Relaxation and breathing

Whether you’re just helping out at home every once in a while or whether you are a full time carer, stress management can be challenging sometimes. Make sure you take time out to look after yourself in order to reduce the negative effects of stress and avoid carer burnout with these stress management tips. 

Do you ever feel drained, underappreciated, or simply exhausted? Everyday life can be stressful enough, but when you add the responsibility of caring for a friend or family member, that stress can become harder to manage. Caregiver burnout is definitely a thing. To avoid getting to that point, follow these effective ways to reduce everyday symptoms of stress, which in term will improve your physical and emotional health.

First things first: you have your own life to take care of! No matter how important it is to you to look after your loved one, keep in mind that in some situations, you come first. It isn’t selfish or wrong of you to take time out every once in a while to recharge. Carer burnout is very real – we understand that caring for a loved one, possibly with dementia or other illnesses, involves different stressors, from the workplace to family and caregiver duties. That’s why we are here to help out.

You may not notice the effects of carer stress at first. Perhaps you’re having regular headaches, your muscles are tense or sore and you have difficulty sleeping. As time goes on, you feel irritable often, can’t concentrate, and decision making becomes more difficult.

Neuro endocrinologist and professor at Stanford University Robert Sapolsky has studied stress for over three decades. As he describes it, “for normal mammal, stress is about three minutes of terror.”

Sarah, 49, couldn’t agree more.

“As a carer, I often find myself in situations I can’t escape from, or I think I can’t escape from. I feel anxious and stressed, and I can never seem to make reasonable decisions in such a state.”

What does stress do to your body?

We all know what stress feels like. But do you know what exactly it does to you? During a stressful encounter, our lungs work overtime to get oxygen into our body, our blood pressure and blood sugar rise, and anything that’s not essential gets turned off, such as ovulation, digestion, or tissue repair. After the stressor disappears, the system returns to normal.

Biologically, we are not meant to be under extreme stress all the time. To balance the stress associated with work, relationships and family duties, as well as being the caregiver to a parent with dementia or a loved one with a disability, is a difficult task – we know.

Unremitting stress can do a lot of damage, and the stress response is more damaging than the stressor itself, says Saplosky.

Chronic, low-level stress kills brain cells, adds fat to our bellies, and makes us age faster. It increases the risk of depression and a whole host of mental and/or physical illnesses.

“I think our lack of routine switch-off time is one of the most pressing issues in modern society… for your health, it could hardly be more critical,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, UK medical doctor and author of The 4 Pillar Plan: How to relax, eat, move and sleep your way to a longer, healthier life states.

Sarah often finds herself in a similar situation, where her tasks take precedence over me-time.

“Being a carer is challenging at the best of times. I often find myself thinking of relaxation as a treat that I have to work for, but deep down I know I should do things differently. After all, if I don’t take care of myself, how am I supposed to take care of others?”

What can you do to reduce stress and avoid carer burnout?

You know you’re stressed. You know it’s not good for you. But how can you relieve stress? You don't want to reach a point of caregiver burnout, but it’s also impossible to eliminate all stressors when you’re a carer – or it certainly feels like it. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the effects they have on you. If you cannot change your circumstances, you can still change your body’s reaction to stress. There are many techniques that help manage chronic stress and remind your body what it’s like to not be under constant attack.

Time out – take a walk, listen to music, or read a book

Because he’s seen such positive results, Dr Chaterjee now regularly prescribes ‘me-time’ for his patients. “For at least 15 minutes, every day, and if possible, stop everything, and be utterly selfish,” he says. “Stop treating ‘relaxation’ as something that you do – or more likely, don’t do – when everything else has been dealt with.”

He urges us to make relaxation a part of our schedule. It can be as simple as sitting in a room and listening to your favourite music, doing a hobby, reading a book, having a relaxing bath, or taking a 15 minute walk at some point of the day.

Whatever you do, do it without your smartphone, tablet, or computer and, as Dr Chaterjee says, “never feel guilty about it.”

Physical activity – exercise or stretch

Exercise can help stop the build-up of stress. A brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed will deepen your breathing and help relieve muscle tension. Other activities such as yoga and tai chi combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, which can also induce calm.

Social connection – spend time with friends and family

We’re wired to seek out others just as much as we are to find food, water and shelter.

Levels of stress hormone cortisol tend to be higher in lonely people, and the effects of feeling unconnected can be compared to smoking, and are often more damaging than obesity.

So schedule in social time – connect socially to your workmates, and make sure to prioritise friends and family in your week.

Stress less in 2019

New year, new you, right? If you don’t have any other resolutions, make stress management one. Pick at least one of the tips above, set a reminder on your phone for every day, and dedicate as much time to it as you can. Start small – make time for a 10-minute walk outside or a short stretching session. Keep pushing yourself – allow a 30-minute window each day to read or to participate in an exercise class, or organise a lunch date with a friend every few days. 

You may not be able to eliminate stress altogether – however, you can make sure that you’re taking the appropriate measures to stay on top of your own health as well as those you care for. Remember, community support and respite care are available to you at any time. Make sure you know when to ask for help yourself. And if it ever gets too much for you to handle alone, contact the team at Feros Care to figure out what your next step should be. 

If you want to take a break, why not have one of our friendly volunteers take your parent out for an hour or so? To see if they're eligible for this free service, click here. 

Travelling with your loved one this summer? Click here to check out our ‘Holiday tips for caregivers’ article.

The material in this article is intended for general education and information, and is a guide only. It is not intended to replace professional advice from your GP or other medical professional. Please seek appropriate advice.

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