“You’re in a bad mood.” I could see it on my mother’s face the moment she woke up.
As a caregiver, my mother and I took turns being in a bad mood. It’s a miserable existence when two people play off each other’s negativity. My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and some days, it was just too much for her to work at being happy. Is it work? Is happy all it’s cracked up to be? It’s not about being happy or giddy, it’s more about being okay with where you life is–acceptance–and then being on the look-out for the good that comes with your situation.
My mom wasn’t the only one that could turn into a Gloomy Gus. I had my own issues to contend with–raising three teenage daughters isn’t the world’s easiest job, and it’s easy to let depression seep in the cracks of your life when you’re caregiving and dealing with end-of-life concerns.
It’s usually the head and heart stuff that turns your insides into knots. I’d mull over a past hurt (my mother should have been archeologist, the way she could dig up the past!) or I’d project into the future and create disastrous scenarios. Ridiculous, I know, but our minds are like a team of horses, if you don’t reign it in, it goes anywhere it wants to, which is usually a bad-thought neighborhood.
In time, I learned that if my mom and I were going to live together again, and if she was going to have to do the tango with two formidable diseases, then we had better get our act together.
Here are a few tips I learned to coax either of us out of a bad mood:
- Lovingly disengage. Just because my mom wanted to declare it the end-of-the world-all-is-lost-day, I didn’t have to raise the flag. I could take one step back and acknowledge that yes, today was a challenging day for her, but the best thing I could do for both of us was to stay on a steady course.
- Ignore the whining and grumpiness. I’ve learned something about emotions by observing my long and illustrious marriage–sometimes we push someone else’s buttons so they will either get mad, yell or cry–and then we feed off the release of their emotions. I’m not kidding! Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship will attest to this phenomena. So the best thing to do is to click into high gear and simply not go there. After a time of it not working, the emotional fire won’t have any oxygen to keep going.
- Conversely, if you haven’t had a heart to heart talk lately, then it may be time. But cut to the chase. Ask if they’re scared. Ask if they’re lonely. Tell them you are. At first, they’ll most likely scramble. We’d rather pick at each other than look at the truth, but by you admitting your emotions, they’ll gain permission to consider their own.
- Put on some music or a funny video! Music is simply amazing when it comes to altering our moods. Within minutes, we breathe differently, our heart rate alters, and we start having different thoughts. Turn on some Bach or Count Basie to drown out a fussy moment. Even if they complain and say turn it down, don’t turn it off.
- Coax, flirt, play, tease your way out a challenging moment. Remember how to cheer up a toddler? Get their favorite stuffed toy, a cookie and a snuggly blanket? Do you think we ever grow up from needing a few creature comforts? We don’t. With a bit of gentle play, a time of wooing, an offer of a gift, we can cause a shift in someone’s day. Come on girls, you know what I mean here–we’ve been cheering up our guys for years. Guys, there is nothing in the world like flowers and chocolate. It works–for moms and girlfriends. Even for dads. Remember what they like. There’s nothing as wonderful as someone who knows you.
When all else fails, choose to be grateful for even days like this. Gratitude can be broken down into bite-size pieces. Today, a flock a sea birds took off over my house. It sounded like angel’s wings–and took my breath to see such magnificence. they just kept coming, bird after bird, their long necks (egrets and spoonbills) stretched against a blue sky. Whatever happens today, I have my birds to remember.
Not all of your day may go so great, but be on the look out for your birds–for something that startles you and takes your breath.
Helping someone get out of bad mood is an art, part play, and part having a plan. The up-side is that you can’t help lift someone else out of the doldrums without giving yourself a boost at the same time.