Dealing With Difficult People

5 Tips to Help When You're Caring for a Grump
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Having a chronic disease can turn even easygoing personalities into Eeyores who are chronically negative and glum. When a loved one's dark clouds rain on your ability to get things done (or to simply make it through the day cheerfully yourself), try these strategies:

1. Give the grump a little acknowledgment.

Sometimes you can find an opening to turn a bad outlook around by pausing to acknowledge the hurt behind the scowl. Kneel down and look your loved one in the eye. Give a hug or pat a hand and say, "I know you're having a rough day." Ask if he or she is scared, or lonely. You might be pooh-poohed, but this small act of understanding gives tacit permission to your loved one to have hard feelings. And that acknowledgment can be a breakthrough to, if not a sunnier side, at least a more pleasantly shaded side.

2. Shake up the status quo.

To change the mood, sometimes it helps to change the scene. If you've been indoors all day, go outside (weather permitting) or take a short drive together. If you've been sitting, walk around the house together. Change rooms. If you've fallen into a routine of boring lunches, make fresh cookies for dessert. If your loved one is still in pajamas at 3 p.m., suggest getting bathed and dressed up. Unfortunately, yes, this approach can require extra effort on your part. But the payoff of an improved atmosphere may well be worth it. Sometimes a shift as simple as doing your daily routine out of order (dessert first! afternoon bath!) can do the trick.

3. Tease or flirt away a challenging moment.

React in a lighthearted way: "Oh, come on, Mr. Sourpuss, let's see if you still hate me after breakfast." Or, "Did you join the seven dwarves while you were asleep? I swear I'm sitting here with Grumpy." Or, "You're so cute when you get cranky!" Make a joke about a difficult nurse. Obviously you know your loved one best, and what kind of humor he or she might respond to. But a little cajoling can sometimes help the person see his or her mood for what it is.

4. Tune out a bad mood with music.

You don't have to call attention to the grumpiness; simply put on a CD or radio station playing light music that you know your loved one enjoys. Some may find jazz or Big Band-era hits uplifting; for others, a calm but soaring Mozart concerto might do the trick. Research shows that our very heart rates react to lively music, which means that its power to lift mood may be partly biological. (Though you might want to stay away from the blues for this purpose!)

5. Coax the blues away with treats.

Try sweetening the air by offering a treat that sweetens the issue at hand -- a bouquet of flowers from the garden, a favorite cup of tea, a special movie to watch together after the errand. Offer to engage in a favorite activity in barter for a little cooperation now. Seeing you make the effort is enough to soften some grumps. For others, some sweet-talking cajoling helps.