How to Deal With Caregiver Stress

I found the draft of the post I never published. I will share it with you now, and we’ll come back to my 7 resilience skills in a minute.

In my second-last post, I shared some of my unhealthy coping mechanisms for caregiver stress. Today, I want to share my favourite healthy, convenient coping mechanism for caregiver stress. Hopefully, these ideas will help you to effectively manage your stress in a sustainable manner. Some of these strategies are daily practices, and others I draw upon as needed.

Before we get into my healthy strategies, I want to review the mistakes I made. I will also share some of the lessons I learned.

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned

Yesterday, I shared shared 5 of my unhealthy coping habits. Please see the list below.

  • 1. Runaway guilt and second-guessing

I’m not a doctor. I will need guidance, and that’s okay. I’ve learned to ask for help, and to keep asking when I am not clear, or don’t understand something. When in doubt, call the doctor, or go to the hospital.

I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can. Beating myself up helps nobody. In fact, it’s exhausting, and it makes me less available to support others.

In hindsight…fuck hindsight.

Don’t waste my energy “shouldding” all over myself. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn’t. Learn the lessons and move on.

  • 2. Not saying “no”

There must be boundaries that I commit to, and I need to get everyone in the house on board, so that the guidelines are consistent. I’ve learned that I must sometimes say no, and brace myself for the temper tantrum and guilt trips that follow.

With empathy and compassion foremost in my mind, I can have more patience. I can choose not to take everything said to me personally.

  • 3. Emotional eating

People hold emotional stress physically. Sometimes, I clench my jaw, or feel tension in my head, neck and shoulders. Often, I feel stress and tension in my stomach.

Being upset gives me a “pit in my stomach” feeling that is easy to misread as hunger if I’m not being mindful. Therefore, I’ve also started asking myself, “Why do I want to eat right now?” “Is that feeling hunger, or is it something else?”

If the problem isn’t hunger, food isn’t the solution.

If I messed up on my healthy eating goals, I used to just write off the entire day. I’d say to myself, “Well, I’ve blown it now, so I might as well enjoy myself. I’ll start fresh tomorrow”

Doing that meant that I was constantly starting over. Eventually slipping became a habit. It was demoralizing and demotivating because I was gaining weight.

Now if I notice I’m off-track, I gently nudge myself back on. Sometimes that’s not enough, so I then remind myself why I’m committed to making healthier food choices.

I don’t beat myself up for derailing my healthy eating goals anymore because I realize it only makes the emotional eating cycle worse. I remember to love myself and cut myself some slack.

  • 4. Drinking too much

The latest research suggests that even moderate drinking can cause harm to the body. There is a sweet spot for alcohol intake, and it is 1 drink for women, and 2 for men.

In a stressful moment it’s easy to disregard the state of my liver. Who cares if it’s halfway to foie gras? Turns out, I care.

Alcohol numbs a discomfort temporarily. It’s pleasurable in the moment, so it’s easy to focus on the short-term benefit, and ignore the long-term harm.

Unfortunately, alcohol solves nothing. It’s an anesthetic, a distraction that delays having to deal with the current problem, while stacking new problems over top. I also have an unfortunate tendency to make unhealthy food choices when I’m intoxicated.

Great! All the stress is still there, and now I have a hangover on top of it, possibly a sugar hangover from the unhealthy food I binged on, not to mention the looming specters of alcoholism and fatty liver disease. No, thank you!

  • 5. Self medicating with drugs

Much like emotional eating and excessive drinking, self medicating with drugs is a strategy that seeks to numb a pain or fill a void. Unfortunately, it solves nothing. All my problems are still there waiting. Also, getting the munchies is unhelpful when trying to eat healthily.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that a lot of my bad habits feed into each other. In a similar fashion, you’ll find that my healthy strategies also are interconnected. Now that we’ve reviewed the mistakes made and lessons learned when dealing with caregiver stress, let’s look at some sustainable strategies that really help.

Healthy, Convenient Caregiver Stress Coping Strategies

Strategy #1: BREATHE!!!

In case you missed the all-caps and exclamation points, I’d like to impress upon you how important breathing is. Not only is getting air vital to survival, but the way we breathe directly influences our physical, mental and emotional states.

The following excerpts about breathing on The Rubenstein Method website clarifies how important breathing is to pain management and anxiety reduction.

Breathing with Your Diaphragm Can Reduce Your Pain by 50%

Because the diaphragm produces about 70% of your breathing capacity and 99% of the population has dysfunctional breathing muscle patterns. This is a primary source of physical pain and emotional stress because the brain being starved for oxygen goes into a state of mild, moderate or severe anxiety or stress. Most of us do a lot of sitting…This will cause the secondary breathers to over work and strain to lift the rib cage and chest to inflate the lungs. This improper breathing pattern is known as “Chest Breathing” and is associated with neck and head pain.

However, with chest breathing only the upper half of the lungs will inflate with air (oxygen)…Consequently, the shallow breathing performed by the secondary breathers of the neck muscles causes a mild state of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) to the brain and body.

This results in the release of the stress hormones known as the C.A.N.E. group (cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) and lowers brain-body functions…As the diaphragm is Calibrated it allows for easier breathing, more inflation of the lungs with less effort, a clearer mind and lower stress and hence relaxation. Head and neck pain usually lessen immediately.

The way you breathe matters. Your breathing can either trigger your stress response, or activate your relaxation response, and increase your lung capacity. My first forays into breathing techniques were game-changing for me.

Please see this page for 10 Breathing Techniques.

I’ve tried every single one of these techniques. Some might feel more awkward or comfortable for you, so please experiment. I hope you find a technique you like that slides easily into your daily routine.

I use breathing techniques multiple times throughout each day. Currently, the equal and resonant breathing techniques are the easiest for me to use on-the-go.

I easily layer breathing techniques into regular tasks, (like using the toilet) so that I’m increasingly aware of my breathing. I like to inhale for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 5. This equal inhale and exhale is very calming to me. The count is not too long, so it isn’t strenuous. However, the benefits are huge.

Strategy #2: Meditation and Mindfulness

I’ve written about meditation and mindfulness in the past…a few times. They are favourite strategies of mine.

While it can be difficult to meditate anywhere, I definitely practice mindfulness at random times throughout the day. I call these my mindful drop-ins.

A mindful drop-in is similar to thought diffusion. It involves slowing down, and paying attention to experiences in the present moment. Noticing thoughts that arise, sensations in the body, sounds, sights, smells, tastes, whatever the present moment experience entails.

Meditation I do every morning before I get out of bed, and every night before I fall asleep. I am not exaggerating when I say I’d be sunk without my daily meditation rituals that help me to start and finish my day.

If you’re new to meditation and mindfulness, there are tons of free apps you can use. I like the Calm app. There are free and paid versions. I’m using the free version. It’s pretty awesome. A lot of the free meditations are about 6 minutes, some are 12 or 15. It’s a nice, short span o time that easily fits into the day. As a bonus, the app buzzes at me here and there throughout the day, and that reminds me to do my mindful drop-ins.

Strategy #3: Roar

I discovered this surprising strategy quite by accident. It is so friggin’ effective, it blew my mind.

I meditate. I’m mindful. I breathe. I attempt to exercise regularly and eat well. I protect my sleeping hours. Sometimes however, these strategies aren’t enough when the stress is so overwhelming, and the hits keep coming day after day.

I was feeling this way only yesterday. Momz is still in hospital, and I hate not being able to be there for her. I was spiraling out. Even with all my strategies, I was struggling.

An old family “friend” (I’m not sure how to classify her. I’ve known her since I was 2. She and momz used to be tight, but  momz has distanced herself over the years because this person is truly toxic.) anyway this old family “friend” calls to complain endlessly about her issues. No “Hi, how’s your mom?” or anything like that, just dumping on someone (i.e.-me) who’s already in the stress red-zone.

Classy, right?

I’m proud of myself, I was polite but firm when I explained that speaking like that wouldn’t help momz, and it wasn’t helping me either. I politely got of the phone, and then I roared.

It was a primal yell, like a lion. I only roared for a second.

The results were amazing. Yelling like that was powerfully satisfying. All the stress that I struggled to breathe through or mindfully manage, all that stress seemed to leave my body with the roar. The relief was instant, and lasted for about a day. Even when I started to feel stressed again, it didn’t get to that previous level.

It was like every bit of my stress converted to sound waves and was released. I guess you really do need to vent or release whatever’s pent-up from time to time. Honestly, I might just need a sound-proof room where I can go bark at the moon every now and again. (Thank you Ozzy, you were right.)

Your neighbours might get pissy if you do this all the time. My advice is to use this technique when your other techniques aren’t working.

Strategy # 4: Dance/Exercise

Generally speaking, exercise gets the blood pumping, the endorphins flowing, and has been scientifically proven to boost one’s mood, effectively helping to manage stress, depression, and weight while strengthening the lungs and heart, and boosting the immune system. Yes, exercise is very beneficial. I know this, so it should be easy for me to be motivated to exercise regularly.

However, I have a negative association in my mind connecting exercise and punishment. Therefore, it is crucial for me to find ways to layer exercise into my life in a way that doesn’t feel punitive.

Dancing is a fun form of exercise that I enjoy very much. I also enjoy swimming, hiking, canoeing, walking etc. Essentially, my favourite kids of exercise don’t really feel like exercise.

 

Okay, that’s as far as I got with that post before sh*t went sideways.

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