April is officially National Stress Relief Month and it’s also the month we celebrate silly jokes for April Fool's Day. However, the stress that caregivers feel can happen all year long and it's really no joking matter when it comes to the health issues that stress can cause.
Numerous studies, including one conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving show that caregivers cite stress as their Number One issue in caring for their loved one. Another study found that caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop multiple chronic illnesses sooner in life related to the increased stress of caregiving.
Caregiver Stress-Related Health Risks
All this points to serious potential health risks for caregivers who find their responsibilities overwhelming and adding stress to their lives. The medical community points to the fact that chronic stress can lead to a series of escalating health risks such as high blood pressure, hypertension and ultimately even stroke or heart attack.
How Do You Spell Caregiver Stress Relief?
The comedian and actress Lily Tomlin said it best, "For fast-acting relief, slow down."
There are some tools developed for both caregivers and their physicians to understand the level of stress that caregivers may be facing. Both the American Medical Association and the Alzheimer’s Association, have good stress checks online where caregivers can answer a few questions and then share the information with their doctor to get a full assessment of their stress-related health risks.
Some stress relief solutions include:
Support groups – where you can share frustrations and anxiety with other caregivers who understand what you're going through
Talking to a friend – so often friends ask how they can help you as a caregiver. While we often think of help as "tasks," the help can come in the form of just being a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic listener
Meditation – yoga, tai chi, anything which gives you even a few minutes to clear your mind of all the "noise" can help you get back to caregiving with a fresh start
Something soothing – a warm bath, washing your hands under warm water, using a lavender eye pillow are all amazingly relaxing
Get enough sleep – sometimes easier said than done but getting seven to eight hours of good, uninterrupted sleep helps your body's immune system
In the end – remember that caring for yourself is as important as the care you provide your loved one.
Given the many crucial issues surrounding the physical, mental, emotional, and lifestyle demands associated with caregiving, it’s important for families to be aware of where to go for answers, support, and encouragement.
Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer's Disease: A Guide for the Home Caregiver
by Peter Rabins, M.D., MPH, and Ann Morrison, RN, Ph.D.