Understand that your best is all that is required. As caregivers (or humans) we tend to believe that we have to be everything to our loved ones, but that is not the case. Most adult children really strain their relationships trying to perform in areas they resent having to perform. I believe when you have reached a point where the relationship is not in a healthy place you must move in a direction to allow peace to be restored. Senior living is built to allow independent life for our seniors with care as needed and will transition your family/friend relationships back to a healthy level. The adult child will always be the advocate but will have a team of professionals around to be supported in the process.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Caring for elderly or aging parents can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress when caring for our aging parents? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Erin Thompson.
Erin Thompson is a licensed assisted living administrator who has made a career out of changing the lives of the residents and the families her communities have served. She has currently transitioned to the digital world to increase her influence in the senior living and caregiving world. Her goal is to change the lives of each person she meets by educating, empowering, and equipping them to gain clarity of what success looks like for them and the process of achieving it.
You can view my website at www.aspireformorewitherin.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
There have been so many people and experiences that have guided me to where I am today; choosing one is a difficult decision, therefore, I will start at the beginning. I was born to love people with gray hair. My mother told me when I was 2 years old, I would go hug every gray-haired person in the store. I believe it started because my grandparents were a very prominent influence on my life. They loved me as if I was their child. I’m not sure my parents stood a chance with me because my “Monnie” and “Papa” were IT as far as I was concerned.
My grandpa was born in 1913 and my grandma in 1920 so they always were very honest with me about death. We had many raw conversations about those unspoken truths most people want to avoid. At an early age, I was prepared for their passing. On a funny note, every Christmas my grandma would say, “this year could be my last Christmas” well that finally came true in 2016 when her life’s journey ended at 96 years old.
I found where I belonged when I helped search for an assisted living community for my grandpa. I knew when I entered the community that I had found my calling. I saw and felt the deep caring and love for these special people in their final years. I knew I had to be a part of the senior living industry. I had found my professional home, and I have never looked back.
Aging and the process of dying is a subject most want to avoid, but because of my raw conversations with my grandparents plus being one of their caretakers I have a deep understanding of how to advocate for caregivers and their loved ones. My personal experience allows me to help families understand both the good and bad emotions that come with caring for their loved ones and the decision to place them in assisted living. I can guide them through all the decisions to be made to give their loved ones the most comfortable and enjoyable experiences in their final years. I value our senior citizens for all the wisdom they have given me. I want to return the favor and be a blessing to them.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
If I were to meet my younger self today and were to give her advice, I would tell her that there will be struggles. You will face new skills that will be difficult to learn but don’t be ashamed and don’t give up. These struggles will propel you to greater knowledge, skills, and wisdom. When you fail, and you will, know it’s a part of the journey and not your final destination. Learn from those failures and make them your greatest victory. Great ideas are found in the dark times and lead you to the next step; trust the process. Most importantly never give up if you know you are doing what you were born to do.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
Two groups of mentors provided me with the opportunity to become who I am today, my regional support team (Sandy, Beth, and Brian) convinced me that I could be an Executive Director at age 28. At the time I was the Marketing Director and being an Executive Director was a goal that I wanted to achieve later in life, but they saw my potential and their encouragement convinced me that I could be a success in the Executive Director role. I took the position, and it was the biggest challenge I had faced up to that point. I had to learn to adapt because I was managing 75 associates and I had never managed 1 associate. I was on a steep learning curve with lots of struggles and challenges, but I didn’t give up. I overcame my fears and struggles to lead our team to great success in the community. Looking back, I see the struggles, the willingness to rise above them and it’s one of my proudest moments.
The second group of mentors were a group of ladies from Sage Management, a consultant group who hired me as the new Administrator in a struggling community. These wonderful women added a layer of knowledge in leadership, cultivating momentum and taught me how to understand and apply regulations. I learned to see the individual, their specific needs, challenges, and how to overcome bad outcomes. Their process was based on the individual and the resident’s needs with interventions specific to the resident’s challenges. Resident history was reviewed, plus an assessment of recent status changes allowing determinations based on factual data. They stressed to me always follow up and follow through, be consistent and the details matter more than anything else. This was the most grueling 6 months of my career, but the most important 6 months of my life.
Little did I know that this training was preparing me for a personal event in my life, becoming a mother of a premature son who would need me to use this knowledge as an advocate for his care and life. Lynne Lasater and Kathy Tankersley’s influence on my career and life cannot be quantified. They reinforced the value of true caring for the individual and the value of that individual life.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I am so excited to be in a transition in my career that I believe I have earned! I have created a company that supports leaders just like me that need mentorship to guide them to create amazing communities that will thrive in changing residents’ lives and all associates (including themselves). I want to change senior living and the stress the leaders feel to be more supportive of each other and themselves. I want to change residents’ lives because they are being cared for by teams that are so connected it is the happiest place on earth! That is my passion!
Aspire for More with Erin is my coaching business and I also educate, equip, and empower families caring for their elderly loved ones through social media content, podcasting and coaching through their caregiving journey. I want to ensure everyone knows what I know so they can make the best decisions for their elderly loved ones and themselves.
I have two podcasts that enable me to reach more people with my passion of defining success for you and encouraging you along the way. My family podcast is I have Fallen and Need Some Hep and my podcast for the senior living professionals is Aspire for More with Erin podcast.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
I define stress as the point where you have more responsibility than you know how to accomplish at one time, and you don’t know how to do it all. When all the things are coming at you, and you are not able to process it effectively. Or when you find yourself in a position in life that you are not prepared to manage, and you have no idea what to do next.
Your heart rate goes up, your fight or flight response kicks in and you must decide am I going to tackle these problems or am I going to pretend they are not real and just assume they will take care of themselves.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
I believe the stress comes from comparison and not really understanding what is important to you. When we compare, we start looking at what we don’t have and what we should be doing, but we don’t take an inventory of do we really want that and “is that what WE should be doing”. When I reflect on my life, I realize that a lot of my stress came from what I thought I wanted or should have, but I never wanted any of that stuff. When I found clarity of what was important to me and focused on those things my stress level was reduced.
I also believe we, as a society, do not manage our time well, and a lot of that mismanagement comes from social media and the mindless scrolling. I am so guilty of allowing 30 mins or more to fly by to watch other people achieve things while I have not achieved one thing, I set forth to achieve! Instant stress inducer!!
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
For me, when I am under a lot of stress my heart rate is higher, I eat mindlessly, I can’t focus, and I worry. All those negative habits combine to create bigger stressors over time such as weight gain, heart concerns, diabetes, and a horrible mindset. So, the human body essentially loses its ability to perform at a healthy level when we allow our lives to be lived under enormous amounts of pressure.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress can be a good thing for us, if we lift weights, we stress our muscles to the point that we get stronger. Stress in small amounts can motivate us to try to become better, be stronger and elevate us to greater versions of ourselves. It can also make us look for more effective ways to complete tasks, to get more done and alleviate the negative side of how we are feeling. Necessity is the mother of invention!
Let’s now focus more on the stress of caring for elderly or aging parents. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate a few reasons why caring for our aging parents can be so stressful?
Our emotions play a huge role in our relationship with stress. When we become a caregiver to our parents that usually means they are not well, having a significant life change and it is sad for us as children to watch our role models become weak and frail.
Also, the caregiver role becomes all-consuming and changes every aspect of our lives. We now must think of our loved ones constantly, are they safe, I need to find a safe place for them to live, how am I going to talk to them about that, do they have enough money etc. So many complicated issues arise that we may not be prepared for especially if the hard conversations were not talked about previously.
Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Stress When Caring For Your Elderly Or Aging Parents”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Understand that your best is all that is required. As caregivers (or humans) we tend to believe that we have to be everything to our loved ones, but that is not the case. Most adult children really strain their relationships trying to perform in areas they resent having to perform. I believe when you have reached a point where the relationship is not in a healthy place you must move in a direction to allow peace to be restored. Senior living is built to allow independent life for our seniors with care as needed and will transition your family/friend relationships back to a healthy level. The adult child will always be the advocate but will have a team of professionals around to be supported in the process.
- Having hard conversations when they are not needed will make the hard times easier. In caregiving, we must make decisions that are hard in hard moments. If we knew what our loved one’s wishes are, what senior living places they prefer or what their most prized possessions are it will help in guiding you to do the best you can do. In my case, we knew my grandmother’s wishes and we did our very best to ensure we carried those out. She eventually moved into the assisted living community I worked in, and I still made sure we delivered the care based on what I knew her wishes were. It made the inevitable hard times much easier.
- Moving into a Senior Living community is not a sign of failure, it is a gift if you find the right community for your loved one. I know I am biased, but I have seen how life changing a thriving assisted living community can be for an elderly resident. I have seen residents move in who are isolated and frail turn into extroverts who eat all the time and look healthy. I saw firsthand how the activity program gave my Grandmother a sense of purpose and belonging as she was at every activity that was offered. New relationships form (romantic or platonic) that will alleviate the pressure of always having to be available to your elderly loved one. You will always know you have made the right choice when you must plan your visit to the community around the activity schedule! It happens more than you think!
- When you are reviewing finances of your elderly loved one and having to make decisions based on the amount available, always look through a small picture lens rather than a large picture lens. Life is precious and we don’t ever know how much time is left on this earth for us. When I counseled families looking at assisted living communities and we started talking about assets available the most common theme was “we only have enough money for _____ number of years.” The problem with that line thinking is we are assuming we have that number of years left. My advice is to look at everything through a 6-month lens. The average stay in an assisted living community is 18 months. And there may be options in some states after the money runs out. Know the facts, spend wisely, but don’t decide based on big picture thinking. Change the lives of you and your loved one with the money you have now. You never know what the future holds and how many times we have worried about something and that something never presented itself as a real problem.
- Empathy will help you understand your loved one more than trying to get them to change or understand the reality of their situation. Our elderly loved ones are losing control of everything they hold so dear. Whether it is dementia, the ability to safely stay home, keep the home up, or massive health and life changes. The lack of independence and needing to rely on their loved ones is hard to come to terms with. So, showing empathy and understanding sharp mood swings or negative reactions to small things do not need a reaction from you, will help keep the peace. I heard an example once, when an adult child was trying to clean out the parent’s house, the parent was trying to offer all her prized possessions to the adult child and the adult child did not want them. The adult child said “Mom, I don’t want that and no one else in the family does either.” It is a simple comment that may be true, but when a person is looking at all their possessions and coming to terms with their mortality, it hurts to know no one will want the things they value. So, show empathy and tell small lies that bring comfort. And later do something with the things you don’t want. Or together give the items important to your loved one to somebody who needs them. This will bring joy and purpose to the pain and uncertainty your loved one may be feeling.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I love to listen to Tony Robbins, Ed Mylett, Rachel Hollis, and Jenna Kutcher. In fact, Jenna Kutcher’s book How are you really helped me understand how “not OK” I was. Jenna Kutcher brought me back to my childhood and reminded me of some things that I had dreams about and that is how my podcasts came about. I incorporated my desire to speak, serve people and my absolute need to rest and take care of myself together.
Joyce Meyers Battlefield of the Mind helped me understand that I am not my thoughts. When we listen to negative stories we tell ourselves we truly believe them. And when we beat ourselves up everyday, we become defensive and not open to what may help us. This is a constant battle in my life and one I can finally say I think I am starting to win!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to get people to really understand that failure is part of the process to success. I want people to understand this at a very young age. If we look at failure as growth, we can train our minds to not have shame around it. If we can live our lives with a belief that life is happening for us and not to us, we could eliminate stress, anxiety, rage and all the other things haunting our society.
We need to know our own worth and define what success is to us and achieve it so we can teach our own kids and others that with clarity comes confidence and courage.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I am active on:
Facebook: Aspire for More with Erin
My website is www.aspireformorewitherin.com
And my podcasts can be found on Apple Podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio
Family centered: I Have Fallen and Need Some Help
Senior Living Professional centered: Aspire for More with Erin
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.