Do you ever feel tense and irritable for what feels like no reason? Do you get more headaches than you used to? Do you have a hard time getting to sleep? If so, you may be suffering from stress related to the difficult task of being a caregiver.
Care giving is more than just hand-holding. It is difficult and exhausting work, both physically and emotionally, and if there is no respite it can result in what is commonly called "caregiver burnout."
Stress in the 20th Century
In the latter part of the twentieth century, "stress" has become an all-purpose cause for a spectrum of ailments, both real and imagined. The treatment of stress is now a multi-billion dollar business, with books, workshops and countless therapies promising relief.
In the midst of all this attention, it is important to remember that stress is a natural physical reaction, and when harnessed constructively, can fuel creativity, create excitement and produce energy. For most people, no matter what their personality, stress is a part of their lives at some level.
What Causes Stress?
Stress is a physical, mental or emotional strain in response to a demand, pressure or disturbance. It can be a by-product of an event, daily strains or chronic strains.
When your body senses a "threat" like those described above, it stimulates a physiologic response called "fight or flight" and the release of adrenaline (epinephrine) into the bloodstream. In earlier times, this stress response was essential for survival.
Today this response can still save your life if your blood sugar drops or you suffer a rapid blood loss. And it still counteracts perceived danger by mobilizing your body's resources, such as producing large amounts of adrenaline for immediate activity.
How Do You Know When You are "Stressed Out"?
Repeated stimulation of your stress response can produce health problems, including:
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
Stress can also cause significant problems to your overall physical health. Some of the main consequences are:
These hormone-induced changes are helpful when we are actually threatened by danger, and may help us deal with the occasional stressful situation. But if we experience them all day long, day after day, week after week, they can be a problem. When stress hormones are produced repeatedly, or in excess, because of chronic stress, our body is kept in a constant state of "red alert." Chronic stress over time can result in harmful physiologic changes.
- Injury to the cardiovascular system
- Worsening of diabetic symptoms
- Degradation of the immune system
- When your body senses a "threat", whether it's a traffic jam or a heated argument, it stimulates a physiologic stress response called "fight-or-flight."
- The fight-or-flight response is still designed to counteract danger by mobilizing the body's resources for immediate physical activity. This instinctive response can mean the difference between life and death when you have an injury or low blood sugar.
In this process, your adrenal glands (a pair of glands that sit above each kidney) produce large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, the two key "stress hormones". These hormones help prepare your body for action in several ways:
- Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, providing greater blood flow for delivering much-needed oxygen and sugar to the muscles and brain
- Your breathing accelerates, making more oxygen available to the heart, brain and muscles
- Blood vessels in your skin constrict
- Your metabolism changes
- Blood sugar levels rise
- Muscles tense, preparing for action
- Stored fat is released into the bloodstream
Blood is diverted away from the skin and stomach into the active muscle groups
Stress is a part of modern life. How you handle stress depends on your attitude towards stress. Once you are aware of your personal symptoms of stress, and can pinpoint the situations that provoke feelings of stress in you, you can use stress management strategies to deal with those situations, and maybe even enjoy the beneficial effects of stress.
A few stress reduction and management techniques include exercising, meditating, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.
Book some respite care for a few days, or even a few weeks, and give yourself a well-earned break. You deserve it.