Have you experienced caregiver stress?
Taking on the role of the primary caregiver can often be a rewarding experience, but it doesn’t come without challenges. The role reversal of parenting your parent, being responsible for medical decisions, and maybe even performing personal care duties like helping them bathe or dress are just a few of the common stressors in a family caregiver’s life. And while these duties don’t always take a toll on mental health, the majority of caregivers report that they do experience stress as a result of their caregiving role. In fact, almost two-thirds of family caregivers reported moderate to high levels of stress according to a 2020 study published by AARP. Even professional caregivers need to take a timeout every so often.
When you picture stress relief, you may imagine yourself on a beach somewhere sipping a drink or spending a day at the spa. But for most caregivers, the opportunity for a vacation or an indulgent day to yourself doesn’t come up often. The good news is, there are ways to improve your mental state in just a few minutes wherever you are. The next time you’re feeling anxious but don’t have a lot of time, try these quick, science-backed ways to help relieve caregiver stress.
Putting pen to paper can be helpful in a few different ways. Journaling can help you reduce stress and manage anxiety, and it can also improve your mood by helping you prioritize your problems and see them more clearly.
If you’d rather focus on the positive, try journaling about what you’re grateful for. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people lower stress, improve interpersonal relationships, and even sleep better, as was recently reported by NPR. So journaling about what you’re grateful for can potentially give you a double dose of stress relief!
Experiment with aromatherapy
Your nose might be the key to stress relief. Research shared by Very Well Mind showed that aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress, increase contentment, and decrease levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Scents like lavender, or special essential oil blends specifically geared toward stress relief can be good options to try. An extra benefit of aromatherapy is that you can use a diffuser or similar implement to keep the scent going for hours without doing a thing.
It turns out those silly YouTube videos might be healthy to watch. According to Mayo Clinic, laughter has both long-term and short-term effects on stress. When you start to laugh, it induces physical changes in your body, enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
It also activates and relieves your stress response by increasing and then decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a relaxed feeling. Lastly, it can help with the physical symptoms of stress by increasing your circulation and causes your muscles to relax.
Listen to music
Cranking up the tunes can be a great way to lift your mood and reduce caregiver stress. Music taps into the same parts of the brain that pleasure from sex and food does by flooding the brain with dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward.
If you have access to music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, there are dozens of playlists dedicated to boosting your mood and relieving stress, from pop to classical. A quick search for “stress relief music” on YouTube will also produce tons of options for soothing music to choose from – for free!
Do a quick workout
It may not be your #1 choice but doing even a few minutes of exercise has been shown to have positive benefits for stress relief. Exercise produces endorphins and can provide an outlet for frustration and a distraction from the situation that is stressing you out. And the same increase in blood circulation that happens when you laugh also happens when you start to stretch or exercise. The result is a relaxation in the muscles and relief from some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Take a quick walk if possible, but if you have to stay inside you can do some squats, a quick yoga routine, or even some stretches to take advantage of the benefits.
Harvard Business Review recently analyzed several studies to determine why breathing is so effective at relieving stress. “Research shows that different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, and so changing how we breathe can change how we feel. For example, when you feel joy, your breathing will be regular, deep, and slow. If you feel anxious or angry, your breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow. When you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions.”
When we’re stressed, the “flight or fight” response can be triggered which engages the sympathetic nervous system. Changing the rhythm of your breath slows your heart rate and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you start to calm down. Breath in that sigh of relief!
Sometimes just focusing your mind on something else is all you need to reduce caregiver stress. Immersing yourself in a game or a puzzle and getting in the “flow” can release dopamine and give instant gratification, two processes that are associated with pleasure. Certain games that require creativity and provide a way to express ourselves can become a useful tool to relieve stress by providing an outlet for emotion.
If you don’t want to carry around a puzzle book or a deck of cards, there are thousands of games available on your phone, from Sudoku to adult coloring book apps.
Spend time in nature
Simply walking outside can be a welcome relief to a stressful situation The American Heart Association explains that “spending time in nature can help relieve caregiver stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing.“ The gradual presentation of scenes in nature gently captures your attention instead of startling or shocking you, which has a calming effect on your nerves.
Consider combining a walk outside with some calming music and deep breathing to enjoy the benefits of multiple stress relief techniques.
Caregiver stress doesn’t have to be a major problem in your life if you stay mindful and remember these tips.
Stress relief doesn’t have to take a ton of time – in just a few minutes you can change your state of mind, feel better, and be better able to care for your loved one or your client with patience and compassion.
However, if you find yourself experiencing stress more and more frequently or you’re finding it increasingly difficult to relieve it, you may want to consider a longer break. Respite care can provide an opportunity for longer chunks of time for you to recover and better handle the stresses of your caregiving duties.
Would you add anything to this list? Share it with our community in the comments below, and check out the list of tasks a professional caregiver can help you with!
- Caregiving in the U.S. – AARP
- Using Aromatherapy for Relieving Your Stress – Very Well Mind
- Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke – Mayo Clinic
- If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health – NPR
- Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress – Harvard Business Review
- The Science Behind Why Music Makes Us Feel So Good – LifeHack
- Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety – American Heart Association