How Not To Deal With Caregiver Stress

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve posted mainly guest reviews over the last week. I also didn’t post on Friday, Saturday and Sunday which is highly unusual because I’ve been publishing content every day. Faithful readers have probably guessed that momz finally had to go into the hospital – and they’d be right.

Caregiver stress is very real. Before I developed the healthy, sustainable coping strategies that I want to share with you tomorrow, I first made mistakes.

Lest you think I finally have this stuff all figured out, let me tell you that I do not. Healthy coping strategies were not my go-to solution. Any and every stressor can trigger unhealthy habits and coping strategies. Developing healthier habits has been touch-and-go. 

Poor Ways to Deal With Caregiver Stress

Mistake # 1: Runaway Guilt and Second-Guessing

When we finally got momz to the hospital, she was very sick. I beat myself up for not getting her to the hospital sooner.

I did try. Several times over a few months. However, because of COVID, she was terrified to go to the hospital. Honestly, I can’t blame her. It’s a very dangerous virus for her.

Instead, we consulted her doctor, her cardiologist, the technicians doing the stress tests. Appointments were hard to get, and some were cancelled or pushed back due to COVID.

I talked to everybody. I asked doctors for help and guidance. I didn’t get clear answers or support. 

In fairness, momz has a tendency to minimize things, probably out of a need to avoid “getting in trouble.” In the past, she’s had doctors give her stern lectures, either for her weight, eating or smoking habits, etc. Momz grew up in an abusive home, so avoiding getting in trouble was and remains a key survival strategy for her. It’s not helping her now, though.

Mistake # 2: Not Saying “No”

Remember, I’ve been trying to get momz to the hospital for months. She refused, and became very emotional about it all. Temper tantrums, guilt trips, and other exhausting responses followed. Of course, the upset did nothing to help her medically, so I backed off.

Also, I have people-pleasing tendencies. I don’t like people being angry with me. I don’t want to accidentally hurt someone’s feelings, so I’m super-careful to avoid giving offence. 

However, when you’re caring for someone with multiple health issues, there are guidelines that must be followed in terms of nutrition, physiotherapy, etc. This requires me sometimes to be firm, and to say, “No.” 

Unfortunately, “No” is not a word anyone likes to hear. Momz was determined to keep unhealthy habits. I didn’t act as the adult in the situation. Instead, I went along with what she wanted to keep her happy and calm.

Stress Ball

Mistake # 3: Emotional Eating

For example, I came home from seeing momz at the hospital. Then, I curled up with a jar of Nutella, and a spoon. (Yes, I’ve been known to soothe emotional chaos with food.) I woke up with a sugar hangover, and hated myself for derailing my healthy eating goals.

Dinners became whatever was quick and easy. I was so burnt-out the idea of planning and executing a meal – sh*t I do all the time fairly easily, seemed like a monumental undertaking.

Mistake # 4: Drinking too Much

I spoke to a gentleman at the hospital who was there visiting a friend. He is a member of AA, and he said membership has shot up around 30% during the pandemic, and I can easily believe it.

In fact, nearly everyone I know has increased their alcohol intake over the last several months. That includes me.

However, the temporary relief the alcohol provides only leads to long-term problems. Eventually, the bill comes due. via liver disease or diabetes, or some other ailment, I will eventually have to pay for my lifestyle choices.

Mistake #5: Self-Medicating with Drugs

I live in Canada. Weed is legal here. I’ve been smoking more than I should to help calm the stress.

However, this coping mechanism is also unhealthy. It’s like alcohol in that recreational drug use is designed to numb the feeling of overwhelm, rather than effectively dealing with the stress. Once you’re sober though, your problems are still there, waiting. They may even have mushroomed because they were not dealt with right away.

Also, it also astounds me that there’s such an emphatic anti-smoking culture when it comes to tobacco products, but people tend to view smoking weed as healthy. Fun fact: 1 joint contains 10x the tar of a single cigarette. 

News flash: anytime you burn something and inhale it, be it cigarettes, vaping or weed, you’re damaging your lungs. Since COVID causes respiratory distress, it’s particularly important for me right now to take care of my lungs.

It’s a Work in Progress

Every time I think I’ve figured out how to manage my stress effectively, some new B.S. spikes my stress level. Like the drop that spills the glass of water, the smallest stressor, on top of everything else, can put me over my stress threshold. Under pressure, I wind up defaulting back to automatic negative habits.  

Therefore, it is a VERY good idea to have some solid coping strategies in place before I REALLY need them. Honestly, that time was months ago, and I’ve been working on it, but I’ve had mixed results.

Sometimes, building these healthy habits seems like an additional stressor. I figured I was trying to change too many habits at once, so I thought I’d try a different approach.

I tried to build first one, and then another healthy habit. For a time, it was working. However, I reached a critical threshold again, and I started to notice that as I layered in a new healthy habit, another one would drop away. 

For example, I was meditating and exercising every morning. Then I cut out alcohol. Then I started working on my diet, but I struggled to get up and work out. Then I got back on track with the workouts, but I started drinking again. I just couldn’t seem to get everything lined up and working at once. I struggled to be consistent with all of the healthy habits I was building.

This might be because the healthy habits are so much newer and less established than my healthy habits. Or, it might be that my unhealthy habits are more pleasurable and give me an instant boost and gratification.

In any case, just before momz went into the hospital, everything crashed. I was in pure keeping on keeping on mode – just managing to get through the days. 

At that time, literally every part of my life felt like a struggle. Struggles at work. Struggles in my marriage. Struggles keeping my folks cared for, making meals, keeping the house, tending the yard, etc. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating well. I wasn’t practicing good self care.

caregiver burnout

Now that the crash has finally come, it is both another stressor, and a relief simultaneously. It’s a stress because hospital visits with momz are restricted (hugely) under pandemic protocols. I haven’t had the chance to speak to her doctors, and find out what’s really going on, and the doctors don’t even seem to know what’s wrong. It’s a relief because I know momz is getting the care she needs to figure out what the hell is going on.

It’s also a relief to get a bit of a break. I feel guilty just saying that, and it’s true.

Momz can be demanding. She’s a fabulous lady, and she’s frustrating to deal with, and I love her, and would do anything for her. It’s weird how all these things can be true at once.

So, I have the stress of feeling guilty for feeling relieved (see #1 above), and I also have the stress of not being able to visit or help as much as I would like to because of the pandemic protocols in place at the hospital.

It’s a tangled mess. I’m a tangled, emotional mess. In many ways, I feel like I’m back to just getting through my days. I’m tired all the time, no matter how much I sleep. Basic chores are still exhausting and overwhelming. 

On the upside, my husband and I talked through our issues, and worked things out. It’s fall, so outside chores, except for shoveling snow, are nearly over. Since momz went into the hospital, my bosses have dialed back the pressure.

Small wins right now feel monumental. Any relief from the stress soothes me like cold water on a burn. I’m just soaking in any relief I can get right now.

Summary

I’ve shared some of my unhealthy coping habits.

  • Runaway guilt and second-guessing
  • Not saying “no”
  • Emotional eating
  • Drinking too much
  • Self medicating with drugs

Clearly, I haven’t got my stress management techniques down yet. There’s still work to do on reprogramming some of my unhealthy coping mechanisms.

We’ll get into some healthy coping strategies tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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