An important part of self-care and wellness for caregivers is managing stress. The job itself is incredibly demanding and it can take a toll on your health and emotional state. Being a pillar for someone else to lean on can be draining and stressful, and challenging situations are sometimes a daily occurrence.
You cannot expect the pressure or the responsibility of the job to decrease over time. Instead, it’s important to learn ways to take care of yourself so you can process and recover from stress, so it doesn’t result in burn-out.
What Is Stress?
How do we define stress? We all experience it to varying degrees every day. Stress is the body's reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental, or emotional adjustment or response.
Most people think of stress in a negative sense, assuming that it's a bad thing. Intense or prolonged stress is unhealthy, but stress is a regular part of life that everyone will deal with at some point in varying degrees. If there were no stress at all in a person’s life, it would be incredibly dull and likely not fulfilling. Even the feelings of hunger and thirst create a stress response, so that we feel and can act to resolve it.
Stress is the body’s way of bringing something to conscious attention. Stress is a natural, evolutionary response, honed by natural selection. The brain releases a hormone called cortisol when stress is felt, which creates the “fight or flight” response. If our ancestors hadn’t known how to react to stresses in an optimal way, they wouldn’t have survived.
The Negative Sides of Stress
Stress can definitely be a positive thing in our lives, but it can also be a negative force. All of us have, at some point, experienced symptoms of stress and burnout.
Burnout is a term that refers to complete physical or emotional exhaustion, usually as a result of long-term stress. There are many common signs of stress, such as mood changes and becoming easily agitated or frustrated.
There's a frequent feeling of being overwhelmed by the workload or by the number of problems you may have. It can become difficult to relax, which sometimes leads to insomnia and tense muscles. Stress can result in low energy and low self-esteem, which are actually symptoms of depression as well.
It is no wonder that, unless managed properly, long-term stress can turn into depression or another mental health disorder, such as anxiety.
The Physical Symptoms of Stress
Apart from mental health issues, stress can cause physical symptoms too. Be aware of these signs and symptoms and pay attention. It is important to be able to recognize the signs of stress when you feel them so that you can learn to manage them.
Here are some of the most common physical signs of excessive stress.
Long-term stress has a huge negative impact on the heart and the cardiovascular system. This comes from a total effect of stress symptoms over time like rapid heartbeat, high cortisol levels and high blood pressure.
In the long run, this increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Stress can also worsen digestive problems or even cause new ones. The most common issues are heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease. This can be a major inconvenience at best and result in greater problems down the line if not addressed.
Muscle Pains and Stiffness
When we think of stress, we mostly consider how it affects our mental health. We think of muscles as being more prone to acute injury with strains or tears. The stress response often causes muscle tension in different areas or the whole body. Over time, this can cause muscle soreness, pain and stiffness.
Tension headaches are another common symptom of stress. This type of headache may be caused by muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, or face, or by the mis-firing of neurons that cause the feeling of pain. Tension headaches feel like pressure or tightening around the sides and back of the head, normally on both sides.
It is not uncommon to experience loss of sexual desire when you are under stress. Stress affects many different hormones and leaves you feeling distracted. And of course, it can lead to feelings of exhaustion. All of this can affect your levels of physical desire.
A study has shown that the physical effects of stress on libido in women is measurable in a very real way, and that the physical effects are far greater than psychological ones.
Ways of Dealing With Stress
There are several tactics to deal with stress in an effective way.
Don’t Ignore It
The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge it. Be attuned to how you are feeling. If you are constantly stressed out, don’t put off doing something about it or try to ignore it and hope it goes away.
Manage Your Time Better
Time management is an important first step to a less stressful life. We usually think of time management as a way to squeeze more into your day, but try to think of it as a way of reducing stress.
If you can spend time the night before or first thing in the morning to plan out the day ahead, that can be an easy way to work on this. Spend a few minutes writing down things that must be done as well as things that you want to do.
Then reflect on your list and consider whether it is all possible to do in a day. If not, take some things off, move them to a different day, or ask for help. Having a solid plan or outline for each day helps you know what to expect so you can be prepared, and feeling prepared will naturally reduce the stress load.
Find Time for Self-Care
Life is not all about work and duty. If you want to avoid burnout, it’s important to take care of yourself, not only physically but mentally too. You need to feel satisfied and fulfilled in all aspects of your life to be able to cope with stress.
One thing to understand about stress is that we all experience it differently. We all know people who seem to thrive on stress and we know others who seem to stress out over very minor issues.
We all perceive stress differently depending on our temperaments and our learned behaviors. The important point of this is to get to know yourself and manage your stress based on your own personal comfort level.
Instead of waiting to get to the breaking point, be on the lookout for symptoms of excessive stress and give yourself enough time to relieve them. Find some time for yourself and practice self-care regularly. It will pay off in the long run.