By Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator
Stress is defined as mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is inevitable—everyone deals with it. So, during Stress Awareness Month, it is an excellent time to learn more, recognize stressors, practice stress relief and get help as needed.
Stress isn’t all negative; positive stress can motivate and help with concentration. Setting goals and accomplishing them feels good and rejuvenates the mind and body for the next challenge.
However, most of the time, stress is associated with something difficult or negative. When stress becomes a way of life, it is very hard to relax and recover. When stress becomes chronic, a person’s physical and emotional health suffers.
Caregiving is a demanding and stressful role. Being a caregiver can be an extremely rewarding and gratifying experience, but it can also be daunting, challenging, exhausting and overwhelming—especially if caring for someone who is ill.
Whether you are caring for someone daily, occasionally, long distance or 24 hours a day, there will be stress. While you may not be able to change the situation, there are steps to help manage the emotional, physical and mental impact.
First, it helps to recognize what personally stresses you. The body treats these stressors as threats, which prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream. It alters the immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex, natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
When under constant stress, the body’s fight-or-flight reaction stays on alert. The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes.
When under this kind of negative, constant stress, there is a significant risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Compromised immune system
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease and increased blood pressure
- Sleep problems
- Weight fluctuation
- Memory and concentration impairment
Due to the health risks, it is very important for caregivers to learn healthy ways to cope with stress.
Stress management strategies include:
- Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques or learning to meditate
- Fostering healthy friendships
- Laughing—have a sense of humor
- Keeping a journal—jot down thoughts as an emotional outlet
- Seeking professional counseling when needed
- Educating yourself—become informed about stress, disease process, etc.
- Utilizing community resources that offer assistance and support
- Visiting your doctor regularly
- Finding opportunities for Respite Care—Oxford HealthCare can help
- Chewing gum—studies have shown this simple act can lower anxiety and ease stress
- Reminding yourself of comforting phrases that speak to you personally—God won’t give us more than we can handle. This too shall pass. Serenity Prayer. I can do this. Encourage yourself the way you would a friend.
- Believing in yourself—find the necessary means to withstand stress and look forward to brighter days ahead.
Although April is officially Stress Awareness Month, we all know that stress affects us in some way, every day, year round. If you are a caregiver, it is extremely important that you also care for yourself. Oxford HealthCare offers numerous home care programs that provide the help, support and relief you need, so you may enjoy time with your loved one and continue to provide care at home. If you need help or have questions, contact an Oxford Care Coordinator.