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Strategies for saving your sanity

Many women find that no matter how much they do — for their children, their parents, their husband — it's just never enough, and they often experience feelings of guilt for letting their family and friends down. Psychologist Dale Atkins is the author of "Sanity Savers," and she was invited to appear on TODAY to share some thoughts on the subject. Here she writes more:There isn’t a woman aliv

Many women find that no matter how much they do — for their children, their parents, their husband — it's just never enough, and they often experience feelings of guilt for letting their family and friends down. Psychologist Dale Atkins is the author of "Sanity Savers," and she was invited to appear on TODAY to share some thoughts on the subject. Here she writes more:

There isn’t a woman alive who can’ t use a bit of sanity saving. We often do too much. We think a lot about what we do, care what others think, and wonder about the effect of our actions in everyone else’s lives. With so many balls in the air it is nearly impossible to think about keeping ourselves on an even keel as we navigate all that we deal with on a daily basis. Especially as we age, we have responsibilities to so many people and for so many things and we still do our best to have fun, to laugh, to be with those we care about. Women know the importance of and the positive benefits of being in balance  (mood, health, humor, attitude, creativity, patience, productivity), but sometimes we lose the ability to tap into it. And, for some of us, as we age, we sometimes get off kilter. We focus on aspects of our life that fill us with sadness and loss rather than inspiration and possibilities. We need a way to get back to our center. Any woman, at any age, can approach her life with balance. So, keep a copy of "SANITY SAVERS: Tips for Women to Live a Balanced Life" by your bedside and cozy up as you discover some helpful hints to find and maintain balance in your own life.

Aging successfully

Aging is about change and change is about loss, adaptations and new beginnings. There are some things over which you have no or little control that influence your aging and there is plenty that you can take charge of so that you can fully engage in the aging process and benefit physically, spiritually, psychologically and emotionally.

Try to put into practice some of these sanity savers for aging well, with grace and style.

  • Have a life plan that is meaningful and purposeful and keep adapting it to your situation. Rely on your own and outside resources to achieve your objectives.
  • Focus on experiences and people that give you deep satisfaction and a sense of personal control. Remember that those who grow old well focus on the growing and not the old.
  • Do things that enhance your reserves and your strengths that cause you to grow, learn and stretch your body, your mind, your attitude, your circle of people and interests.
  • Engage people of all ages and walks of life.
  • Encourage your own spiritual growth and become part of communities where you are valued and whose values you appreciate and share.
  • Understand and adapt to loss and compensate so you can benefit from what remains.
  • Deal well with adversity and appreciate that it is part of living a life in balance.
  • Contribute to making the world a better place by giving back.

Managing Menopause

You are in it. Not quite sure what is going on in and to your body but sure enough, you are experiencing what you vaguely remember your mom went through when you were a youngster. One moment you are hot, tearing off your clothes and patting your face and neck with a cool cloth and the next moment you are reaching for a sweater. And that goes on for days, months and for some, even years.

Everything seems out of whack. Although you are drinking gallons of black cohosh tea and increasing your yoga practice, you still cannot believe you are at the age or stage of menopause. When did this seismic shift happen? What on earth can you do to keep your sanity as you feel as if you are losing your mind and everything else familiar to this “change” of life (understatement of the year)?

Accepting the reality that your body is indeed changing and that you feel as if you have no control over your own biological functions, that you are somehow being held hostage to your own menopause can be quite unsettling. But settle into it you must. Acceptance is the most important part of the process.

Look to role models of women who have successfully weathered menopause and ask them how they did it. Drugs? Herbal remedies? Natural methods? Yoga and Tai Chi? Discover the combination that works best for you given what is going on in your life at this time.

Allow yourself to know that you will get through this best if you appreciate the enormous shifts in your body and your emotions as you take extra good care of yourself.

Menopause is about movement. Allow yourself to adapt to the shifting that takes place.

Mothers and daughters-in-law

If you have a daughter-in-law with whom you want to have a good relationship, get to know her. See her through your child’s eyes and you will be much more likely to be moving in the right direction. Sometimes your relationship with your daughter-in-law may play right into your insecurities, and you are left with countless misunderstandings resulting in a thickness in the air that you can cut with a knife. You’re afraid to say something and she’s afraid to say something and you both don’t know what to do. The key is to be open and accepting and refrain from offering your opinion or advice unless asked. Respect the couple’s privacy, and appreciate that you are not first in line for affection, secrets, or much else anymore. But still, you have an important role.

Pay attention to your part in the drama. Look at you from her point of view. If you, as a mother, are used to being listened to all the time, running the show, never being challenged or confronted (because you are used to making all of the decisions for your son, and he was fine with that, ask yourself if you perceive your daughter-in-law as a threat, or bossy, or too independent or controlling. These terms are often used when describing in-law children and are often not meant to be compliments.

If you the never had a daughter, be careful about jumping at the chance to do things together assuming that your daughter in law wants to and is eager to have this relationship in the same way you do. Feel it out first. If you want to help out consult her first. Be careful about forcing anything on your adult children. They are now making their own life together…with their own taste and decisions.

You will need to “mourn” for the loss of your child as well as recognize the gain. You are no longer the number-one person your child turns to for advice or to whom they speak in confidence…your daughter in law is now that person. You may love your daughter-in-law but still feel uncomfortable assuming second place. Focus on the fact that even though you are no longer in first place, you are still in the game.

You will alienate your child and also end up with an in-law child you don’t like and who knows you don’t like them if you let it be known that you don’t like your child’s choice of a partner. This contributes to a strained relationship at best. If there is a split, your child will likely blame you and you might not have the access to see your grandchildren…it gets messy and it need not. It will be easier for you if you avoid making waves and determine to enjoy her unless you are witnessing an abusive or dangerous situation.

The most loving gift you can give your adult child is to fully welcome and accept his spouse into your heart as one of your own.

Now you are a caregiver

All of us give care to someone in need at one point or another in our relationships but for some of us we are in the role of caregiver for along time and for the long haul. You may be in this position and from time to time feel sorry for yourself, your life, your situation and wonder how this could have happened to you. Sometimes you feel defeated and sometimes overcome with self-pity. You can settle into your role as caregiver if you appreciate that adaptation, a sense of humor, the realization that some days are better than others, and that you are going to have to make some significant changes in your life and adapt to the shifting sands. If you are a person who has difficulty with change, this will be more of a significant challenge. Caring for someone, even though much of your routine may be the same, if filled with unpredictability and lack of certainty. It is also very tiring.

Have a support system you can rely on. Other people who are in a similar situation as well as people who know and care about you and who have known you and your spouse for a long time can be very supportive (sometimes, however, people who know you a long time have a very hard time dealing with your spouse’s illness and may not be able to deal with the changes.)

Expect the unexpected. You might learn something you never knew from this experience. Cultivate patience, a sense of humor, and flexibility.

Take breaks and get out to do things that are good for you (get a massage, take a yoga class, do something fun, exercise, take care of your health and the way you look, attend a lecture, go shopping, idle away an hour at a bookstore.)

Get help when you are nearing your own personal limit. Everyone has her limit. It does not make you a bad person or a bad caregiver. That help can be from respite or a visiting nurse service, family member or neighbor, adult day program, or community facility.

Caring for someone is much easier and more effective if you care for yourself.

Expect at times to feel incompetent as a caregiver and take time to do things that you enjoy and make you feel competent.