Sometimes, the pressure of caring for someone who is elderly or who has a chronic illness can lead to stress and a condition called “caregiver burnout.” To prevent this, it’s essential to know how to manage your caregiver stress.
What Is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress is a reaction to changes that overwhelm your emotional capacity and requires you to adjust or respond. Our bodies are designed to feel stress and react to it. Not always a bad thing, stress keeps us alert and ready to escape danger.
It’s not always possible to avoid change or the situations that can cause stress; as a result, you can begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. When it persists, stress can affect the body’s immune system, leading to illness. The key to coping with stress is to identify the causes of stress in your life, then learn healthy ways to deal with them. It’s important to remember that stress comes from how you respond to stressful events. Therefore, you have some control over stress and how it affects you.
What Causes Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress can be caused by anything that requires you to adjust to a change in your environment. Your body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person. Becoming a caregiver is a common source of stress for many people.
When you are not sure of the exact cause of your stress, it may be helpful to know the warning signs. Once you can identify these signs, you can learn how your body responds. Then you can take appropriate steps to reduce the stress.
What Are the Warning Signs of Caregiver Stress?
Your body sends out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs of caregiver stress.
Emotional warning signs:
- Inability to concentrate
- Unproductive worry
- Sadness and periodic crying
- Frequent mood swings
Physical warning signs:
- Stooped posture
- Sweaty palms
- Tension headaches
- Neck pain
- Chronic back pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain or loss
- Problems with sleep
Behavioral warning signs
- Acting on impulse
- Using alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Changing jobs often
What Can I Do to Reduce Caregiver Stress in My Life?
Finding ways to reduce caregiver stress will help lessen the long-term emotional and physical toll. Tips for managing stress include:
- Keep a positive attitude. Believe in yourself.
- Accept that there are events you cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of aggressive. “Assert” your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
- Learn to relax.
- Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
- Stop smoking.
- Limit yourself to moderate alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Set realistic goals and expectations.
- Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
- Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress.
- Learn to use stress management techniques and coping mechanisms, such as deep breathing or guided imagery.
Relaxation Techniques for Caregiver Stress
Most people don’t have a plan for coping with caregiver stress. Fortunately, there are a number of relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms that you can use to help deal with stress, such as:
- Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.
- Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word “one,” a short word such as “peaceful,” or a short phrase such as “I feel quiet.” Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.
- Deep breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, and fill your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
- Guided imagery. Guided imagery is a meditative technique that involves focusing on a particular sensory image to create a specific physical reaction. Guided imagery (also called guided meditation) is a form of mind-body therapy that can bring about deep relaxation and positive focus, the state of mind and body most conducive to healing. Guided imagery also can be used to release tension, anxiety, and stress.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback helps a person learn stress-reduction skills by providing precise, immediate information about muscle tension, heart rate, and other vital signs as a person attempts to relax. It is used to learn total body relaxation and also to gain control over certain physiological functions that cause tension and physical pain.
- Behavioral changes. Changing certain thought patterns and behaviors can help you better manage difficult situations and stress. Examples include checking your assumptions, sharing your expectations with others, being assertive, exercising and eating healthy, focusing on positive relationships, forgiving, communicating feelings, listening, and rewarding yourself and others.
By recognizing your warning signs and taking steps to reduce the stress in your life, you should be able to cope more easily with the pressures of being a caregiver.
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