An older man and younger woman sit together on a bench facing a koi pond and serene landscape. The woman has her hand on the man's back and offers him a milkshake.

Feed a Good Attitude, Starve a Bad Attitude

The old adage, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” has been around for centuries. I’ve wondered recently if the same methods can apply to other areas of our lives in a more metaphorical kind of way.

Feeding a cold, or eating during a cold, creates needed warmth in the body. Starving a fever, or not eating while you have a fever, is supposed to rid the body of heat or at least not create more. That’s the theory anyway. So, can we create warmth when we’re being cold and let off some steam in some way when we’re overheating emotionally? Maybe.

So, how do we starve a bad attitude?

When everything seems like it’s spiraling out of control toward the proverbial drain, it’s very hard to keep your chin up. When Daddy was sick, when he was between placements, when he was violent at times, when he was hard to manage, it got very hard to smile.

When insurance cut us off, when red tape snagged us, when we had to try to find a balance between work and caring for him, when we were beyond exhausted, it got very hard to smile. When reality relentlessly slapped us over and over in the face, smiling didn’t seem to be an option. However, when we didn’t give in to our angst, when we didn’t let him see us mad or sad or depressed, when we put on a happy face, he seemed better. Daddy’s language skills were greatly depleted, but his body language and facial expressions were fully intact. Often, he’d mimic our expressions if we really paid attention. If we could manage to dust off our best Hollywood personas and smile, so would he. It wasn’t a surefire method, but it worked often when trying to cool down fiery situations. As hard as it was to manage a grin, it deflated some of the building steam.

How do we feed a good attitude?

We create warmth. We create scenarios that will bring happiness. For Daddy, a milkshake and a long visit by the koi pond at the nursing home was sure to do just that. Toward the end of his life, that became a routine thing. During those visits, we just let him ramble on to his heart’s content, and we nodded along or shook our heads according to the clues of his inflection even if his words were mismatched. Smiles and hugs and milkshakes were small things that were worth their weight in gold. When he felt better, we felt better. When we laughed, he laughed.

I recall my dear friend, April Pulliam who writes for, telling me about something she did when her son was small. She said it more eloquently than I could. “If he fell down when he was a toddler, I would scoop him up and go, ‘Oh, me!’ and give a little laugh so he wouldn't focus on how much it hurt and forget it faster.” She also relayed that the “OH, NO!” parents had the kids who would really wail and cry for an extended amount of time.

A big predecessor of how we act and react is how those around us are responding to what’s going on. Sometimes all it takes to keep the calm for those we care for, is for us to keep our heads.

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