October 10 is World Mental Health Day. This observance provides an excellent opportunity to focus on preserving mental health and happiness which are basic human rights for every person. In honor of this day, our team has compiled information about stress and ways for caregivers to reduce the stress they may be experiencing and enjoy good mental health.
Everyone experiences stress at some point in their life, but what is stress? And why does it impact well-being? And how can caregivers decrease their stress?
Stress has been defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” This can also include how the body adapts—positively or negatively—to demands. There is both good and bad stress and both are felt physically.
When it comes to caregiving, stress is a significant issue that experts recommend addressing in order to maintain good health. Research by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that 35% of family caregivers have difficulty finding time for themselves, 29% of family caregivers have difficulty managing emotional and physical stress, and 35% are challenged when trying to balance work and family responsibilities.
Cause and Effect
There can be both physical and mental reasons for stress. The effects of a chronic illness can put stress on the body, but so can exercise which has positive results. Someone might feel stress from worry over an illness or other issues, but they might also have a stress response to an overwhelmingly happy situation such as the marriage of a child or the birth of a grandchild.2
The National Institute of Mental Health outlines exactly how stress affects the brain when someone is confronted with a demand: “When you face a dangerous situation, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity.” Chronic stress can lower immunity and digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems may not continue to “work normally.” Stress might manifest as tension in the head, neck and shoulders, fatigue, forgetfulness, feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, or irritability.
The first step in controlling stress is recognizing what it is and what is causing it. It sounds cliché, but experts recommend simply taking a deep breath when you recognize symptoms of stress. Caregivers can take time for themselves to reduce stress, and even include the person for whom they are providing care, to get a double benefit.
Some ways to reduce stress—alone or together:
Take Regular Walks with the Person You Care For. Studies have shown that going for a walk can lower anxiety and depression. Taking a break from daily tasks to go outside can help combat feelings of isolation and clear your head. Walking reduces the level of cortisol (‘the stress hormone’) in the body which can make you feel more relaxed and less stressed. Additionally, walking releases feel-good hormones which can help to alleviate anxiety. You don’t have to take a long walk to reap these benefits; even just a 10-minute walk can help if you are struggling with stress or depression.
Enjoy a 15-Mintute Catnap. It can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep, especially when you are dedicating time to caring for someone else. Consistent lack of sleep can lead to both physical and mental stress. Taking even just a quick daily nap can allow you to take a break from stress while restoring your immune system and rejuvenating your hormone levels.
Set Aside Time for Meditation or Prayer. Taking a moment to quiet your mind through meditation or prayer is a simple way to help reduce stress. Many studies have demonstrated that meditation can help you gain a new perspective on stressful situations and build skills to manage your stress. It can also assist you in focusing on the present moment and reducing negative emotions. Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time, and strengthen your mental health.
Visit With Friends and Family. One of the best ways to cope with stress is spending time with family members and friends. Stress creates wear and tear on the body but talking to supportive people in your life about what’s worrying you can help counteract the effects of stress. The emotional support provided by loved ones can help you get through challenging times and alleviate anxiety.
Sing Your Favorite Songs. Singing has numerous health benefits including stress reduction. When you sing, your body releases endorphins and oxytocin, which can help lower stress and anxiety levels. Singing also stimulates the immune response and may even help you fight off illnesses. So, if you’re feeling stressed, singing can be a great way to relax and unwind.
Don’t Skip Meals. Eating on a regular schedule keeps your blood sugar and cortisol levels balanced which can help reduce stress. If you’re looking for a quick, easy snack during the day try consuming some walnuts. High in omega-3 fats, walnuts have been known to reduce stress levels. If you’re looking for a beverage to help lower your anxiety levels, try enjoying a cup of peppermint herbal tea. Mint has the ability to improve energy levels, relax muscles and calm your stomach.
Prolonged stress can affect the immune system, memory, and mental health so experts suggest finding ways to relieve stress. Family caregivers might ask another family member, friend or neighbor to take turns with them, or consider hiring a professional caregiver. There are also support groups in-person or online for caregivers, including those who provide specific types of care, such as a group for those who care for people living with Parkinson’s disease.
If you are a family caregiver who needs a break for a few days, or even just a few hours, Homewatch CareGivers is here to help! Contact us today to learn more about how we can provide immediate assistance to you and your loved ones.