It’s become almost a cliché to tell family caregivers to remember to take care of themselves, but it’s for good reason: many of them end up combatting serious illness after their immune systems become weakened under stress. Shingles is one such disease that afflicts some family caregivers who find themselves overwhelmed with so many care responsibilities.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. About half of the people in the United States who contract shingles are age 60 or older and almost one out of every three people in the U.S. will develop shingles. This is partly because the immune system is weakening with age, so the combination of age and stress can leave a person susceptible to an outbreak of shingles.
While stress itself does not cause shingles, today’s typical family caregiver is someone in the age range to have had chickenpox as a child—and therefore possibly a virus still in their body—and this means that when the stress of caring for an elder loved one gets to be too much, they may develop a painful case of shingles.
Symptoms include pain in the form of a burning or tingling on one side of the body followed a few days later by a red rash. Not everyone develops a rash, fever or headache too. If someone suspects shingles, they should contact their health care provider, but it is urgent if the symptoms occur near an eye or if you have a weakened immune system due to another chronic illness.
The time to prevent shingles is before any symptoms by consulting with a health care provider to receive a vaccine.
Today a chickenpox vaccine has become routine for most children and therefore their chances of developing shingles as adults is significantly lower.
There is a shingles vaccine for adults who are age 50 and older. The vaccine is not recommended for everyone, so ask your health care provider if you qualify. The vaccine is not medicine and cannot be used in people who currently have shingles.
Neither of these vaccines guarantees that a person won’t get shingles ever, but it can reduce the risk.
While stress is not the only factor that leads to an outbreak of shingles, it’s important to make lifestyle choices that can bring stress under control in order to keep it at bay. Stress can be from a sudden, shocking life event or from chronic physical and emotional stress, much like that experienced by family caregivers.
Stress can be relieved in the following ways:
- Find someone or a group to talk to about your feelings.
- Get some exercise regularly.
- Be a detective and find out what is causing stressful feelings.
- Practice gratitude to bring calm and focus on the positive.
While stress doesn’t give you the shingles, controlling your stress might help you avoid this illness.