“There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”—Rosalyn Carter
“I am so f*****g stressed out and sick of my pathetic life. Sam is having a bad day, and I have been trying to get ahold of my son and daughter, but of course, no one answers my plea for help. I got his oxygen back up to ninety-seven. It was eighty this morning, and he was coherent. I really need a break—a few hours for just me, but that will never happen. This is not how I envisioned our retirement—sitting here, crying and feeling sorry for myself. I’m not even sure that is allowed. Please help me!”
Rita, a family caregiver, is experiencing major stress.
What can she do?
Research on the word “stress” yields 1,130,000,000 results.
Yes, over 1 billion searches at any given time on the word stress.
People worldwide are looking for answers to managing the emotional and physical strain of everyday living, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Family caregivers are especially affected due to being “on-call” 24/7 when caring for a loved one.
What Is a Caregiver and Who Are They?
According to Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), a caregiver is an unpaid individual (for example, a spouse, a partner, or others) that helps with personal activities of daily living (ADLs) such as eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, and medical tasks.
Caregivers range in age from 18 and older. However, Boomers (born 1946-1964 and are now 55-75 years of age) or 39% provide the largest care percentage.
The percentage of women providing care ranges from 53-68%, according to the FCA.
The economic value of unpaid labor has steadily increased over the last decade, and in 2013 at $470 billion, the value of unpaid caregiving exceeded the value of paid home care.
According to AARP Caregiving in U.S. 2020 Research Report, today, 1 in 5 Americans (21.3 percent) are caregivers who provided care to an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months.
On a personal note, I, too was a caregiver to my dear husband for more than three years, including hospice at home.
What Is Caregiver Stress and Who Gets It?
Everyone undergoes stress. The human body is designed to produce mental and physical responses to experiences or challenges (stressors) you have.
But caregivers report much higher stress levels than people who are not caregivers because they have little if any time for self-care, and consequently, they burn out.
As to who gets caregiver stress, this could be anyone.
However, more women caregivers say they have high-stress levels and related health problems than men caregivers.
What Are the Signs of Caregiver Stress?
Anxiety or feeling frustrated and angry one minute and helpless the next is one sign of caregiver stress. But there are many others:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in eating habits
- Weight gain
- Headaches or body aches
- Drinking or smoking
- Health problems*
*Talk to your doctor about prolonged health issues as they can increase your risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
Three Secrets to Relieve Caregiver Stress
Long-term caregiver stress can lead to serious health problems, including early death.
What Can You Do?
Secret No.1: Seek Respite Care and Support
I cared for my husband 24/7 for three years, including Hospice at Home. But I never asked for help outside of the required services.
I was so concerned that my husband should always be treated with dignity and respect that I barely let anyone touch him, other than the medical professionals.
And I wore myself out.
Please, do not make my mistake.
Ask for and accept help.
The word respite means: “a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.”—Oxford English Dictionary
Respite care can provide short-term relief from the day-to-day challenges you face.
You can request respite care for an afternoon, a few days, or weeks.
Respite care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.
Visit the National Respite locator service at www.archrespite.org/respitelocator for a list of respite care providers in your area.
However, respite does not have to be formal but take many forms:
- A minivacation
- Asking a family member or friend to sit with your loved one for a few hours
- Hiring a local daycare facility for several days’ care*
- Asking a church member or someone from your community organization (volunteer) to sit with your loved one for a few hours
*Contact your local Area Agency on Aging organization for assistance with planning.
I joined an online support group for caregivers on Facebook, which was excellent to pick up helpful caregiver tips. We also shared stories and generally supported each other as we faced the same challenges.
Secret No. 2: Accept Your Limitations
Caregiving is hard work.
And some days, you will feel helpless because of your inability to ease the suffering or change your loved one’s circumstances.
The dangers of prolonged feelings of helplessness include:
- Loss of self-confidence, which can lead to you giving up
- Stress, which can cause headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, anxiety, ulcers, and heart attacks
- Depression, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as drugs, drinking, overeating, and weight gain
- Aggression, which can result in violence toward another person
So, you must be mindful of your limitations so as not to become hopelessly discouraged.
You can’t do it all.
In researching this article, I came across this quote:
“Whether we like it or not, each of us is constrained by limits on what we can do and feel. To ignore these limits leads to denial and eventually to failure. To achieve excellence, we must first understand the reality of the every day, with all its demands and potential frustrations.”—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life
The first step to accepting your limitations is to ask for help, as discussed above in Secret #1: Seek Respite Care and Support.
Accept your limitations and find joy in helping your loved one within those limits.
Secret No. 3: Attend to Your Own Physical and Mental Health
Activity is needed.
Health professionals generally recognize that remaining physically and mentally active is important for physical and mental health.
Anyone whose health requires movement but who sits around regularly is going to become quite depressed.
The many benefits touted by regular exercise proponents include improved conditions of the heart and lungs, and other organs.
The oxygen that is delivered to the body cells through physical exercise improves circulation and overall health.
I know it can be tough when caring full time for a loved one, but devote a set amount of time each day to exercise, preferably at the same time every day. You don’t need a gym.
A few ideas:
- Walking briskly
- Jumping rope
- Gardening can also help
*Be sure to check with your doctor before engaging in strenuous activities.
Or, find a YouTube video that’s fun.
I follow along daily with two different line dancing exercise routines on YouTube.
According to Mayo Clinic, there is no question that regular exercise and physical activity can:
- Give you an emotional lift
- Improve your mood
- Boost energy
- Promote better sleep
- Strengthen bones
- Protect your joints
- Prevent bladder control problems
- Ward off memory loss
- Keep your weight under control
Your mental health is just as important as physical health.
You can start with getting enough sleep, as getting too little can make it difficult to make decisions.
But mental well-being is having peace of mind, contentment, happiness, and joy.
Loneliness can harm your mental health.
Ideas to protect your mental well-being:
- Connect with other people:
- Join a book club
- Get involved in community activities
- Take a class
- Accept invitations
- Adopt an animal
- Practice forgiveness and acceptance
- Practice gratitude
- Practice mindfulness
- Meditate and pray
- Practice journaling
These practices support mental health and help manage stress.
There’s a myth that caregiving is depressing and hard work.
The fact: Caregiving can bring joy and be very rewarding. I wouldn’t change my experiences caring for my husband full-time. I had those precious last days with him that I’ll always treasure in my heart.
I’m grateful that I had the strength to care for him myself, including hospice at home. If I could do it all over again, minus the awful pain my dear husband suffered, I’d gladly do so to have him with me.
Caregiver stress can be brutal and debilitating.
But if you follow these Three Secrets to Reduce Caregiver Stress: Seek Respite Care and Support, Accept Your limitations, and Attend to Your Own Physical and Mental Health, you’ll find the rewards of caregiving far outweigh the pain.
You’ll discover your caregiving days less stressful and more joyful.
You will have peace.
“We will be more successful in all endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” –Thigh Nhat Hanh
Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through competent people, risk, and financial management, revealed its latest “Health, Wellbeing, and Productivity” survey. The survey showed that of those employers able to measure well-being, 86 percent thought that excessive workload or extended hours were the most significant causes of stress.
Do You Agree?
Consider these facts:
One in five workers misses work due to stress.
Two in 10 workers start the week stressed.
Managers are too busy and stressed out themselves to help their team members deal with their anxiety and stress.
One solution for workers:
Learn how to relax.
Medical professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists agree that learning how to relax minimizes many of our anxieties, frustrations, resentments, nervous tensions, and resultant physical disorders.
It takes no specialized knowledge, aptitudes, or preparations to learn how to relax and how to benefit from its soothing, healing and, calming influence.
But, unfortunately, many of us are too busy chasing material wealth to give much thought to our well-being and take time out to relax.
And so, we turn to stopgaps, to the temporary relief of opiates, barbiturates, and tranquilizers. They serve their primary purpose at first, but before long, they become a crutch, a necessity, a constant need.
And, as our system grows used to these temporary measures, we have to increase the dosage or use them more often, and eventually, we become mental casualties.
What Is Relaxation?
What IS relaxation? According to The Oxford English Dictionary: “To make or become less tense, anxious, or rigid; rest from work or engage in a recreational activity.”
A few synonyms for relaxation: To relax is to lighten, to reduce, to curtail, or to modify; to submit, to comply, to slacken, or give way; to rest, to recline, to repose, to let go.
All of the terms mentioned above, refer to relaxation and have an essential bearing upon our mental and physical well-being. We must take time out to rest and to replenish our energies or else we will go to pieces.
One of nature’s ways to guard against complete physical and mental exhaustion is the need for sleep. Sleep is one of the most critical metabolic functions essential to life. It is nature’s way to ensure the body gets the needed rest to replenish expended energy.
We can abstain from sleep for as many as forty-eight hours without apparent ill effect. However, tests show that beyond the first forty-eight hours, there is a growing loss of sustained attentive ability.
When we don’t get adequate sleep, we tend to develop dizziness, headaches, burning eyes, nervousness, irritability, and lightheadedness.
Lack of sleep also contributes to a growing dullness of perception, lack of awareness, and marked sluggishness in average reflect action.
Thus, sleep is a must! Sleep promotes rest under all conditions and circumstances.
However, the amount of sleep required by an individual is dependent upon her age, her work, her daily habits, and her physical and psychological make-up.
One person could require seven or eight hours, and another five or six hours. However, if you cannot sleep, soundly, and naturally during your customary sleeping hours or if you have trouble dropping off to sleep, you will not experience the rest for your tired muscles.
Restful sleep will allow you to let go of tension, of care, of worry, of anger, or uneasiness.
Sleep is one form of letting go and get the release from mental and physical fatigue and nervous tension.
A Relaxation Plan
Another way restful sleep helps us is muscular relaxation. In his book titled Release from Nervous Tension, Dr. David Harold Fink outlines a ten-week plan for learning how to relax.
Here is what you must do—
Weeks one and two:
“Find a time when you will not be disturbed and undress and stretch out face upwards on a bed. Place one pillow under your neck so that your head rolls back toward the head of the bed. Spread your legs a little and place pillows under your knees to bring them upward and outward at a slight angle.
Move your hands about eight inches from your body and put pillows under your elbows, with your hands hanging over the end of the cushions. “You are now in the right physical position to learn how to relax.
Start with your jaw. Let it sag and droop to your chin, but keep the lips together. Close your eyes, and let the lids meet naturally. Now, as you breathe in and out in your usual way, utilize the power of habit in following voiced suggestions and say to your arms: “Let go. Let go. More. A little more. “
Continue ordering them to let loose, to slacken, to let go, until they do.
“Soon, your inhalations and exhalations will slow down, your arms will loosen up and relax with every breath, and you will experience a new sensation.
Your muscular tensions will be lessened and you will gain a new sense of renewed muscular strength, of increased natural tone and vitality. Practice the arm relaxation twice a day, thirty minutes each time for two weeks.”
Relax the chest muscles.
“Start with relaxing your arms as you have been doing. When you feel they are heavy and your hands grow warm, start talking to your chest muscles. Ignore your inhalations for the time being. Let them be as usual, but every time you exhale, say to your chest muscles, ‘Let go. Let go. More. A little more.’“
Continue telling your chest muscles to let go until you feel them loosen up. Keep this up for a week, twice a day, for half-hour periods.
Weeks four through seven:
“Start relaxing your back muscles on the fourth week, the leg muscles on the fifth, the back of the neck on the sixth, and the facial muscles on the seventh.
In each case, you start with the arms for a few minutes, then with the chest, and then the others in succession.”
Weeks eight through ten:
“For the eighth week, relax the muscles of your scalp to relieve nervous headaches. Let go of the muscles of your eyes for the ninth week. Pretend your eyes are so loose that they will fall out if you do not watch them, and soon you will be rid of the feeling of eye strain.
For the tenth and final week, learn to relax the muscles of your vocal cords. Practice speaking slowly, softly, in a smooth, calm voice, enunciating each word, each syllable, without any strain or particular emphasis.”
Dr. Fink concludes “. . . Ten weeks is a short time to learn to acquire a new skill. Yet, it is long enough to help you combat emotional conflicts, reduce paralyzing inhibitions, improve your general health, and gain a new sense of freedom from strain and nervous tension.”
Normal sleep and muscle relaxations are healthy ways to reduce nervous tension, to neutralize compulsions, and to minimize inner conflicts.
Try the above exercises.
Follow Dr. Fink’s 10-week plan to learn how to relax as this plan will surely bring you rest, ease, and comfort.
Following Dr. Fink’s 10-week plan to learn how to relax is also sure to improve your mental and physical health.
“It always seems to me as if the lavender was a little woman in a green dress with a lavender bonnet and a white handkerchief. She’s one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people, who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away.” –Myrtle Reed
A search on Wikipedia.org reveals the fantastic history of lavender (formal botanical name Lavandula), which dates back more than 2000 years. There are over 47 species of the lavender plant found in the cool French Alps as well as the dry heat of the Middle East. Lavandula is Latin for “to wash” and comes from the ancient Romans who perfumed their baths with lavender oil (solvents or steam distillation are used to extract the essential oils from the plant).
The color “lavender” derives its name for this plant.
For a history of this plant, follow this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavandula
Not only is the plant beautiful and smells good, it also has countless health benefits. During my research, I discovered many medicinal uses for this unusual plant.
For instance, back in the 16th century, some herbalists claimed that lavender would cure paralysis of limbs and neuroses! Not only that, they believed that wearing a skullcap made of lavender would increase intelligence!
And the research also shows that as recently as World War 1, some governments wanted to use extracted oil from lavender to treat soldiers’ wounds.
Why am I writing this blog? For one, I believe in the natural healing powers of essential oils. Secondly, because of the six essential oils I’ve used personally (tea tree, orange, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon grass), because of its versatility, l prefer lavender.
Carrying a bottle of lavender essential oil around with you is like having a personal first aid kit.
Also, I’m always looking for ways to make caring for myself a bit easier, more pleasant, and offer comfort.
Consider this brief overview:
Medicinal Uses of the Essential Oil Lavender
- Calms and relaxes: one research paper found that new mothers using lavender oil in their bathwater reported lower discomfort scores several days after giving birth; further, lavender oil is also currently used in many delivery rooms for its general calming action. Try rubbing 2-3 drops of lavender oil in your cupped hand and inhaling for an immediate calming effect.
- Cures colds: put a few drops of lavender oil into a large bowl of steaming hot water, cover your head, close your eyes, and breathe in through your nose for one or two minutes.
- Relieves headaches: massaging just a few drops of lavender oil into your forehead, temples, and nape of the neck will result in a refreshing and soothing feeling.
- Treats bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics: studies show lavender to be lethal to bacteria that cause typhoid, TB, and diphtheria.
- Soothes aching muscles: add lavender oil to your bathwater after a day moving and lifting to ease aches and pains and relieve tension.
- Reduces stress and anxiety: caregivers worry a lot; research shows that lavender oil is just as effective for signs of anxiety as Valium or Xanax—and without the side effects.
- Heals cuts and bruises: lavender oil soothes pain, aids in scar-free healing, and prevents infection.
- Treats acne: lavender oil blocks the bacteria that causes skin infection and helps to rebalance the over-secretion of oily or waxy matter called sebum.
- Reduces wrinkles: suitable for all skin types; moisturizer and cleanser high in antioxidants that increase blood flow and protects skin from harmful free radicals as well as ultraviolet rays of the sun
- Improves allergies: fight a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, or headaches naturally; use lavender oil mixed with lotion topically or diffuse lavender to reduce inflammation in bronchial tubes (do not ingest).
- Relieves eczema: apply infused lavender oil onto dry, itchy skin or add a few drops of lavender oil to calamine lotion, shake, and rub on for a comforting feel. Others have mixed the lavender oil with a nut or vegetable oil and used topically.
- Eases insomnia: put 3 or 4 drops of lavender oil on your pillow or use a diffuser to help you go to sleep and stay asleep; awake rested and more alert.
- Relieves motion sickness: lavender oil appears at #3 behind peppermint and ginger on most lists to treat motion sickness or nausea. If you’re traveling, use a car diffuser or inhaler, or just place one or two drops on tissue paper and inhale as needed.
- Reduces teeth grinding (bruxism): studies have shown that the scent of lavender can change brain wave patterns and calm nerves. Use a room diffuser or apply one or two drops to critical points on the body, such at temple, back of the neck, inside writs, chest, and shoulder.
- Relieves minor burn pain: run cold water on a burn and then apply lavender oil for almost immediate pain relief and without scarring.
- Eliminates dandruff: dry skin is the most common cause; use several drops of lavender into the scalp as a gentle moisturizer. It’s anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory that also smells great!
- Fights fatigue: add a few drops of lavender to a hot foot bath and soak for several minutes, so that it reaches your bloodstream more quickly. Lavender will stimulate and soothe your entire body.
These 17 ideas do not nearly cover the many medicinal purposes of the marvelous lavender plant. However, you can see from this list that lavender essential oil can ease the common problems that many face, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia.
I feel as expressed by Karen Rose: “If you had to choose an oil, it would have to be lavender essential oil because it is antibacterial and antiviral. So, it’s great to have when the people around you are sick; it can also be used to relax.”
This quote pretty much summarizes how we can benefit from lavender essential oil—a fragrance that’s calming, relaxing both physically and emotionally. I agree with many who say we should carry a bottle of lavender around with us as our first aid kit!
The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to prescribe, treat, prevent, or diagnose any disease or condition. Should you begin a regimen using essential oils, please consult with your physician, naturopath, or aromatherapist before doing so. The use of essential oils can be very empowering and beneficial. However, use your discretion.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” –Peter Marshall
If you Google “Stress Management,” you’ll receive 54,100,000 or more results—a massive topic that shows how important this is to your wellbeing. And on a single site, such as WebMD, you’ll find more than 5,361 articles devoted to stress.
Why is this topic searched on, and talked and written about in such large numbers?
Because . . .
Many years ago, I worked in a high-pressure sales job. The money was great. We had company cars and expense accounts. But we also had seemingly unending and increasingly higher sales goals to meet.
Well one day, Sam, our highest achiever, dropped dead in the office. Just like that! To everyone’s horror, he fell flat on the floor, face down outside his cubicle.
What made his death so shocking was that Sam was an avid tennis player. So he got plenty of exercises. This tragedy baffled us.
We learned later that the doctor said he died from chronic stress, or what’s referred to as, “acute stress hormone.”
He was only 55 years old.
What is stress?
“A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances” –Oxford English Dictionary
Consider these U.S. Stress Statistics
- 77% percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress
- 73% periodically experience psychological symptoms caused by tension
- 33% feel they are living with extreme pressure
- 48% believe their stress has increased over the past five years
- 76% cited money and work as the leading cause of their emotional strain
- 48% reported lying awake at night due to stress.
(Source: 2016 Statistics Brain Research Institute)
Stress Causes Workplace Violence!
From a survey conducted January 12, 2018:
- 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress
- 42% say their coworkers need help dealing with the daily job pressures.
- 14% say they had at one time felt like striking a coworker, but didn’t
- 25% have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress.
- 10% fear an individual at work could become violent.
- 9% are aware of an assault or violent act in the workplace.
- 18% have experienced some in-your-face threat or verbal intimidation in the past year.
(Source: The American Institute of Stress [AIS])
Add to the above statistics the fact that many feel less job security than ever before while working longer and harder. Many workers overcommit and stretch themselves too thin. Plus, some have awful bosses and hate their jobs.
Recipes for disaster!
Stress Makes Us Sick!
According to Jay Winner, MD, as reported by R. Morgan Griffin on WebMd.com, these are 10 of the most significant health problems due to stress:
- Heart disease (sudden emotional stress can be a trigger for heart problems).
- Asthma (stress can worsen asthma).
- Obesity (excess belly fat poses the more significant health risk).
- Diabetes (stress can worsen diabetes: increases lousy behavior and raises glucose levels of people with type 2 diabetes directly).
- Headaches (stress is one of the most common triggers for tension headaches, including migraines).
- Depression and anxiety (chronic stress equates to higher rates of depression and anxiety, such as experienced by people with demanding work with few rewards; they have an 80% higher risk of developing depression within a few years).
- Gastrointestinal problems (stress doesn’t cause ulcers but makes them worse; also contributes to gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome).
- Alzheimer’s disease (stress might worsen the condition; researchers speculate that reducing stress could slow down the progression of the disease).
- Accelerated aging (there’s evidence that stress can affect how you age; according to research, stress seemed to accelerate aging by 9 to 17 additional years).
- Premature death (a study looked at the health effects of stress by studying elderly caregivers looking after their spouses—people who are naturally under a great deal of stress and found that caregivers had a 63% higher rate of death than people their age who were not caregivers) **
What can you do?
How can you improve your health?
Dr. Winner shares” Four Ways to Fight Back Against Stress—and Improve Your Health”:
- Breathe deeply (Just a few minutes of deep breathing can calm you; you can do this anywhere. As you breathe out, you relax a specific muscle group. Start with them muscles in your jaw. On the next breath out, relax your shoulder. Move through the different areas of your body until you’re feeling calm.)
- Focus on the moment (Instead of worrying about the future, focus on what you’re doing right now. If you’re walking, feel the sensation of your legs moving, and so forth.)
- Reframe the situation (If you’re running late for an appointment and stuck in traffic, it won’t help to get all worked up. Look at that time as an opportunity to yourself.)
- Keep your problems in perspective (The next time you’re feeling stressed out, think about the things for which you are grateful. If you have family and friends, consider yourself fortunate. This can be a surprisingly effective method for stress relief.)
- Eat right.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise every day.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Take in the beauty of creation.
- Read * (my favorite way to relax)
There you have it: Top 12 Coping with Stress Strategies. Many of us experience enormous pressures in our daily lives. Use these and other tips to keep stress from leading to burnout in your life.