Today’s caregivers can tap into a network of caregiver support resources to help them handle stress. From social media to blogs that feature current and former caregivers, there’s a wealth of options to choose from — there’s even a host of caregiver books and memoirs. But in the early ’90s, when I was just starting out in my first role as a caregiver, there was no Internet to consult for support in times of stress. For me, caregiver support at its finest was sneaking away with friends and laughing myself silly.
If you’re a caregiver, you’re stressed, and you might be looking for help. Let’s take a closer look at stress, how I handled it, and how you can do the same.
The Effects of Stress
As a caregiver, you know you’re under stress, but you may not understand how it affects your body. Think of constant stress as your body existing in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight mode in which it creates an endless supply of adrenaline and a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is “public health enemy number one,” explains an article in Psychology Today. “Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy,” the article states. Elevated cortisol levels can also cause learning and memory problems, weight gain, high blood pressure, and lower immune function.
The Usual Cautions Apply
Now that you know what stress is, you have to learn how to combat it. You’ve probably been told to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep to counteract caregiver stress. But what if you already do those things and you feel stressed? Caregiving has its rewards, but it’s no walk in the park — especially when you’re trying to juggle work, kids, spouse, family, and all the things you need to accomplish in your daily life. I relied on the these two invaluable resources to keep my head above water:
1. The Importance of Human Connection
There’s more to stress relief than the many resources that the Internet has to offer. The Mayo Clinic says, “A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times.” I relied on my network of friends for support when I was a caregiver. It didn’t matter what we did together, it only mattered that we were together, laughing and enjoying life.
Cliché though it may seem, laughter really is the best medicine: Around 10 years ago, I interviewed a priest’s wife for a magazine article. She was a truly amazing woman who had survived cancer and a life-threatening heart condition. In each instance, her doctors had told her that she wouldn’t survive. This senior took matters into her own hands. She prescribed laughter for herself, and she lived to spread the gospel of laughter after each illness. I have the same philosophy: Laughter can cure much of what ails us. And she gave me the permission I needed to laugh when others might think it more appropriate to express sadness.
For me, the total of friends plus laughter was far greater than the sum of its parts, helping me to handle the challenges that caregiving presented.