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Carers: Stress tips to help you cope

Sometimes, the pressure of caring for someone can lead to stress and fatigue, leaving carers feeling "burned out". To prevent this and remain healthy, it is essential for carers to know how to manage stress.

What is stress?

Stress is an emotional and physical reaction. Our bodies are designed to feel stress and react to it. Stress  keeps us alert and when required, ready to escape danger.

Situations that cause stress are not always possible to avoid or predict, and this can lead to individuals feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. When these situations persist, stress can begin to affect the body’s immune system leading to illness.

What causes stress?

Stress is caused by anything that requires you to adjust to a change in your environment, for example suddenly becoming a carer. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person. Remember, stress comes from how you respond to demanding situations - therefore, you can control stress and how it affects you.

What are the warning signs of stress?

When you are unsure of the exact cause of your stress, it may be helpful to know the warning signs. Identify these signs and examine how your body responds, then take appropriate steps to reduce the stress.

Your body sends out physical, emotional and behavioural warning signs of stress:

Emotional signs:

Physical warning signs:

Behavioural warning signs:

What can I do to reduce stress in my life?

For carers, the key to coping with stress is to identify the causes in your life and learn healthy ways to deal with them.

  • Keep a positive attitude and believe in your own abilities
  • Accept that there are events you cannot control
  • Be assertive about your feelings, opinions and beliefs, do not become angry and confrontational or passive
  • Learn to relax
  • Exercise regularly, your body can fight stress better when you’re fit
  • Don't smoke
  • Limit yourself to moderate alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Set realistic goals and expectations
  • Get enough rest and sleep, your body needs time to recover from stressful events
  • Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress
  • Learn to use stress management techniques

Stress management techniques

Finding a way to reduce stress will help lessen the long-term emotional and physical toll of caring. Here are come examples of stress management techniques carers can use:

  • Deep breathing: Imagine a spot just below your navel, breathe into that spot slowly through your nose, filling your lungs and expanding your abdomen. Let the air fill you from the abdomen upwards, then let it out slowly through your mouth like a deflating balloon. With each long, slow breath out feel yourself relax.
  • Meditation: Find a comfortable place to sit and spend a couple of minutes focussing on breathing deeply. While you sit, concentrate your thoughts on any part of your body that feels tense or cramped and with each breath out, try and release the tension in your body. Roll your shoulders upwards and backwards, gently sliding your shoulder blades down your back. Keep your chest high and head facing forwards, stay relaxed and continue to breathe deeply for two minutes.
  • Guided imagery: This is a meditative technique that involves concentrating on a particular sensory ‘image’ - picture, thought, smell or sound - to create a calming physical reaction. Concentrate on a time when you have had a feeling of complete calm or happiness. Create a picture in your mind of that scene, focus and try to imagine every vivid detail. See yourself calm and happy, listen to the sounds, enhance the colours, feel the environment around you. Try to recall any strong positive emotions such as happiness, satisfaction, fulfilment, lightness, clarity and sheer enjoyment. Stay with those feelings for as long as you like and let yourself be completely relaxed by them.

Learning to recognise what triggers stress and how you can reduce the effects, will help you to effectively manage the pressures associated with being a carer.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 15, 2018

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