Caregivers’ Corner: Put a Stop to ‘Brain Chatter’

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2017 12:55

What do you do when your brain just won’t shut up? Stress, guilt, grief and the general unpredictability of daily living can propel even the sanest caregiver’s brain into unproductive, exhausting, looping thoughts.

What time is that doctor appointment? Did I put Depends on the grocery list? What happens to her if something happens to me? How do I get him to give up the car keys? Why don’t the kids call more often? Why can’t I do more? Why can’t I remember where I put the stupid checkbook?

Whether in the middle of the night or mid-afternoon, thoughts and questions can babble through your brain like Alvin and the Chipmunks at triple speed.

How do you interrupt that chatter so you can go to back to sleep or move forward with your afternoon chores?

Stop. Take a breath. Exhale.

Keep a pen and notepad in the room you use the most and another set next to your bed. Jot a couple of reminder words down for each issue or concern as it pops up. If you can take care of a concern immediately, do it. If not, writing it down will reassure your brain that it doesn’t have to keep looping to remember.

If your thoughts continue to spin anyway, try one of these interruption techniques.

Count Give yourself one minute. Count backward from 100 by sevens. When you run out of numbers or the minute is up, firmly say the word “stop.”

Not good at math? You’d rather count down by tens? That would be too easy: Counting by sevens will require total focus, leaving no room for brain chatter. And no one is grading you for correct answers, so relax.

As soon as you say “stop,” go do something. Drink a glass of water. Rinse the dishes. Take a quick walk. If you’re in bed, fluff your pillow or roll over and let your eyes drift shut. Repeat the word “stop” if you need to.

Visualize a place Think of a place that is outdoors, familiar to you and brings good memories. It might be a place where you like to walk, fish, camp, bike or just sit and enjoy nature. Take one full minute to imagine it in detail. Remember the landscape, the horizon, the foliage, the colors, the sky, the sounds and the fragrances. When a minute has passed, say “stop” out loud.

Use the alphabet Think of a girl’s name, a flower or an animal for each letter of the alphabet. Whether you start with “Alice,” “azalea” or “aardvark,” name as many as you can in one minute (set a timer if it helps), then firmly say “stop.”

Our brains are very literal, which makes the word “stop” important. By saying it, you interrupt the loop and put your brain on notice that you’re done with the noise.

After each of these exercises, remember to go on to another activity that will engage your mind. If you poke around your thoughts to see if the chatter will come back, it will, so don’t poke.

Inhale. Exhale. Move forward.

Joan Jackson is a partner with husband Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (209-588-1835), whose services include free caregiver groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging. Read more of her columns online at seniorfan.com.

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2017 12:55
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