Better Caregiving Using this Important Tool: Breathe to Win

This entry marks the first in a series of posts on strange, but effective, caregiver strategies I’ve discovered during my mom’s illness.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Some of these ideas may be more or less relevant, depending on which stage of the disease you’re facing. But my intention is to start with really basic ideas that can be used in different ways throughout the caregiving journey. Here’s the First Weird Tip: Learn to Breathe Strategically.

Let’s face it. We all have to breathe. But breathing techniques are also used in physical training to improve athletic performance. If you’ve ever tried lifting weights, martial arts, yoga, or even calisthenics, you may have learned that you can control your breath to give yourself a physical advantage. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve taken yoga classes for a large part of my adult life. During the early stages of my mother’s dementia, I realized that I could use yoga breathing techniques to help Mom through delusions and panic attacks.

When she was having a troubling episode, one thing that seemed to help her was a gentle, but firm, hug and the steady sound of my breath in her ear. If I could calm myself and breathe slowly with my nose near her, the sound of my steady respiration helped Mom regulate her own breathing and bring herself back from the summit of panic.

No doctor ever suggested this to me. I just stumbled on the technique by accident when I noticed that my focused breath brought some measure of peace to us in chaotic moments. Now I use my breath in different situations to calm us both down and deal with whatever crisis is underway.

The technique is simple. When there is nothing crazy happening in your life, practice counting while you breathe. See if you can get yourself to breathe evenly — inhale for three counts, exhale for three. Keep the rhythm going for a minute or two, just to get used to this habit. After you practice it for a while in times of peace, you’ll be ready to use it when a tempest breaks loose. Think of it as a kind of “time out” that will help both of you get your bearings.

You can use counted breath to do many other things that I’ll discuss in future posts. Let me know if it works for you when you’re faced with a problem. I’d also like to hear from you if you have special tricks you’d like to share with other readers. I’ll feature the best suggestions here over the next few months.

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