“According to studies, 45% of caregivers reported chronic conditions, including heart attacks, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.” It is undeniable that caregiver stress can have a detrimental impact on a caregiver’s health. In this interview, Kevin a Health Coach from the Wellness Council of Arizona sheds some on light on stress and shares that stress management is key to providing better care for your loved ones and changing this statistic. What is stress? Stress is an evolutionary response. In some cases, it is meant to be a good thing if you think how our bodies respond to acute or short-term stress. Essentially, when there is a threatening event that occurs, cortisol (i.e. stress hormone) is released in our bodies. This creates a stress response that heightens our senses and prepares us for the fight or flight response. Our heart rates go up and we become more alert. In the short term, this arousal increase is okay. After the threat is removed, our body can then return to baseline and relax. However, in terms of caregiver health, we typically see more chronic or long-term stress. When you are under chronic stress, it is difficult to reduce that arousal level. Think about a car, if you slam on the gas to pass that semi on the highway, all is well. However, if you slam on the gas for days and weeks at a time a) you will run out of gas and b) your car will break down. Fight or Flight By Coach Kevin Dahl, Wellness Council of Arizona
Over time, stress wears our system down causing different physical and emotional health issues. What does stress look like? Stress is an individual experience. It might come on as headaches, bouts of sadness, increased heart rate, increased irritability, stiff muscles, and/or high blood pressure. Individuals under chronic stress tend to have more compounding medical concerns. It puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases. It can cause us to be nervous or anxious, which effects our digestive system causing things like stomach cramping, diarrhea, etc. What are some stress management techniques that caregivers can utilize when they have a hectic schedule? Stress management does not have to be overly complex. You can reduce stress during bathroom breaks, during TV commercials, before going to bed at night or after waking up in the morning. Make it a simple practice of centering yourselves to then provide the highest quality care you can. • Physical activity does not necessarily need to be outside. Simply marching in place or stretching in your home can get the blood pumping. • Utilize your senses. What is pleasing to our five senses can give us an immediate response to acute stress. You might try aromatherapy with essential oils or listening to a favorite song.
• Reach out to people through text, emails, and phone calls. Make sure to build or connect to a support network to prevent isolation. What are some tips that you would provide to caregivers under stress? • First, you need to recognize and admit that you are stressed in order to address your stress. • Look up resources. PCOA has different helpful resources for caregivers. • Stay in communication with your physicians especially if you are under chronic stress. Get regular blood work and testing done under the guidance of your physician. • Eat a well-balanced diet. • Understand what your needs are and then seek out the appropriate services. • Build a useful tool kit of stress management techniques. • Practice utilizing your stress management techniques for daily annoyances. This can help you prepare for the challenging stresses that arise. • For chronic stress, focus your coping skills and seek medical attention as necessary for serious symptoms. • Find something to do outside of caregiving that you can derive pleasure from. Try new hobbies. Caring for yourself will make it easier to care for your loved ones and prevent diseases caused by over-stress. If you are in a position where your stress levels are increasing over time, then you are unlikely to be at your best. This draws away from your capacity to provide care for your loved ones. Therefore, continue being healthy, use your coping skills, and do things that bring you joy.
July 2022, Never Too Late | Page 9
Pima Council on Aging
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