—fruits and veggies.
  4. Take nutritional supplements proven to support a healthy heart: magnesium, potassium, B vitamin complex, vitamin D3, CoQ10, Grape seed extract, Resveratrol, Quercetin.
  5. Avoid decongestants if possible. These drugs can raise blood pressure.
  6. Practice a stress reduction technique such as yoga or meditation.
  7. At the minimum, take a walk 3-4 times a week.
  8. Stop smoking and reduce consumption of alcohol.
  9. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day.
  10. If you snore, have sleeping problems, or are sleepy during the day, discuss sleep apnea with your physician.

Give yourself the gift of peace and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Happy Holidays!


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

30 Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief

candle lightThe holidays can bring up all sorts of emotions: joy, anxiety, depression and grief, especially if you’re missing a loved one, or if a loved one is a shadow of their former self.

You are entitled to feel any and all emotions as they arise. If you’re at a holiday party and the tears well up, simply excuse yourself until you’re ready to rejoin the group. If you’re overcome with fatigue and grief and simply can’t make it to a party, it’s okay. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie or read a book. But keep in mind that socializing might do you a world of good. The most important thing is that you do what’s best for YOU. So whatever you need to do in order to get through the holiday season, do it in a healthy way. Please don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

Here are some suggestions for feeling your emotions and feeling your best, while remembering your loved ones during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be honest with yourself and with others. Tell them what you’d like to do and what you’d prefer not to do.
  2. Create a new tradition in honor of your loved one, i.e. if you typically hosted a dinner, set a place setting and serve your loved one’s favorite dish.
  3. Decide where you want to spend the holidays. Maybe go to a new place or take a trip with another widow or widower whom you met in a support group.
  4. If you’ve had a hard time discarding your loved one’s clothes, think about donating them to a homeless shelter, etc.
  5. Start journaling. It’s a wonderful way to express your feelings and get things off your chest.
  6. Write a letter to your loved one and express your love, your sadness, grief, guilt, etc.
  7. Place two chairs facing one another. Sit in one and speak out loud the words you would like to express to your loved one. Tell him or her how much you miss them, or express your anger and guilt, etc.
  8. Watch what you eat. You should definitely enjoy your favorite foods, but don’t use grief as an excuse to overindulge in foods that aren’t good for you.
  9. Splurge on a gift for yourself!
  10. Help out at a shelter or food bank, or make a donation in honor of your loved one.
  11. Don’t overcommit. You don’t need to make the holiday meal, if you’re not up to it.
  12. It’s okay to be happy. It’s the holidays! Don’t feel guilty for enjoying yourself. It won’t diminish the love you have in your heart for your loved one.
  13. Read a book that will help identify your feelings and cope more easily with grief. I recommend these two: The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions by Ed.D Zonnebelt-Smeenge, Susan J. R.N. and Robert C. De Vries | Sep 1, 2001. The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir by Tanja Pajevic, 2016, 2016
  14. Get a massage.
  15. Use aromatherapy. Citrus oils are generally refreshing and uplifting for the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety.  Consider: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange. Floral oils are often used as a personal fragrance and are useful to relieve anxiety, depression, and irritability. These oils are useful as an inhaler, in a body lotion, and for the bath. Consider: clary sage, geranium, lavender, rose, and ylang ylang.
  16. Get the sleep that you need.
  17. Make an appointment with a professional therapist if you need help.
  18. Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  19. Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  20. Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  21. Eat a good breakfast!
  22. Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  23. Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  24. Meditate, light a candle, or find some quiet time for yourself.
  25. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  26. Exercise! At least take a short walk every day.
  27. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. Dancing as though no one is watching. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  28. Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  29. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  30. Do the best you can. Try to relax and enjoy your family and friends.

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

What’s new in Alzheimer’s research?

Photo of real female scientists looking into a microscope, Photo taken behind the glass.June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so I’ve gathered several new studies that you may find interesting and helpful.

You don’t only avoid holes in your teeth by keeping good oral hygiene, researchers at the University of Bergen have discovered a clear connection between gum disease and Alzheimer´s disease. The researchers have determined that gum disease (gingivitis) plays a decisive role in whether a person develops Alzheimer´s or not.

“We discovered DNA-based proof that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain,” says researcher Piotr Mydel at Broegelmanns Research Laboratory, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen (UiB).

The bacteria produces a protein that destroys nerve cells in the brain, which in turn leads to loss of memory and ultimately, Alzheimer´s.

Brush your teeth for better memory

Mydel points out that the bacteria is not causing Alzheimer´s alone, but the presence of these bacteria raise the risk for developing the disease substantially and are also implicated in a more rapid progression of the disease. However, the good news is that this study shows that there are some things you can do yourself to slow down Alzheimer´s.

“Brush your teeth and use floss.” Mydel adds that it is important, if you have established gingivitis and have Alzheimer´s in your family, to go to your dentist regularly and clean your teeth properly.

A new longitudinal study has shown that a nutritional drink* designated a “food for special medical purposes” containing the multinutrient combination Fortasyn Connect® can benefit patients with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), mild cognitive impairment, who are at risk of progressing to the dementia stage of AD, report scientists in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports.

Opioid analgesics were associated with a 30% increase in the risk of pneumonia in persons with Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. The risk was most pronounced in the first two months of use. This is the first study to investigate the association between opioids and pneumonia in this population. The results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Various clinical trials indicate what effects can be expected from standardized intervention programs on the basis of existing evidence. Little is known about the way in which such programs can be implemented in actual care practice. However, it may be possible to use data from clinical practice to estimate the potential of drug prescriptions to delay or reduce the development of dementia. The goal of the present study was to investigate the relationship between antihypertensive drug use and dementia in elderly persons followed in general practices in Germany.

Researchers found seniors who ate more than 300 grams of cooked mushrooms a week were half as likely to have mild cognitive impairment

Singapore, Singapore – A team from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50 per cent reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

A portion was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two portions would be equivalent to approximately half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI.

Copenhagen, Denmark – A new study suggests that vital exhaustion – which can be perceived as an indicator of psychological distress – is a risk factor for future risk of dementia. Researchers from the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen have, in collaboration with the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, and the Danish Dementia Research Centre, shown that being distressed in late midlife is associated with a higher risk of dementia in later life. The findings contribute to our understanding of psychological distress as an important risk factor that should receive more focus when considering prevention initiatives in relation to later dementia.

Psychological distress can be defined as a state of emotional suffering sometimes accompanied by somatic symptoms. Vital exhaustion is operationalized as feelings of unusual fatigue, increased irritability and demoralization and can be considered an indicator of psychological distress. Vital exhaustion is suggested to be a response to unsolvable problems in individuals’ lives, in particular when being incapable of adapting to prolonged exposure to stressors. The physiological stress response, including cardiovascular changes and excessive production of cortisol over a prolonged period, may serve as the mechanism linking psychological distress with an increased risk of dementia.

Morgantown, WV, USA – A research team led by Dr. Kim Innes, a professor in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, has found that a simple meditation or music listening program may alter certain biomarkers of cellular aging and Alzheimer’s Disease in older adults who are experiencing memory loss. Study findings, reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, also suggest these changes may be directly related to improvements in memory and cognition, sleep, mood, and quality of life.

Sixty older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, participated in the randomized, clinical trial. While SCD has been linked to increased risk for dementia and associated with certain neuropathological changes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease development, including elevated brain levels of beta amyloid, this preclinical period may also provide a critical window for therapeutic intervention.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

 

Why are U.S. Pregnancy Deaths up?

belly of pregnant woman  monochrome on dark backgroundHappy Mother’s Day! I don’t normally write about pregnancy, but I feel compelled to address the fact that more U.S. women are dying from pregnancy-related causes. According to Dr. Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School obstetrician, an American mother today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was.  Possible reasons include the high rate of C-sections, high blood pressure which can lead to preeclampsia, diabetes, and obesity. Although these deaths are rare, there are about 700 of them each year and according to the CDC (centers for disease control) more than half of them are preventable.

I taught the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth thirty years ago. Back then, I warned my students that there was a possibility that their doctor might want to schedule a delivery around a vacation or tee time. I taught ways to have the healthiest outcome possible with the least amount of intervention.

Here we are three decades later and the percentage of C-sections has nearly doubled globally since to 2000, according to a study published in The Lancet, Oct. 13, 2018. In the U.S. 32% of all babies are now delivered by C-section.

Globally, maternal mortality fell about 44% between 1990 and 2016, according to the World Health Organization. That’s good news. But in the U.S., 17 out of every 100,000 new moms die. That’s up from 12 per 100,000 25 years ago. And black women in the U.S. are three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related health issues than others. This could be due to lack of medical care, racial bias, and/or poor health to begin with (high blood pressure, etc.).

If you or a loved one is pregnant or plans to get pregnant

  • Please see a physician as soon as you suspect you are pregnant in order to get the best medical care possible.
  • Get a comprehensive heart-risk evaluation 12 weeks after delivery.
  • Eat a healthy, whole-foods diet and monitor you salt and sugar intake.
  • Practice a stress-reducing technique such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation.
  • Take a birth preparation class—these are usually offered at hospitals throughout the county.
  • Practice a relaxation birth technique with the person who will be your support during delivery and labor.
  • Keep your fitness up or strive to improve it. Walk or swim.

There are many articles posted on this blog on ways to reduce stress, eat well, and exercise. Even though many of them pertain to caregivers, there’s a lot of general information that applies to everyone.

Best wishes for a Happy Mother’s Day, a happy pregnancy, and a happy baby!


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What happens to your body when you’re a stressed caregiver?

Woman having a headacheStatistics show the stress of care giving can result in chronic disease for the caregiver and take as many as 10 years off one’s life. In comparison to caregivers of people in all categories, caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients in particular rate their health more poorly, take worse care of themselves, and spend more money on their health care. Feeling more tired and depleted, they evaluate themselves as less healthy, engage in fewer health-promoting behaviors, and use more health services.

Given the demands on caregivers’ time and energy, they may neglect their own self-care by sleeping less, eating too much or too little, not exercising, or not managing their own health problems. Neglect of their own health may worsen pre-existing illnesses or increase vulnerabilities to new stress-related problems.

The Physiology of Stress

Walter Cannon described the fight or flight response in 1929.  Adrenaline is the fight-or-flight hormone: It causes cells, especially muscle cells, to speed up energy production so that the body will be ready to fight a foe or run away. It is needed for short blasts of stress.

  • Pupils dilate to sharpen vision.
  • Heart rate and blood pressure increase to accelerate the delivery of oxygen to fuel the muscles and critical organs.
  • Blood flow is diverted from non-critical areas such as the gastrointestinal tract to the critical areas such as the heart, skeletal muscles and liver.
  • Liver releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream. Glucose is for immediate energy; fat is needed when the fight-or-flight response lasts longer than expected.
  • Bronchial tubes dilate to maximize the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Cortisol bolsters us in long-lasting stress situations. But when the body is dealing with chronic stress, the adrenals get “stuck” in the on position and the whole system goes into chronic “fight or flight.”

  • Glucose that is dumped into your bloodstream goes unused, so your body has to produce an enormous amount of insulin to handle it. Eventually, this may result in hypoglycemia or diabetes.
  • Fat that is dumped into your blood also goes unused, so it clogs your arteries, leading to cardiovascular disease.
  • If you drink caffeine, the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated, which can set you up for countless health problems including: poor quality of sleep, impaired immunity and age-related deterioration.

Adrenal exhaustion–The adrenal glands produce or contribute to the production of about 150 hormones. When they are stressed, they become exhausted. Once the adrenal buffer is gone, you become a prime candidate for asthma, allergy, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, hypoglycemia

Alcohol, caffeine, sugar and salt put added stress on the adrenals.

Stimulate, such as caffeine increase the effects of your body’s own stimulating neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and dopamine, which are similar to adrenaline in their effects. Caffeine and these natural stimulants provide short-term energy, focus and even a lifted mood. But in the long-term, caffeine depletes your stores of norepinephrine and dopamine, leaving you more tired, sluggish and down than you were before the caffeine habit.

Psychological stress can impact cardiovascular function and lead to cardiovascular disease, and possible stroke/heart attack.

Stress and sleep

Adequate sleep repairs your body, sharpens your mind and stabilizes emotions. Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger.

  • Loss of sleep as a result of caring for a loved one can lead to serious depression.
  • As little as five nights of poor sleep can significantly stress the heart.

Weight gain and insulin resistance

  • Increased cortisol production leads to weight gain. The adrenals increase gluconeogenesis, which provides the body with glucose from protein, rather than carbohydrates. This decreases serotonin and melatonin, which results in poor sleep and leads to food cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods in order to uplift mood, which releases more serotonin and insulin. This leads to more stress and insulin production to regulate glucose, which may lead to fat storage, weight gain and insulin resistance. It becomes a vicious cycle.
  • Insufficient sleep is also associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, as well as higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite. Consequently, poor sleep may result in food cravings.

Exercise

  1. Insufficient sleep may leave us too tired to burn off extra calories with exercise.
  2. When your body is stressed and prepared to fight or run it’s full of stress hormones. If you’re sedentary, those hormones will continue to circulate and cause damage to your body. Vigorous exercise, however, burns off those hormones. Exercise also releases the neurotransmitter serotonin and endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers.
  3. Doctors from Nottingham Trent University suggest the chemical phenylethylamine is released during exercise and could play a part in uplifting mood as a result of exercise. Phenylethylamine is a naturally produced chemical that has been linked to the regulation of physical energy, mood and attention.

Impact of food on mood and physiology

Hazards of caffeine

  1. Caffeine stresses the adrenal glands and can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, depression, irritability, anxiousness—not good for caregivers. In fact, studies show that those who drink the most coffee often suffer from chronic depression. It depletes the body of B1, biotin, inositol, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and zinc. It increases thirst because it is dehydrating, over stimulates and weakens the kidneys, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, heart, and nervous system.
  2. Can increase production of cortisol, leading to stronger cravings for fat and carbohydrates. This increases blood glucose, release of insulin and fat stored in the abdomen.
  3. Increases dopamine levels, making you feel good until it wears off
  4. May interfere with restful sleep
  5. Try not to drink coffee after 2pm
  6. Simple carbohydrates increase insulin production.

People who are stressed often crave and overeat sugar and simple carbohydrates, like chips, cookies and white bread or pasta, because those foods provide a fast release of the feel-good chemical serotonin. But eating this way causes a blood-sugar crash a couple of hours later, leaving you tired and moody. The more of these foods that you eat the more you crave. Although these foods are high in calories, they contribute few nutrients and deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals, raise triglycerides, and contribute to inflammation and excess weight.

  1. Lack of water/fiber can rob the body of nutrients because of problems with digestion and assimilation
  • HFCS and other artificial sweeteners can interfere with your natural production of neurotransmitters. Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) competes with tryptophan by blocking its conversion into serotonin. Artificial sweeteners contribute to numerous adverse symptoms, as compiled by the Food and Drug Administration and include everything from menstrual changes, weight gain, and headaches to severe depression, insomnia and anxiety attacks.

High fructose corn syrup (glucose and fructose) can lead to a decrease in leptin production leading your body into thinking it’s hungry so you eat more, especially processed foods. HFCS can lead to insulin resistance and higher levels of triglycerides, as well as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Bad habits, i.e. forgetting to eat, eating on the run, not eating breakfast all contribute to unstable blood sugar and adrenal exhaustion, which makes you grab foods that aren’t good for you, so you end up feeling irritable, moody, and even more stressed.


You get the picture? It’s important to take care of yourself, especially when you are taking care of someone else. I don’t want to overwhelm you with information or preach to you. Here’s a short checklist to help you stay healthy and balanced.

  • Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  • Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  • Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  • Eat a good breakfast!
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  • Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  • Meditate or find some quiet time for yourself
  • Exercise! At least take a short walk everyday.
  • Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  • Use aromatherapy.
  • Do the best you can.

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Calmer Waters: Spring 2019 book signings and events

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Especially for folks in the Denver-metro area: You are warmly invited! Please drop by at a book signing to say hello, or attend the caregiver symposium or conference (or both!) for lots of great information, networking and support. Respite care is available for both events. Click on the links to find out more.

20 energy and stress fixes to use now!

The holidays are stressful for everyone, but especially for caregivers. Here’s a list of some of my favorite stress relievers and energy boosters.

Soak in an Epsom salt bath and put in a few drops of lavender oil.
Soak in an Epsom salt bath and sprinkle in a few drops of lavender oil.
  1. Start the day with an affirmation. Before you get out of bed say something such as: “I am happy for the beautiful day.” I am grateful for my family and friends.” “I am cherished.” Make it yours, make it sincere. It’s amazing how it can set a positive tone of the day.
  2. Breathe! When we are stressed we tend to hold our breath. Take a 5-minute break and sit down in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Then focus on your breath and watch how your mind quiets down and your muscles relax. Then remember to breathe throughout the day. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or tight, take a deep breath and let it go.
  3. Drink water. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s always good to be reminded. Forget about sodas and limit the wine and alcohol. Staying hydrated, especially at this time of year, is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. It’s also important to support healthy cognitive function and memory.
  4. Make lists, including a meal plan for the week. It helps eliminate the last hour panic of “what am I going to make for dinner?” and unhealthy last-minute food decisions like ordering pizza.
  5. “Me time” is important! Get respite care if your loved one needs full-time attention. Ask a neighbor, relative or friend to come over for an hour or two so you can take a walk, go to the gym, or meet a friend for lunch or coffee.
  6. Eat walnuts. A daily dose of about 9 whole walnuts or 1 Tbs. walnut oil helps your blood pressure from spiking during stress. Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce hypertension.
  7. Drink green tea. L-Theanine is the main chemical constituent in green tea. It is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm. Green tea extract is available as a nutritional supplement, which might be easier and quicker to take, and it’ll save you a lot of trips to the bathroom.
  8. While we’re on the topic of “green,” be sure to eat green leafy vegetables for vitamin B and magnesium, both of which help your body cope with stress.
  9. Two handfuls of cashews (make that a small handful, please; one ounce of cashews contains 157 calories.) provide a mood-boosting effect because they are one of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
  10. Did someone mention dark chocolate? It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  11. Stretch! It’s important for everyone, not just runners and athletes. Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, strong and healthy. Without it, muscles tighten and weaken, which puts you at risk for joint pain and strain.
  12. Walk around the block. Just getting out into fresh air will instantly relieve stress, and moving your body gets your blood pumping and will clear your mind.
  13. Light candles and play relaxing music while you eat. It will change the mood instantly.
  14. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.
  15. Sit down, close the door and meditate. If you don’t have a mantra use the word OM. Repeat it silently and when you realize you are not saying it, then gently come back to it. Do it for 10 to 20 minutes every day and yoyu will notice that you are much more relaxed.
  16. Music is the universal language, and it is also the universal stress reliever. Whether it’s jazz, classical, or hard rock that makes you feel better, by all means, play it loud, play it soft, dance to it, drive to it, go to sleep to it. It will definitely help.
  17. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to help with stress, energy and immune support.
  18. Warm up with warming herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, oregano, cayenne, black pepper, cardamon, garlic.
  19. Take an Epsom salt bath and put in a few drops of lavender oil. Light some candles, turn down the lights, put on some music, and relax!
  20. Getting the proper rest is vital to staying healthy and reducing stress. Prepare yourself for a deep night’s sleep by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bed, taking an Epsom salt bath (put several drops of lavender oil in the water for added relaxation), and making sure the room temperature isn’t too warm.  Good night, sleep tight!

If you, or someone you care about, tend to suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression, these recommendations might just “take the edge off” and improve your quality of life … without the risk of side effects. May the holiday season begin!

Best wishes for a happy, safe and relatively stress-free holiday season!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.