Carol Cummings, RN, Expert on Aging Well

Contact Carol
01 April 2019

Sometimes emotions get the better of us. Senior living is an emotionally-charged business.

I’ve met with seniors who are struggling to adapt to their new living environment, adult children racked with guilt and uncertainty over moving their parent into a community, and loved ones grieving from the loss a beloved family member. Each day brings new emotions to sort through, many of them powerful enough to impact a person’s health.

By supporting the emotional well-being of our residents, we hold to our mission of enriching the lives of those we serve with compassion and respect. Like many aspects of caregiving, there are skills that can help you provide support to those experiencing emotional distress.

Happiness is More Than a Feeling

Many people think that happiness is the absence of negative emotions, and some scientists conclude humans only have a few core emotions. However, a recent UC Berkley study found that there are 27 distinct categories of emotion. Twenty-seven! That is a lot of feelings.

Kristine Theurer, founder and president of Java Group Programs, understands the complexity of emotional well-being. According to Theurer, this complexity often makes it hard to express feelings, but research shows that when we express our emotions in a healthy way, our self-understanding and acceptance improve, and we actually become healthier.

This is why communication and emotional engagement are highly valued, especially in the senior living setting where many people live under one roof. The National Institute on Aging reports that positive emotional well-being is associated with more social connections, and healthier physical and cognitive aging.

The Positive Effects of Emotional Engagement

Being emotionally supportive sounds intimidating, but Theurer says it’s simple if you follow her three tips:

  1. Express yourself. Lead by example and model the behavior you want to receive from others. Be your authentic self. Remember that emotions help us connect.
  2. Just listen. Allow people to share their story without trying to offer a more dramatic or better one. Thank the person you are chatting with after they share. You don’t have to have an opinion or express judgment, just offer an open ear.
  3. Make them feel heard. When someone does find the courage to share, validate them by repeating back what you heard. And give them extra time – don’t rush on to the next thing. Take a pause after they share. Thank them for opening up.

While these conversations can be uncomfortable, it’s important to engage in them for growth. If you are interested in learning more about supporting emotional well-being, sign up for our ongoing Optimum Life Continuing Education series. Theurer is presenting our April program, “Supporting Your Client’s Emotional Well-Being.” This webinar will help you:

  1. Understand the concept of emotional sensitivity and how it affects our work with others.
  2. Identify three ways to increase emotional engagement in groups.
  3. Understand what to say and do when negative emotions such as grief, anger, anxiety or distress come up in groups.
  4. Describe how to use mindful communication to deal with emotions.

Talking about emotions is tough. It’s a conversation many people avoid at all costs. These tips will help you feel more confident about wading into emotional waters in your professional and personal life. If you are interested in learning more, register for professional credit on Brookdale’s Optimum Life Continuing Education page. 

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