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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

Navigating Aging Loved Ones While Brain Retraining

Updated: Feb 4

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There is a practical reality that sometimes we need to face even in the process of brain retraining; this are constantly changing and life is temporary. When we are faced with a decline in the people we care about, putting on rose coloured glasses and pretending its not happening isn't helpful. Neither is dwelling or perseverating on it, or going into anticipatory anxiety about what the future may hold. We need to find a happy medium, a balance where we can be present with what is happening, allow our emotions, but not get caught in a limbic system loop. Sometimes this can be easier said than done. Today's blog is about looking at some tools and insights that can help.


Be in the Present Moment

As soon as we see evidence of decline or hear sad news, the mind immediately starts to focus on what the future is going to bring. Do your best to stay centered in the here and now. If there is opportunity for quality time with the person, take it. Savour & cherish the moments. If your mind is going to the future, tell yourself you will take things one step at a time and make decisions as the need arises. Playing out possible scenarios and what you would do (or how it will affect you) is not helpful.


Remember that your loving presence can also provide a source of comfort (for both of you) if quality time is not available. If you are far away, take a moment and send them loving kindness through your intention, or visualize them surrounded by love and support.


Honour Your Emotions

In any grief and loss situation, it is important to feel the feelings for the things we cannot change and to make space for those feelings to come out. This requires a level of tolerance for emotions and a willingness to feel some discomfort. By allowing this natural process to happen, it enables us to adapt to the new situation or circumstances. Know that emotions naturally come and go in waves. The heavy feelings are temporary, even though it may not feel like it. A wide range of emotions is common, and all emotions are to be honoured and accepted. There are no wrong or bad emotions when it comes to these situations.


Here is where the balance comes in. Feeling your feelings about a situation and allowing that energy in motion (e-motion) to move is not the same as dwelling on the thoughts, fortune telling, catastrophizing, and playing the what-if game, which then bring up feelings (and stress) as a response to your thoughts. When you are "feeling your feelings", those feelings typically spontaneously arise with a brief or momentary thought of your loved one. You notice sensations in the body that correspond with those feelings and sometimes it is helpful to breathe into them and make space for them (aka accept and allow them). This is what supports us in moving that energy. The focus is on the emotion and the sensation as opposed to the thoughts.


If you find you cannot get out of the thought loops, consider doing a round of expressive writing (15 mins a day for three days, writing uncensored your deepest thoughts and feelings about the situation/person. The more open and honest you can be the more beneficial this will be). Allow emotions to flow freely if they arise during the writing. This process will help you to externalize all the thoughts swirling around in your head, which tends to make them less intense. Sometimes people also gain insights or understandings through this process that they wouldn't otherwise gain just thinking about it. After three days take a break for several days up to a week, then revisit the exercise if you feel you need to do so. Follow up each writing session with something to shift your focus and emotional state. Outside of the expressive writing time, when related thoughts surface, gently put them in a box in your mind and come back to them when it is time to do the writing. If this isn't enough to help you redirect, do rounds of practice and actively redirect your brain. Remind yourself to come back to the present moment and that you will take things as they come.


Say What Needs To Be Said

It is a good practice in general not to leave things unsaid with loved ones, but this becomes more critical as aging and decline occur. Reflect on whether there are things left to be said. If saying them isn't an option (for example, they wouldn't be well received) then consider writing a letter to the person (uncensored) that you will not send to them. This gives you an opportunity to say what is in your heart and mind without worry of repercussion. Sometimes after doing this written exercise it becomes clear what really does need to be communicated directly. If the person has passed on, we can still write them a letter. Some people like to burn it afterward, with the intention that the transformation will help it to reach them.


Increase Your Self Care and Nervous System Regulation Time

Watching people decline or losing a loved one takes energy. It can also bring to the forefront our own mortality. And yet, the silver lining in being aware that life is temporary is that we are less likely to take things and people for granted, more likely to be in the present moment, and more clearly able see what is actually important (versus all the little details we get caught up in that, at the end of the day, really don't matter all that much). There is a life lesson for us here, if we want to learn it.


Doing things to nurture yourself, rejuvenate you, and regulate your nervous system are especially important during this time. Connect with loved ones, spend time in nature, be gentle with yourself, increase your meditation time, and do activities that feed you. Let go of any guilt that may come up with taking this extra self care time. This will help give you the resources you need to navigate. It is still okay to laugh, have fun, engage in the awe and beauty of life even when difficult things are happening. Any loved one who truly cares for you would want that for you.


Navigating these times can be challenging, but they can also bring beauty, wisdom and richness to our lives. Trust the process and allow yourself the experience. You will grow as a result and learn essential skills to help you navigate in the future.


A side note:

As some of you know, my son Caelum is currently studying to become a Functional Neurologist. A lot of what he is learning is relevant to brain retraining, and he has graciously agreed to share some tools and information with us along the way. Moving forward, at the end of each blog will be a "Caelum's Insights" section which will feature this information. So far what he has shared with me has been very helpful and fascinating. I hope that you find his insights beneficial too!


Caelum's Insights (A Functional Neurology Perspective):

If you find yourself stuck in a sympathetic response, where you can't sit still, calm down, or are in "go-go-go mode", activating the right side of your brain can help take you out of this response. Engage in a creative activity. It will calm you down. If you are unable to do that, consider doing figure 8's with your left arm. The left side of the body activates the right side of the brain. Learning to change the state of our nervous system and return back to regulation is key to health and wellbeing on many levels, including brain health.  


If you have any questions you would like answered in this blog, please email me at candy.thriving@gmail.com


Best wishes on your retraining!


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