Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands.
For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. But when one is constantly running in emergency mode, as is often the case for a family caregiver, the mind and body pay the price.
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in the body. It can:
- Raise blood pressure
- Suppress the immune system
- Increase the risk of heart attack and stroke
- Speed up the aging process
And long-term, stress can even rewire the brain, leaving one more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
When under pressure, behavior can present as:
- Talking too fast or too loud
- Bad moods
- Being more forgetful
- Inability to concentrate
- Making more mistakes
- Difficulty making decisions
- Increased absenteeism
- Being more accident prone
- Disorganization, confusion and worry
- Neglect of personal appearance and personal hygiene
- Fiddling and twitching, nail biting, grinding teeth, drumming fingers, pacing, etc.
Take this quick quiz to determine if you are in control of stress or if stress is controlling you:
Yes or No When I feel agitated, do I know how to quickly calm and soothe myself?
Yes or No Can I easily let go of my anger?
Yes or No Can I turn to others to help me calm down and feel better?
Yes or No When I come home at night, do I walk in the door feeling alert and relaxed?
Yes or No Am I seldom distracted or moody?
Yes or No Am I able to recognize upsets that others seem to be experiencing?
Yes or No When my energy is low, do I know how to boost it?
Feeling frazzled and overwhelmed? That is the sign that it is time to take action to bring your nervous system
back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and
taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
If one is experiencing any of the following, professional help may be needed:
- Persistent symptoms of depression
- Constant anxiety, irritability or anger
- Feelings of detachment, numbness or exhaustion
- Continuous self-criticism
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Negligence or hatred of caregiving responsibilities
- Trouble at work or in relationships
- Substance abuse
Managing stress is all about taking charge: of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment,
and the way you deal with problems. Even if the stress in life is out of your control, you can always control
the way you respond and how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and
deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress
response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in everyday stress levels and a boost in
feelings of joy and serenity.
How stress operates on the body:
When a period of stress is prolonged, the levels of adrenaline build up in the body, causing chronic, long-term
increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and reduced digestion, requiring more and more repairs by the body to
put them right. As a result, stores of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and balancing hormones are used up.
This leaves your body in something of a dilemma. It needs to replace the things you have used up, and fast.
However, if you are still stressed, your digestive system is all but shut down, so you can’t absorb nutrients,
while your body still craves nutrients. This means that those body processes that are not essential to survival get
reduced or even shut down completely to conserve energy and nutrients. In extreme cases, this means that your
body starts to break down existing structures—muscle, bone, connective tissue etc., to extract the nutrients
from them for use elsewhere.
Clearly, this is not a good thing long-term, and its results are as predictable as they are damaging.
The greatest protection against stress?
A strong support network is always going to be the greatest protection against stress. With trusted friends and/or
family members and/or a caregiving team such as San Diego Home Caregivers offers, life’s pressures will not seem as overwhelming. This is one part of taking care of yourself: allowing others to help alleviate some of the responsibilities and pressures.
Sources: The Language of Emotional Intelligence by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.,
eHow, Mind Tools, Help Guide, Natural Health Information Center