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Eight Skills for Coping with Stress

A recent study has found that, following a five-week course that taught skills for coping with stress, people caring for loved ones with dementia experienced decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

Dr. Judith Moskowitz of Northwestern University conducted a study, published in the May 2019 edition of Health Psychology, wherein hundreds of caregivers enrolled in a five-week course that taught techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing, goal-setting, and gratitude. The trial following the course’s completion demonstrated small to medium effect sizes on caregiver well-being in the form of a 16% decrease in participants’ depression scores, and a 14% decrease in anxiety scores.

Dr. Moskowitz designed the program herself, and said that its efficacy comes from its range of options and techniques. The results of the study demonstrate the potential for online programs to improve psychological well-being in caregivers for people with dementia and other chronic illnesses, such as cancer, HIV, and type 2 diabetes.

Here are the eight techniques used in the study to help participants cope with stress:

  1. Take a moment to identify one positive event each day.
  2. Tell someone about the positive event, either in person or on social media; this can help you savor the moment.
  3. Start a daily gratitude journal; aim to find the little things you’re grateful for. 
  4. Identify a personal strength and reflect on how you’ve used it recently.
  5. Set a daily goal and track your progress. This goal should not be too lofty — you want to be able to perceive progress.
  6. Practice “positive reappraisal” by identifying an event or daily activity that is frustrating (such as traffic) and try to reframe the event in a more positive light.
  7. Do something nice for someone else each day, even if it’s as simple as giving someone a smile. Research has shown that we feel better when we do kind things.
  8. Practice mindfulness by paying attention to the present moment; you can also try breathing exercises that help you calm your mind.

This post was adapted from a piece on NPR by Allison Aubrey.

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