The daily demands and responsibilities of caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia can be overwhelming and stressful. And if left unchecked, long-term stress can negatively impact your health and ability to provide care. Learn the effects of stress as well as tips to manage and reduce it.
Stress is our natural physiological and psychological response to feeling troubled, worried or threatened – and everyone deals with it from time to time. While it is a normal reaction to help us cope with challenging situations, chronic, long-term stress can cause a range of health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure and more:
Effects of Stress
- Physical – Sleeplessness, changes in appetite, fatigue, muscle tension or pain, weakened immune system, and high blood pressure
- Emotional – Mood swings, sadness or depression, irritability or anger, resentment, hopelessness and self-doubt
- Mental – Anxiety, forgetfulness, confusion, lack of focus or motivation, difficulty concentrating, overthinking and loss of interest
- Spiritual – Loss of joy, hopelessness, shame, fear, and inability to love or find humor in life
Ways You Can Manage Stress
Because chronic stress can take a toll on your health and well-being, as well as negatively influence your behavior and/or interactions with others, finding ways to relieve or manage it is crucial. Listed below are some common approaches:
- Accept your limits and ask for help: You can only do so much by yourself and you can’t pour into others if you are empty. Avoid caregiver burnout by finding a good support system, establishing a routine, embracing the art of the ask and practicing self-care.
- Listen to feedback from family and friends: Has anyone in your life mentioned or observed a change in your behavior or demeanor? Take a minute and think about whether what they are saying might be true.
- Practice breathing techniques: Focusing attention on your breathing can calm your body and slow down racing thoughts. While taking controlled deep breaths, envision you are inhaling peace and exhaling worry.
- Eat well: Stress temporarily increases blood pressure. Nutrients such as omega-3s, vitamin E and polyphenols – found in salmon, almonds, dark chocolate and other healthy foods – can help reduce tension and improve blood flow in the body.
- Sleep well: Lack of sleep diminishes mental clarity, tanks energy levels and increases irritability. Getting a full eight hours of restful sleep allows our mind to reset and our cells to properly rejuvenate.
- Get moving: Physical activity reduces levels of the body's stress hormones and increases the production of pain-relieving endorphins. It also helps relieve muscle tension and allows us to get more oxygenated blood to our brains, enabling us to think more clearly.
- Listen to relaxing music: Listening to music can also release feel-good chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) in your brain. Select music that you find relaxing, get comfortable and remove distractions for at least 30 minutes.
- De-stress with art: Drawing, coloring and other creative artforms are considered mindful activities, allowing you to focus your attention on the present moment (or task at hand) while doing something positive and productive.
- Practice positive self-talk: Negative or distorted thinking damages confidence, harms performance and paralyzes mental ability. When you change your thoughts, you change how you feel and your actions.
As experts of compassionate care, we understand the many challenges and stressors caregivers face. If you are new to caregiving or providing continued care, check out our ongoing education calendar and join us on May 28 for the Addressing Caregiver Burnout Conference as we discuss caregiver burnout, self-care tips, managing dementia-related behaviors and more.