OK caregivers I know we’ve all heard it before we need to control our stress but I’m here to tell you it’s 100% the truth. While I’d like to tell you that your life as a caregiver will get easier, the truth is it just gets easier to manage because you learn how to adapt. Most of us who are caregivers are on the understanding that the person we’re caring for will eventually have a decline, making our caregiving responsibilities even more demanding.
I’m not at all trying to be a downer or pessimist, but I am being realistic about the responsibilities of caregiving. So that being said we all understand that our lives will continue to have stress. Stress from things we can’t control, stress from people in our lives, stress from situations that we never saw coming.
We now understand the damage that long-term stress has on our immediate health as well as our long term health. People who are under chronic stress suffer higher rates of anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, pain in joints and muscles, issues with sleep, and weight gain.
Long-term damage caused by chronic stress include heart disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, risk of stroke, risk of heart attack, and even some cancers have been linked to long-term stress due to the oxidative stress damage to our cells.
Being a caregiver who also works outside the home I understand the struggles to get a handle on our stress. Unfortunately I am notorious for feeling like I will get better at management of my stress when things “slow down”. But rather than waiting for things to slow down, which will likely never happen, we need to learn to find ways to cope and decrease our stress burden on our bodies and minds.
So today I’m gonna share with you 5 things that you can do today that take minimal effort and have big payoff in managing your stress and saving your physical and emotional health! Now look as a caregiver I understand that you might not be able to do all 5, but how about just trying one thing just this week.
HYDRATION: The first and easiest fix is to make sure that you’re hydrated. I know it sounds too simple, but there is a cycle in our bodies of our bodies becoming dehydrated, that increasing things like the workload on our heart and lungs, which then increases our stress level. This can often lead to fatigue, headaches, panic attacks. So try for just one week to drink half of your weight in ounces of water everyday.
(150 lbs = 75 ounces of water every day)
My cheat is buying a water bottle that holds that many ounces. Then I just carry it with me through the day and if it’s not empty by the end of the day I know I fall in short of my goal.
SLEEP: The second thing you can try is to get enough sleep. Now listen I have had a struggle with this forever! But sleep is vitally important. If we don’t get enough sleep, unfortunately we get a rise in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone our bodies release. So when we have increased cortisol we have increased damage from stress and it throws all of our other cycles off. Aiming for 7 to 9 hours of sleep is ideal.A lot of times this can be achieved by practicing something as simple as good sleep hygiene. For example, put your phone away for the last hour or two of the day, don’t scroll social media, avoid caffeine after 2 PM, and don’t exercise right before you have to go to bed. These little things will help you to achieve better sleep and help manage stress better in your very busy life.
EXERCISE: The third thing we can do is exercise. Earlier when I mentioned cortisol, or the stress hormone, one of the things that we can do to reduce that stress hormone is exercise. You don’t have to do anything crazy like some boot camp workout or some kind of triathlon training, rather do something everyday to get your body moving, walk, dance, stretch, use resistance bands to increase muscle mass, just find one thing that you know you will stick with and enjoy and make it a priority.
VOLUNTEER: I know this will sound funny since you are in a position of being helpful 24/7 as a caregiver, but if you can find time to help other people by volunteering, by lending a listening ear to a friend, by sending a motivational text to someone you know who needs a little extra emotional support, you will be amazed at the amount of goodness that will bring to your physical and mental health. Scientific evidence now shows that those who help others have better mental and physical health including decreased blood pressure, better sleep, better self esteem, Even better overall satisfaction with their lives. People look around you and find out where you can be of help to someone else. As someone who is a caregiver at home, but also works in home hospice, I know that my job and my opportunities to help others has probably saved my sanity more times than I can count. Sometimes the best way to overcome our own stress is to just get our minds off of ourselves!
SOCIAL MEDIA DETOX: Finally, this is gonna be a tough one, but limiting social media use. While I too love to scroll social media, I do find that I’m often in this trap of comparing my life to what I see other people posting on social media.There are now several studies that show social media often increases individuals anxiety and depression. It’s very hard to judge the inside of your life, when you’re looking at the highlights of someone else’s life. Let’s face it, inside we know that we all have very similar struggles. When we look at social media however, we might find that We fall into the trap of thinking everyone else’s life is perfect.
So there you have it caregivers. With this New Year, make a commitment to yourself to do one thing to decrease your stress. I know it’s so cliche and we hear it over and over again, but managing your stress will keep you from becoming another tragic statistic.
So take one of these things THIS WEEK and try it for 7 days in a row. Your future self will thank you.