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A Better Answer to Caregiver Stress

If you are a caregiver, identifying the various stages of stress and how to improve your mental state is key.

No matter how big you are or how powerful you punch, there’s one opponent that can flatten you as a caregiver. Caregiver stress is a very real thing and it can become a very formidable and a real problem. As a new caregiver, you may be thinking, “What is caregiver stress and what are the symptoms?” Caregiver stress is when caregivers wear themselves too thin by having an abundant amount of responsibilities and too little time; the results are rarely good. Stressed caregivers have many complaints including: increased anxiety, angry outbursts, reduced motivation, social isolation, and insomnia.

Fortunately, there are a good number of resources available to help stressed caregivers. One suggested resource is the book, A Better Answer to Chronic Stress, written by Deepak Chopra, MD amd Rudolph E Tanzi, PhD. The authors explain that stress is quite normal and its intensity can vary depending on the stage. The first stage is “psychological and neural damage, which begins with minor things like feeling mentally tired and under pressure from deadlines at work.” As Chopra explains, “when people say they are stressed out, it generally means that they are running out of energy, which can mask mental states like being depressed, anxious, or even panicky.”

The next stage is behavioral. “Negative changes in behavior are likely to manifest in two major areas, work and relationships. Stressful jobs make us respond with all kinds of behaviors, from office gossip to going out for a drink after work. As stress mounts, the drinking can get heavier, the need for distraction more severe.” Given time and mounting circumstances, stress can become chronic stress. This “leads to physical damage. Most people will suffer from physical fatigue. Stomachaches, bad digestions, and headaches are likely,” as Chopra concludes.

Caregivers, who are frequently running too fast and trying to balance too much are walking a tightrope and are at high risk for stress. The good news here is that before stress begins to handle you, you can take steps to handle it. This begins with identification of the problem. When you recognize mounting stress inside of you, you begin to give in, accept, worry, or complain. According to Chopra, these emotions are all self-defeating. The far better responses and/or reactions include detaching yourself from the stressor, becoming centered, remaining active, seeking positive outlets, relying on emotional support, and escaping the situation if needed. There is no “right way” to handle stress, choose a technique that is the right fit for you.

When caregivers learn how to manage stress from caregiving and respond to stressors in positive ways, their chronic stress is “nipped in the bud,” says Chopra. When you’re caring for someone you love, you also need to care for yourself. Taking a time out can be a very effective strategy for caregivers to relax and recharge. When you’re staring down stress in the middle of the ring, don’t retreat, get caught in your own corner, or back down. Come out swinging and you’ll be able to better defend yourself against stress before it knocks you flat.

Rick Lauber

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents (his mother had Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer’s disease). Rick quickly learned that caregiving can be very challenging and used writing as a means to personally cope. Many of his stories were published in newspapers and magazines and/or posted online and became the platform for his two caregiving guidebooks (Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and A Successful Caregiver’s Guide – both books published by Self-Counsel Press). Rick continues to write about caregiving and senior-related issues and has also served on the Board of Directors for Caregivers Alberta on a voluntary basis for their maximum six-year term. For more information, please visit www.ricklauber.com.