Being a primary care giver to a sick or elderly loved one is no simple task. There is a laundry list of responsibilities that come with overseeing the day-to-day needs of another person – all while managing your own household and balancing your own work obligations and family needs. This balance can very easily stress out even the most organized and upbeat person.

What is Stress

Stress is one of the most common hormonal responses and is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur. It can respond to these changes physically, mentally, or emotionally and is the mind and body’s way of protecting you.

The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it based on circumstance. Stress can be a positive thing by keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between the accompanying stressors. This can wear down the body’s natural defenses and lead to a variety of health concerns.

The Top 10 Dangers and Warning Signs of Stress

  • Headaches
  • Grinding teeth
  • Indigestion or acid reflux
  • Increase of loss of appetite
  • Exhaustion yet problems sleeping
  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.
  • Racing heart
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Upset stomach

*Please Note: not everyone will experience all of these symptoms and not all these symptoms are simply caused by stress – please consult a doctor if you are concerned*

Mindfulness and Stress Management

As a caregiver, it is of utmost importance to get a handle on stress before it gets the best of you. One of the most important steps to avoiding stress is keeping a positive mental attitude. Simply looking on the bright side won’t stop bad things from happening unfortunately, but choosing how you react to them can make you feel more in control. Many people find prayer or meditation helpful in fighting off stress. Another effective stress-beating tool is the practice of mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you are directly experiencing through your senses, or to your state of mind through your thoughts and emotions, you are being mindful. And there is an increasing amount of research explaining that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain. People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives through implementing these top tips:

The Top 10 Tips for Being Mindful and Reducing Stress

  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control
  • Be assertive not aggressive
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Practice good time management skills
  • Set appropriate goals and limitations
  • Make time for hobbies and interests
  • Get enough rest and sleep
  • Be social with friends and family

Mindfulness techniques have proven to have mental and physical benefits. Studies have shown that mindfulness can be linked to a decrease in the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as lower blood pressure. Other research suggests that it can improve one’s sleep and reduce chronic pain. As caregivers, we must learn to develop an understanding that we have a choice in how we respond to stress. It’s important to take a moment to observe and recognize your thoughts and feelings and define an plan to address the stressor. Mindfulness can be incorporated into any task or activity – consider organizing respite care for your loved one and taking some time for you. Read more about this in our blog Caregiver Wellness – Time to Take a Break!