Creative Stress Management for Carers

What is stress?

Stress is an everyday fact of life. You can't avoid it.  Stress is any change that you must adapt to, ranging from the negative extreme of actual physical danger to the exhilaration of falling in love or achieving some long-desired success'. [Martha Davis, et. al 1995).

Like most other aspects of living, stress has its positives and negatives.  Negative stress, if prolonged, can affect a person at all levels – mind, body, spirit -  sometimes resulting in ill-health. How can the stress of caring be reduced and quality of life improved or enhanced? A key to stress reduction is understanding some of the sources (self-awareness) as well as the realisation that there one does have a choice..

Becoming a carer can change your life, sometimes totally!

There may be no clear beginning point, and over a period of time life changes gradually and inexorably.  Sometimes it may be a sudden event, and things change with dramatic impact.

Caregiving impacts on a person at all levels.  Some of the emotional impacts are : feeling powerless, confusion, despair, loneliness, irritation. There may also be feelings of anger, resentment or frustration.  Grief over the many losses experienced is a major issue for carers.  There are of course the physical consequences of fatigue.

Caring affects relationships: less time for yourself, for other members of the family, especially partners, loss of social life.  There may be financial impacts as well – having to give up a job, increased expenditures because of costs of services etc.

Factors in stress creation for carers

Carers feel very guilty about addressing their own needs.  Why? Because they feel that it is expected of them – whether they are parents or partners, sons or daughters,  there is a strong sense of obligation that caring is 'just what you do', 'it's normal'.

As a community we don't easily recognise that caring for 24 hours is more than 'normal'. If you compare caring for a child who is healthy with the time commitment required for a child who has a chronic illness or disability, there is a significant difference.  It is a heavier workload. It is more than 'normal'.   Carers feel guilty if they show signs of stress for fear of being seen as 'not coping'.

Solution - Give yourself permission to take care of yourself!

A core belief in all cultures is that we should care for each other. We are born into relationship and relationship gives meaning to life.  If we did not love and care for each other, life would be 'nasty, brutish and short'.  These beliefs are the 'glue' that keeps society together. They are important for our survival.

However, there is a downside.  For carers, strong beliefs about' doing it for love or duty or obligation' mean that when taking time for oneself, it could be seen as failing to love or carry out one's duty.  This leads to deep guilt.  There is often a negative tape running that chastises a carer for daring to think of his or her own needs.  Carers need to remember that if they are tired and stressed, they are less effective in the caring role and their own health suffers. You are not a bad person if you take time out!

Solution - Change the tape!  'I'm important too. Having a break will make me a better person and a better carer.'

We all have different personal styles. What drives a person?  For some, it is to excel at everything. For others, it is to be a caring person. For another, to avoid conflict. For another, to enjoy life.  For example, if you are the caring type, you can fall into the trap of giving too much of yourself to caring. Carers often speak of being 'consumed' by the carer role. In this scenario, there is little permission to care for the self.

Solution - Be compassionate towards yourself!

Having looked at some of the causes of stress for carers – we can now consider:

Creative stress management for carers

First point – recognise the stress.

Second point – deal with fact. Accept what can't be changed - it opens one to a  space of peace. The alternative is anger and resentment. Change what can be changed – 'I'll make time for a rest – because this is important for me and the person I care for ' – generates a different reality and a different possibility.

Third point – practice!

Some ideas –

5 minute relaxers or mini-vacations – gardening, cup of coffee and chat, sitting in a favourite chair and listenening to music, a warm, pampering shower or bath, a five minute meditation. Daily!

Try the 'relaxing sigh'

Sighing or yawning is a way that the body replenishes it store of oxygen. Sighing releases tension.

  • Stand up straight
  • Sigh deeply, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs
  • Don't think about inhaling – let the air come in naturally
  • Repeat 10 times.

Laughter is the best medicine.

Laughing releases tension, increases energy and vitality, promotes a sense of wellbeing. Watch the funnies on TV.  Check out the cartoon strips in the daily newspaper.  Be with people who make you laugh.

Conclusion

The key message is that stress can be reduced in simple ways – but it requires recognition or awareness of the key drivers of the stress, identifying strategies which work, making a commitment to oneself and to practice – in order to make a difference in your life. We can't change others – we can only change ourselves!

 

Joyce Rebeiro is Co-ordinator of Education and Training for Carers Victoria.  She has been part of Carers Victoria education and training team for over 5 years and has travelled extensively within the state, delivering programs to carers and service providers. Joyce has a particular interest in health and wellbeing for carers.  She has worked in the non-government sector, as well as federal and local governments and has a particular interest in multicultural and indigenous affairs.