April is Stress Awareness Month and it’s a good time to think about caregivers for elderly family or friends who often carry a heavy load of responsibility that leaves little time for self-care or relaxation. And while stress can have some benefits; it can motivate and can give the body the extra boost it needs to avoid danger, over the long term stress can be harmful to your health.
Chronic stress can cause all sorts of problems in the body including suppressing the immune system which makes a person more likely to get sick. Stress can cause problems sleeping, digestive issues, headaches, irritability, anger or depression. If left unchecked over a longer period of time, stress can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure and mental illness.
The good news is that there are many ways to combat stress that don’t take a lot of time or money.
- Get some exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking a day can help elevate mood and fight the signs of stress.
- Go outside. Spending time in nature has been found to help relieve stress and anxiety.
- Take several long, deep breaths to manage stress. Even better, try to find time for a relaxing activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.
- Manage your time by setting realistic goals for each day without overloading yourself. Don’t forget to schedule time for self-care.
- Make time to see friends or participate in organizations or group that offer you support and enjoyment.
- Talk with your doctor if you are overwhelmed by stress, have suicidal thoughts or use drugs or alcohol to cope.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
For caregivers, especially those caring for loved-ones with dementia, taking a break is an important tool to help manage stress. Make time to investigate respite care options and take family and friends up on offers to give you a break, even if it’s just to go to your own doctor appointments or get to the hairdresser.
Education is also important for caregivers to develop the skills that will help them better cope with challenges. Look for support groups or programs that can help you prepare and deal with issues as they arise; visit the Alzheimer’s Association website here for more information.