Caregiver stress is a real, pervasive problem in our world today. As caregivers, we deal with a combination of small and large stressors daily. Our circumstances are constantly changing, we are assuming new roles and responsibilities daily and oftentimes, we are so overburdened, but yet, too exhausted to try to make changes. Overtime, these stressors can subtly accumulate and wear on our physical, emotional and spiritual health. We are often so concerned about tending to the needs of others that we are almost too busy and distracted to notice the negative effects that stress is having on our lives, our health and even our relationships.
What is Caregiver Stress?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur. It can respond to these changes physically, mentally, or emotionally.” The Lord designed our bodies and our stress response to protect us within our changing environments. Stress can come from our internal or external environments. There can be positive stressors or negative stressors in our lives. Stress becomes “distress” when our stress goes unresolved and continues over a period of time. Unresolved caregiver stress is detrimental and can lead to a more serious problem of caregiver burnout.
Over time, caregiver stress can become a huge problem not only for the caregiver but for the care receiver and entire family unit. Our bodies weren’t designed to live in a constant state of “fight or flight.” We can function under these conditions for a short period of time but eventually, the stress will become an infectious “cancer” to our minds, bodies and spirits. As caregivers, we have a responsibility to the Lord, ourselves and those we love, to take care of our bodies and minds by making sure our basic needs are being met before we can offer care to those around us. By taking care of our needs first, we are honoring the Lord and our commitment to our role as a caregiver.
To ensure our own overall health and wellness, we must take a proactive role in combating caregiver stress. There are many things as caregivers that are not within our control, however, there are many things within our own environments that we have control over and choices we can make that can position us for long term success. We must be vigilant in our attempts to minimize caregiver stress where possible and take action to create an environment that is conducive to giving ourselves and others the best care we can.
How To Cope With Caregiver Stress
As long as we are living, we will continue to face stress of all kinds. Stress itself is not always bad, but it becomes a more serious problem when we ignore it or we don’t make course corrections that help us respond to it in a more healthy way. Caregiver stress can easily get out of hand quickly, as oftentimes, circumstances worsen over time. There are many proactive things we can do as caregivers to help ourselves cope with caregiver stress.
As a former caregiver, I can remember saying more times than I can count, “I just don’t have time for that…” However, I am here to tell you that you don’t have the luxury of not making time to take care of yourself. Because if you choose not to address caregiver stress early, there may come a point in time when you are no longer able to care for your loved one and meet their needs.
Make the decision to start today and proactively put a plan in place to combat caregiver stress. Use these simple stress busting tips to help yourself deal with caregiver stress in a more positive and healthier way!
Stress Busting Tips to Cope With Caregiver Stress
As a Christian, prayer is one of the most powerful forms of spiritual self- care that we can participate in. Prayer is direct conversation between the Lord and ourselves. Prayer does not have to be formal or well- rehearsed. It can be done anywhere, anytime, for as little or as long as we would like. Our heavenly Father already intimately knows our hearts but He anxiously awaits for us to approach His throne with our cares and concerns. When we are feeling the effects of caregiver stress, consider turning to prayer before turning anywhere else.
In addition to your personal prayer time, if you prefer to have something more structured or prompted, check out this amazing caregiver devotional by Sarah Forgrave
Spend Time in Scripture
There is a BIG difference between hearing God’s word preached on Sunday morning and actually reading it for ourselves. When I was a “baby” Christian, the thoughts of reading Scripture on my own was intimidating and daunting. I had no idea where to start. However, one day, I made the decision to just start without really knowing how.
When you become a Christian, we are given the help of the Holy Spirit who will guide us and help us learn from the Lord and what He has for us in Scripture. I would strongly encourage you to make the decision to get into the Word regularly. Start with one verse, one chapter and then maybe even the study of one book. There are gobs of great resources out there if you are interested in learning more about how to effectively read the word of God.
During church last night, one of our preachers reminded us that we don’t read Scripture for information, the goal is TRANSFORMATION! There are so many study methods and reading plans available when it comes to Scripture, but don’t let that be overwhelming or a barrier to making time with God’s word a daily rhythm of your day.
Bible Study Resources to Support Caregiver Stress
Developing a Healthy Mindset
What we tell ourselves as caregivers affects our hearts and minds deeply. The words we speak over ourselves carry power. We must choose to think positively, especially during trying times and fix our minds on God’s truth, not on our truth. Saying daily positive affirmations is an effective tool for changing our mindset and helping our bodies deal with caregiver stress in a more positive way.
Develop an Attitude of Gratitude
When we are in the middle of challenging circumstances or stressful times, it is easy to allow our minds to gravitate to what is “wrong” with our lives and we allow those things to overshadow the everyday blessings. Developing a daily attitude of gratitude is a free, simple practice that can completely change the outlook of your day. Caregiver stress affects our mind, body and spirit but intentionally choosing gratitude can also positively affect our overall health and wellness. Start small and begin and end your day by naming (3) things that you are grateful for and watch how this simple practice can profoundly change the trajectory of your day.
Develop a Daily Journaling Practice
I am passionate about the written word and have always been drawn to pouring my heart and soul out onto paper. Journaling is a free and easy way to release my thoughts and feelings and have the opportunity to say what is on my mind without fear of judgement or expectation. There is something really freeing about the process of journaling.
Caregiver stress can materialize in many different ways in our lives and journaling gives us a great opportunity to sit quietly with our thoughts and honestly reflect on our circumstances, feelings and our relationships. I’m also a sucker for cute journals! Aren’t you?
Obviously we breathe constantly throughout the day (it’s kind of critical to staying alive, right?) But, how often do we pay any attention to the way we are breathing?
Breathing is something that we have control over and it can have a dramatic effect on the way we feel and respond to caregiver stress. There are many breathing techniques that you can learn to help you take control of your breathing and effectively use it to combat caregiver stress. Trust me, I know it might seem a little woo-woo but don’t knock it until you try it. There are a lot of things that we cannot control within our caregiving circumstances, however, breathing is one thing we can do something about!
Check out this article from Dr. Andrew Weil on three different breathing methods you can easily learn how to incorporate into your own caregiver self-care routine.
There are many different kinds of meditation. This practice can be used as part of a daily wellness routine or specifically to combat caregiver stress and other challenging circumstances. If you are new to meditation, I would suggest guided meditation. It will help ease you into the practice of meditation and help you learn the processes and how to get the most out of your time.
You can find many free resources online. You can try a variety of meditations and see which ones best fit your style. Guided meditation can be done at home or on the go. You can even download FREE Apps from the app store. One free option to look for in your app store is Abide: Christian Guided Meditation & Daily Prayers. You can also find many guided meditation videos on YouTube.
Listen to a Christian Podcast
I am a huge fan of podcasts! There is a podcast for just about anything and everything you could ever be interested in! The thing I love about podcasts is that you can listen to them from just about anywhere. Whether you are sitting in the hospital with a loved one, sitting in carpool line or you are out for a run, podcasts can go with you! Podcasts can encourage, inspire and lift you up when you are feeling down. They can provide escape, entertainment and even teach you something new!
Many podcasts are offered for FREE so there is little to no risk to give them a try! Check out this post from Equipping Godly Women. She shares some of her favorite Christian women podcasts! Many of these podcasts can help you fight the daily caregiver stress by encouraging you with enthusiasm, humor, authenticity, vulnerability and more importantly, the inherent Word of God.
Diffuse Essential Oils to Fight Caregiver Stress
Essential oils are my jam and if you do not use them or love them already, I hope that you soon will! There truly is an oil for everything and my essential oils have supported me daily since day one of my caregiver journey. I use Young Living Essential Oils topically and in my diffusers. I’m pretty sure I have a diffuser in almost every room of the house. There are many uplifting, calming and relaxing oils blends, it is just a matter of finding one that works for you! If you want to read about the benefits of diffusing essential oils, check out this post from Young Living’s blog.
If you are interested in getting started with your own Young Living Essential Oils starter kit, you can learn more by clicking here.
Get Enough Quality Rest
Sleep. We dream of getting more of it and better quality sleep, however caregiver stress tends to hijack hours of sleep as well as the quality of our rest. Our sleep affects our overall health so it is important to pay attention to how well you are sleeping and how often.
One of the BEST GIFTS my husband ever bought for my Mom and I was a weighted blanket. Not only do you feel like you are being hugged while you sleep, but I feel like it calms my entire body and promotes better sleep. I will even lay it over me while watching T.V. in the evening and I love the way it makes me entire body feel. It will be worth every penny you invest. Your sleep is worth it!
Healthy Snacks and Drinks
Caregiver stress can often lead us down a destructive path of unhealthy eating. Many of us use food as a comfort and an unhealthy coping mechanism. If we want to “fuel” our body vs. “feed” our emotions, it is important to keep healthy snacks on hand so we can make wiser choices when we are hungry or craving a treat. When we are stressed out or overwhelmed, it is important that we pay attention to our eating patterns and watch for unhealthy habits. When our body is under times extreme stress, we need to be even more mindful of the kind of fuel we are giving it.
Intentional Laughter to Alleviate Caregiver Stress
Caregiving for someone you love is a blessing but the caregiver stress associated with giving care can take a toll on you emotionally and physically. Sometimes, circumstances are so heavy, laughter seems far away and almost impossible to muster. Intentional laughter is a great stress buster for caregivers and might just be what the doctor ordered. Check out these posts on the benefits of laughter and where you can go to find a few (clean) laughs!
Listen to Worship Music to Ease Caregiver Stress
I have loved music ever since I was a little girl. I would do homework to music, I drove with music, I even slept with music playing all night long until I got married and my husband could not get used to the tunes playing at night. Worship music holds a special place in my heart and the Lord uses these songs to speak to my spirit during times of high caregiver stress and overwhelm. His timing is always perfect! I put together a playlist of some of my favorite worship songs to encourage your caregiver spirit. It is my hope that you will check it out! May the playlist be a comfort and a blessing to you!
Read a Good Book
Reading an awesome book might be a great stress buster for your caregiver stress! Reading a book for pure enjoyment can be a great and much needed escape for your brain and for your spirit. The pages of a book can take you on a journey or an adventure. Books can help you experience a variety of emotions so consider picking up a book for fun and allowing it to take you away, even just for a few short minutes at a time! If you are more of an audio book kind of reader, consider giving Audible a try…click here for your 30 day free trial offer!
Exercise to Keep Caregiver Stress at Bay
Moving your body is not only beneficial for overall health and wellness, it is an incredibly effective weapon against caregiver stress. Exercise benefits your body and mind. As a caregiver, it is easy to put everyone else’s needs above your own. However, those kind of choices will eventually catch up with you and become detrimental to your own health. Intentionally choose to move your body as much and as often as possible. Even if you can’t get away for 30 minutes or an hour at a time, try to do something active in the small pockets of time that you do have available. Find an activity that you enjoy doing and try to incorporate it into your weekly routine. Caregiver stress can become as infectious and deadly as a cancer to your body. Do something active for yourself each day. Your body and your mind will thank you for it!
Do an Activity You Enjoy ‘Just Because’
I don’t know what your favorite hobby, passion or activity is but once in a while, choose to do something for yourself “just because.” Maybe you love getting pedicures or you have a favorite Netflix series you enjoy watching. Make a date with yourself and do something you enjoy just for the fun of it! Caregiver stress can slowly creep in over time or it can hit you all at once. Having small pleasures in life to look forward to can help ward off the caregiver stress.
Create Boundaries to Manage Caregiver Stress
As a former caregiver, I can tell you that setting healthy boundaries is one of the most difficult things I had to learn to do but it was also one of the most beneficial life lessons. Boundaries are biblical and they are critical to safeguarding your health, relationships and sanity as a caregiver. Setting healthy boundaries goes beyond learning how to say “no,” however, that is a good start in the fight against caregiver stress.
Create a Social Support System
The Lord created us to live in community with one another. I know first-hand how incredibly isolating and lonely caregiving can be. It is critical that you identify a reliable support system for yourself and learn to reach out, ask for help and in turn, learn how to accept help. In addition, tell people what you need. I know it is not easy, but its imperative. People cannot read your mind! (I know, what?! I thought everyone could read my mind) Having a solid support system in place can be very beneficial and can alleviate a lot of caregiver stress.
Equip Yourself to Fight Caregiver Stress
As caregivers it is impossible to eliminate all stress in our lives and our circumstances. However, there are things we can choose to do to help our bodies and minds cope with caregiver stress. If we do something positive for ourselves each and every day while making some of these practices daily habits, we will be able to give care more effectively to those that we love while enjoying a higher level of health and quality of life for ourselves.