Holidays are extra stressful for everyone – even more so for caregivers! Here are several signs that you’re stressed out and tips to help you decompress (so you can enjoy the holiday season).
One in five caregivers report physical strain due to caregiving duties, including:
Increased heart rate
Elevated blood pressure
Headaches or migraines
Fatigue or exhaustion
Frequent or prolonged colds or flu
Bruxism or jaw clenching
Weight gain or weight loss of more than 10 pounds.
What to try
Get enough sleep.
Eat balanced, nutritional meals; avoid unnecessary and unhealthy foods, beverages and mood-altering substances.
Become aware of your body’s needs and signals.
Maintain your health by scheduling routine physical examinations.
Learn what relaxes and recharges you, and find a way to relax each day.
For example, if you’re already at the mall shopping, allow an extra 30 minutes of time to walk the mall and get your exercise in for the day.
Fifty-five percent of caregivers feel overwhelmed by the amount of care family members need each day. Signs include:
Irritability or overreaction to some relatively minor situation
Angry outbursts, short-tempered reactions, hostility
Lack of interest, withdrawing, being unable to get up in the morning
Blaming others, feeling suspicious
Diminished initiative, isolation
Worry or depression.
What to try
Don’t be overly work- or goal-oriented. Learn to play. Renew yourself through relaxation and recreation.
Cherish your flexibility and capacity to adapt.
Get support and feedback from people you value.
Notice what situations trigger your highest stress levels.
For example, allow others to help with caregiving duties and spending time with the person you’re caring for, so that you may get a break to recharge your own batteries.
If we don’t take action to combat stress, it can create or worsen mental health problems, such as:
Forgetfulness or preoccupation
Increased fantasy life
Inattention to detail
Past rather than present orientation
Slower thinking, slower reactions, difficulty learning
“Couldn’t care less” attitude.
What to try
Identify what causes stress for you.
Recognize early signs of stress in yourself and others.
Avoid or alter stress-inducing situations or your reactions to them.
Learn to accept and respect your strengths and limits.
Evaluate whether you’re over-involved in work, commitments and activities.
Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities, pressures and deadlines.
Learn the art of delegating activity to others and even learn to say no.
For example, consider not sending out your annual holiday card this year, and instead call those on your list and reconnect over the phone or make arrangements to see them in person at a later date.
*See this article for more information about caregiving-related stress.
Jenny West works at FamilyMeans in Caregiver Support & Aging Services and is a member of the St. Paul-based Metropolitan Caregiver Service Collaborative (caregivercollaborative.org).