“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom…Everything can be taken from a man but [this] one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
What is the will to be well?
An inevitable part of life is the unforeseeable hardships that we encounter. A spouse dies, we are diagnosed with cancer, or we are displaced from a home. In many cases, wellness or well-being seems like a line that we are on one side of or the other and cross over many times in our lives. Wellness is often portrayed in a black and white context where we are either sick or well. In actuality thinking about wellness and well-being as a spectrum can be much more helpful. Is it possible to have a diagnosis and still be well? Is it possible to find well-being again after a death? Yes, but it is not something that happens without our attention. Maintaining our well-being in difficult situations and in the everyday takes an act of will, the will to be well. “Will” is simply the act of asserting a choice. There are certainly many scenarios in our health and relationships that we do not choose. We do not choose to get cancer. We cannot will away a dementia diagnosis. But, as Viktor Frankl reminds us, we do choose in all circumstances how we will respond. We do choose what steps we will take for our health and our well-being regardless of the circumstances.
If well-being is anything, it is complex. Many times in senior care, this can be referred to as “quality of life”, which has something to do with health, happiness, and contentment. As psychologist, Dr. James McNulty reminds us, “Well-being is not determined solely by people’s psychological characteristics but instead is determined jointly in the interplay between those characteristics and qualities of people’s social environments.”
How do you find “one’s own way”?
Building a practice is an important part of becoming anything. If you want to become a writer, you need to develop a writing practice, something that makes you return to the same actions regardless of what is going on around you. Those who wish to develop or maintain well-being as they age or care for aging loved ones, have the task of developing a practice of wellness. Any good practice will hone our skills of paying attention and as Simone Weil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” So, how do we be generous with ourselves as we age? Here are 7 tips for building a wellness practice for seniors and caregivers:
Continually Connect to Purpose
The good news is that purpose changes. We don’t have to find that one thing that will define us for the rest of our lives. There certainly may be overarching themes like family or generosity. However, even family will not give life purpose in the same way in your 30s as it does in your 80s. You are needed and involved in very different ways. As we age, it is important to connect in new ways to those larger purposes, but also to find the little purposes in the everyday that call us to get out of bed in the morning. The act of learning new things gives us the opportunity to develop new passions that speak to our need to explore and engage with life. Maybe that looks like learning to cook, playing a musical instrument, teaching a class, or taking up photography. Let your curiosity lead you to new purposes.
Pay Attention to Your Ecosystem
In the world of science, an ecosystem is simply a group of interconnected elements, formed by the network of interactions among organisms and between organisms and their environments. These organisms are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Every animal’s survival depends on being paired with the right ecosystem that helps it thrive. Two different animals could either live well or wither and die in the very same habitat. Giving attention to our well-being also means filling our lives and environments with people and places that nourish us in the unique ways we need. In times of difficulty pay close attention both to your environment and your needs. If you need quiet, rest, and a space to reflect is your home environment giving that to you? If you need to be around others who make you laugh and inspire you to try new things, is your community providing that? Is your ecosystem supporting your well-being in the unique way you need now?
Care for Something
Giving ourselves momentary reprieve from focusing on our situation can help free up space in our minds and get us out of ourselves for a while. One of the best ways we can do this is to care for something. This might look like caring for a pet, another friend, a house, worship space, or community garden. Maybe you curate a picture collection or record family stories. The act of giving yourself to a project, place, or person provides a valuable connection and impact that keeps us connected with the world and reminds us that we are needed.
The importance of expression in hardship cannot be over emphasized. Whether it is writing down or telling the story, creating art, or playing music, it is crucial to allow both sides of the brain to process your circumstances and to allow yourself to make meaning in good times and in bad.
One of the ways that we can help ourselves choose well-being even when we don’t feel like it is to connect with others who are going through similar circumstances. Not only do intentional communities and support groups provide further resources, but the act of supporting someone through a similar circumstance can actually help you see and implement better self-care for yourself.
Remember Your Story
Chances are that you have gone through difficulties in the past and also have memories of deep well-being. Reach back into your cache of stories and remember what helped you be well in the past. What attributes, relationships, and inspiration served you to get through other difficult times? When we engage with the stories of who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve survived in the past, we can actually borrow those attributes, habits, and wisdom that have helped us before.
Make a Care Plan
When we are going through hardship or change, it can be easy for us to overlook some of the needs that make up our well-being. Perhaps we’re so focused on helping the body recover that we forget the mind and the psychological aspects of wellness. Or maybe we pay attention to our relationships and neglect our finances that contribute to our well-being. It may feel silly, but map out all the aspects of your needs: social, physical, mental, medical, financial, legal, environmental, spiritual, etc. For each category create an action step to contribute to your well-being in that category. While you may not meet all of your needs perfectly, having the will to be well is about choosing to do something every day that pursues our wellness.
Viktor Frankl went on to say, “When we are no longer able to change a situation- we are challenged to change ourselves.” Choosing wellness in any situation begins with the ownership of our choices and the acknowledgement of how much power we have to change our attitudes and ourselves. At Sound Options, our unique model of care begins with well-being and quality of life and puts our clients’ power of choice and goals at the center of their care. Whether we are caring for a young man with a brain injury or a couple on a journey with Alzheimer’s we believe that wellness and well-being are possible and deserve our support. Professional Care Management services begin with a comprehensive Plan of Care where an RN or MSW evaluates the total care needs as well as the goals to help clients choose well-being and build the life they want. Give us a call to start getting the guidance and care you deserve today at 800.628.7649.
Published on June 9, 2015.