If you're a family caregiver, chances are you deal with a fair amount of stress. It's important to recognize the impact that stress can have on your body, health, and day-to-day life - and it's equally important to know what you can do to help reduce it.
What Stress Does to Your Body
Stress affects your immune system in many different ways. When you're consistently under too much stress, you can develop depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, exhaustion, and an increased risk of minor infections. Stress can also lead to coping mechanisms that become bad habits - like using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs to unwind. While these things may "help" in the short-term, they exacerbate the side effects of stress over time.
How to Reduce Your Stress
There are a number of things you can do to reduce stress - including bringing in respite care a couple of times a week or joining a caregiver support group. You can also incorporate these four little things into each day to help reduce your stress.
Follow a Morning Routine
The way you spend the first couple hours of your day dramatically affects how the rest of it will go. For example, if you're in a frenzy trying to get out of the house - you're setting yourself up for a stressful day.
Follow a routine that will help you start your day off right. Get up early enough to have some time for yourself in the morning. Drink a cup of coffee or glass of tea, eat a balanced breakfast, and write down that day's to-dos. When you walk out the door, you'll be centered and prepared to take on whatever is next on your list.
There's no disputing that exercise improves physical health. That's why, no matter how tough of a day you're having, you should do your best to make time to be physically active. Not only does it get your blood pumping, but it also gives you a chance to disconnect, helps you relax, keeps you healthy, and makes you feel better overall. Try to get at least thirty minutes of exercise per day, even if that just means taking a short walk.
Make Time for You
Try to incorporate yoga or mindfulness meditation into your daily routine. There are many ways you can accomplish this. If you're a meditation novice, use guided meditations to build your "mental muscles." If you pray, prioritize making time for your daily prayers.
If you prefer a more informal method of finding your center, go somewhere that makes you happy and spend some time taking things in. Perhaps that means walking on the beach (exercise!) or sitting in the park. Or maybe it means taking some time to get lost in a good book, or calling a friend to catch up. Dedicate thirty minutes of every day to whatever activity makes you feel zen. Doing so will keep you balanced - and will give you something to look forward to!
One of the hardest parts of being a family caretaker is balancing your life with your loved one's lives, and making sure nothing gets missed. Use an organizer and to-do lists to stay on top of your responsibilities and make them feel less overwhelming. Having attainable goals and being able to cross things off as you go will give you a sense of control.
Perhaps most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help. If you're feeling frustrated or run down, allow friends and family to step in - or have respite care come in a couple of days a week. And don't feel discouraged if you need some help! Being a caregiver is a tough job, and even the best caregivers need a break from time to time.
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