How to manage stress

Control your stress – so you can enjoy this holiday season!

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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).

Physical

One in five caregivers report physical strain due to caregiving duties, including:

Increased heart rate

Elevated blood pressure

Breathing difficulties

Headaches or migraines

Fatigue or exhaustion

Insomnia

Backaches

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.

Exercise regularly.

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. 

Emotional

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

Jealousy

Lack of interest, withdrawing, being unable to get up in the morning

Crying easily

Blaming others, feeling suspicious

Self-deprecation

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.

Mental

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

Decreased concentration

Inattention to detail

Past rather than present orientation

Decreased creativity

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).