We’ve all experienced it – heart racing, muscle tension, irritability. Perhaps stomach pain or clenched jaw. Anxiety can cause sleepless nights and feeling tired all the time. It can lead to forgetting things, and feeling as if life is spiraling out of your control.
These are just a few of the things people experience when under stress. In the U.S., there are 54 million people with a disability according to the US Census Bureau. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are 44 million people in the U.S. providing care to family members. For both those with the disability as well as their caregivers, stress can become chronic and lead to other medical issues.
Chronic stress is associated with increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression and cognitive impairment. On the other hand, exercise helps to lower blood pressure, blood sugars, improve your cholesterol, amongst its other numerous benefits.
There are many things that can be done to deal with stress, ranging from meditation, time with friends, laughter, yoga, Tai Chi, etc. Exercise is repeatedly proven an effective coping mechanism. Harvard Medical School states that exercise not only releases endorphins which elevate your mood, but can lower the amounts of other stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Many times, the exercise can give you a “high” and you find that you’ve forgotten the irritations of your day, especially if you avoid distractions and technology while exercising (turn off the television and put down that phone!).
For family caregivers, it’s especially important to be kind to yourself. A 20-minute walk with a neighbor keeps you from being isolated. It can be so relaxing to talk with someone about something other than “caregiver” talk. Spend 15 minutes in your garden. Bending over to pick weeds or plant some flowers can be exercise! Do not quit your gym membership. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it 3 times a week – stop in when you can for 30 minutes.
While at home with your charge, simple floor stretches may help motivate them and you to do some simple chair exercises. Perhaps you can join a chair yoga class. Local community centers may have yoga classes that fit your schedule. There are even “laughing” yoga classes – mix exercise with laughter to feel even better!
Finally, remember to practice breathing. A few deep breathes, slowly exhaled and with focus, can greatly lessen stress and anxiety.
Dorcas Greene, Collaborative Coaching USA, has been a family caregiver for over 40 years. Her passion is ensuring that other family caregivers maintain their sanity and health. Stacy Hennis, New Beginning Physical Therapy, specializes in treating adults with chronic medical conditions. These conditions affect the family, not just the patient. To reach Dorcas, please call 760-301-5247 or online at DorcasGreeneCoach.com. To reach Stacy, please call 760-218-9961 or online at NewBeginningPT.com