3 Ideas To Ease Caregiver Stress
When Mom died, I felt like a train had run over me. I came to realize that grief wasn’t totally to blame, although her loss was devastating. Instead, it was the realization about the stress and strain I’d put on my body doing caregiving over the two0-year period. I believe my response isn’t unique in that we often forget about our own needs as we focus on caregiving for our loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.
But that doesn’t mean that insidious stress isn’t taking a toll (even before you feel like the train has run over you). Psychological stress is defined as “emotional strain or tension in response to a particular event, behavior, place or person,” according to Dr. Andrew Weil, a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. And that stress can turn into really scary physical issues. Dr. Weil points out that stress has been linked to increased rates of mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents and suicide. Furthermore, approximately 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are linked to stress-related problems. And stress can lead to obesity if you don’t manage it.
Not surprisingly, stress can affect not only your body, but your mood and your behavior. The Mayo Clinic describes multiple effects of stress on the body, including headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, a change in sex drive, upset stomach and sleep problems. Your mood can become anxious, restless, unmotivated, irritable, angry, sad and/or depressed. And in response to heighted stress levels, you may end up overeating or undereating, respond with angry outbursts, abuse substances, use tobacco and withdraw from friends and family members.
So how can you put up a “force field” (to borrow a science fiction term) to deflect stress? Here are three tips that worked for me:
- Get away from it all. I don’t mean forever, mind you. But taking a mini-vacation – whether going out of town for the weekend or to a movie for a 3-hour break -- can really help. I found that leaving the caregiving setting and going to one that frees your mind from the constant stress really can help. When I was caring for Mom, I’d periodically zip over to another city to see friends, visit museums, and generally snoop around. I returned refreshed and renewed when I returned. And when I couldn’t get out of town, I’d arrange to go see a movie or a play, or to have lunch with a boisterous friend. Soon my mind was on other things besides caregiving.
- Indulge yourself! No, not in overeating or drinking far too many glasses of wine. Instead, indulge yourself in rituals that relax you. Or pick some healthy that you enjoy doing and make it a treat that helps you remember that life is to be enjoyed. Mine happens to be a monthly massage. For some of my friends, it’s a serene bubble bath. For another friend, it’s a romp at the dog park with her two cute little canine friends that leave sher laughing.
- Speaking of canine friends, snuggle with a pet. Think I’m crazy? Well, tell that to the Harvard Medical School, which in 2011 “employed” a four-year-old Shih-Tzu as a registered therapy dog. Research has found that animals actually can help you reduce your blood pressure, improve recovery rate from heart disease, and reduce the rates of asthma and allergies. They also can help your psychological well-being and self-esteem. And they instinctively know when you need extra support; I can’t tell you how many times one of my dogs has realized that I’m stressed and jumped on my lap to snuggle. So if you don’t have a cat or a dog, ask to borrow one from one of your friends.
There are other ways that you can ease stress that I’ll try to address in future shareposts. But what my message today comes down to is that you need to make sure your own self-care isn’t always on the bottom of your “to-do” list when caregiving. Otherwise, stress – and possibly something worse – may catch up with you.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Junge, C. & MacDonald, A. (2011). Therapy dog offers stress relief at work. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.
Mayo Clinic. (N.D.) Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior.
Weil, A. (N.D.) Stress. DrWeil.com.