How do you feel today?
Am I stressed?
What is stress? According to the medical news today website, stress is a feeling that people have when they are overloaded and struggling to cope with demands. Stress can be a motivator; and stress can be essential to survival. The fight or flight mechanism can tell us when and how to respond to danger. However, if this mechanism is triggered too easily it can undermine a person’s mental and physical health and become harmful.
Are my stress levels too high? This is a personal thing – we all have different tolerance levels of stress. What can seem exhilarating to one person can seem terrifying to another.
What are common causes of stress in unpaid carers?
- Having to put someone else’s needs first day in day out can take a toll on your wellbeing.
- A mind crowded with the mental load of caring, e.g. medication, physiotherapy, appointments, financial issues, not to mention the scary ‘what if’ scenarios can result in people feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring.
Self care is so important; if you feel burdened by responsibilities and exhausted by the demands of caring, and you neglect your own needs, then you will react differently to how you would if you were coming at problems from a rested and relaxed place. So perhaps lack of self care is a contributing cause of stress for carers! Although at Carers Outreach we emphasise the importance of time out and self care, we do realise, that for many caring situations, this is easier said than done. The fact is that some caring situations are just plain stressful.
What can I do about it?
- Arrange to have regular time out to do things that you enjoy, e.g. catch up with friends or enjoy a walk in nature.
- Communicate, talk to your cared for person or your family about how you feel and explore solutions together.
- Talk to someone at your local carers’ hub or carers’ social group. Often just talking things through can help to get them into perspective and bring stress levels down. After all, you’re not super human and you’re doing the best you can.
If your caring situation is extremely stressful you may want to seek external support.
- Speak to your GP who may suggest counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
- Carers Outreach can refer you to various helpful organisations, including some that offer the above therapies.
- Enrol on a suitable course or exercise class; mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, dancing and singing have all been shown to help reduce stress. Your local carers’ hub can help you to find the right one for you.
- The BCU Health Board runs free courses for carers and people who suffer from chronic illnesses.
Your local Carers Outreach hub can provide information about all of the above.
Essential points for stress awareness
- Stress helps the body prepare for danger.
- Symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
- Short term stress can be helpful, but long term stress is linked to various health conditions.
- We can prepare for stress by learning self management techniques.
- Sometimes we need to ask for help.
Caring can be stressful and Carers Outreach is here to help prevent carers reaching crisis point.
My Journey Through Stress
A few years ago I was caring for my mum who had mixed dementia. She wanted to remain in her own home, and despite my concerns for her safety and that of her neighbours, this situation was allowed to continue until she died. I lived in fear that she would burn the house down and had to deal with many complaints from her neighbours about her aggression. All in all, as any dementia carer will tell you, it was a stressful time.
Shortly before Mum died another close relative became seriously ill and 3 other relatives/close friends died - some of them way too young!
I was working full time and started to feel really anxious. I was plagued by dark thoughts about terrible things happening to the rest of my family. I couldn’t voice some of these thoughts, they were too horrific. I was afraid to go anywhere without my mobile phone, thinking that if I left it some terrible fate would befall my loved ones and I would miss their call for help.
After several months I began to have physical symptoms; - facial tingling, palpitations, headaches, aching joints, high blood pressure and periods of extreme fatigue. My doctor ran blood tests which thankfully all came back clear. I was referred to physiotherapy for the joint pain and the physio’s verdict was that a lot of the pain was down to stress. The physical symptoms persisted and I returned to the doctor, who this time suggested I self referred to a counsellor.
Carers Outreach told me about 2 possible avenues of support, ‘Parabl talking therapies’ and ‘In work support’. I chose ‘In work support’ which provided one counselling session a week for 6 weeks. This was really helpful; my counsellor helped me to see that the anxiety I was feeling was a natural reaction to a period of such intense stress.
We looked at elements of my life that may have contributed to how vulnerable I’d been feeling when faced with the stressful events. I’ve always been reluctant to ask for help and over the years I’d developed a keen interest in self help techniques and I studied books and listened to relaxation and mindfulness CDs. I took a good look at my life and asked myself what was stressful in my daily life and what I could reasonably stop doing.
The counsellor praised my efforts so far and told me I was on the right track. This really boosted my self esteem; I realise that no one can have a completely stress free life but I believe that having an awareness of stress factors and the tools to cope, will prevent me from reaching such an anxious state again.
My tips to beat stress
- When you’re worrying compulsively about a potential or real future event - stop! Take a few breaths and ask yourself how you feel right now. Are you
safe? Is your family safe? Usually the answer is yes. Just try to stay feeling safe in the present moment for as long as you can. This gets easier to do the more you practise.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good.
- Work was my saviour, being immersed in a project helped me to forget my worries for a while.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help; we all have times in our lives where we need a helping hand. If you don’t have a good support network around you, Carers Outreach will provide emotional and practical support.
- Find something that works for you. I play my relaxation CDs and go for walks. Music, uplifting TV shows, social groups, exercise classes and gardening are all recommended.
Some tips on how to beat stress
- Try not to keep saying 'yes' to everything that's asked of you. This only builds up stress levels. It's ok to say no sometimes. If you always say yes, what is it really worth when we do actually want to say it?
- Take a break - even if it's only for 10 minutes. Browse through a magazine or just close your eyes and listen to some relaxing music. It is important to take time to re-charge your energy levels.
- Try some breathing exercises. These can be done at any time and are helpful if you are feeling panicky. Deep breathing calms and relaxes your body. Slowly breathe in (through your nose), filling your lungs (from bottom upwards) as full as possible, and let your stomach expand on the in-breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds then, slowly, exhale until your lungs feel empty. You can learn many forms of breathing from specialist Yoga or Meditation teachers.
- Count to 10.