Stress and how it affects a Parent Carer

 

 

 

 How stress affects the body | Stress and how it changes the way we think | Managing your role as a parent carer |
Stress Symptoms |Stress Quiz | How can carers reverse the effects of stress? | Alternative therapies|Can stress be positive?

 

Stress is everywhere. But how stress manifests and affects a parent carer can be a layered and complicated myriad, that often affects daily life.

As a parent caregiver you are likely to feel at some points intense emotions, which can include apathy, fatigue, restlessness, anger, resentment, sadness, boredom, irritation or frustration. 

All of these emotions are rooted or categorised as ‘Stress’.  Stress can manifest and show up in all different guises.

How stress attacks the body

 When stress strikes, unbeknownst to us our reptilian brain (or the Amygdala) sends us into the ‘fight or flight’ mode, priming us for danger and alerting our ‘stress’ response. This may have been useful for our ancestors to ward off a pending battle with a wild animal, however it is not the level of response needed in our day to day interactions as a parent carer. 
 

Symphony of Stress

When the body kicks into stress mode, the adrenal glands secretes the hormone cortisol, epinephrine and adrenaline. When stressed, we can sometimes feel our hearts beat faster or butterflies in our stomach these are the physiological effects of these hormones circulating the body and affecting the heart and the gut. Elevated levels of these hormones for short periods are useful and effective to keep you safe for example helping you move quickly out of perceived danger. But in contrast, if experienced over prolonged periods the effects can lead to more serious and debilitating affects on the body’s organs.  High levels of cortisol can affect blood vessels and impair their function. Overtime, research has indicated that this can contribute to an increase in cholesterol plaques forming which in turn can increase the chances of suffering from a stroke or heart attack. 

When stress occurrences happen, as well as physiological responses we may also find ourselves craving sustenance to support our fluctuating energy and emotional levels. This is because cortisol can also increase your appetite for carbohydrates. When broken down by the body carbohydrates turns into glucose, a sugar. This can result in making unhealthy food and drink choices leading to weight gain, unhealthy dependencies and low moods.  Stress is literally driving your need for sugary snacks!

 

Stress changes the way we think

Stress also changes the way we think. In those moments of frustration, boredom or irritation our stress response elicits reactions that might not seem on the surface warranted. Have you ever burst into tears when you had to do washing up? 

No? 

The washing up, as terrifyingly mundane and time consuming as it is, would not normally make you want to cry.  Whilst our brains ‘fight or flight’ is activated and ramped up, another part of the brain, the Prefrontal cortex, has its activity dampened down and the messages we would normally get, to think rationally, methodically and critically are not received. Which is why in those moments of stress we may think and behave in a more heightened reactive way. We may cry, shout or show frustration at the washing up not being done. Stress responses, dampen not only our thinking but also our bodily functions such as digestion.

Stress can also affect sleep quality. Do you find yourself unable to sleep when you finally get the chance? Do you find that you can’t fall asleep quickly or you wake during the night unable to return to sleep? Increased stress leaves cortisol floating in your blood stream which keeps your body in an ‘alert’ state. Suppressing the ‘sleepy’ hormone melatonin and keeping you awake. Your body is actively trying to keep you awake, to keep you alert to avoid a ‘perceived’ danger.

 

Managing being a parent carer and stress

Being a caregiver means it is increasingly likely there is a huge amount on your ‘to do’ list each day. Doctors appointments, therapies, school, after school clubs, organising, paperwork, washing, cleaning, as well as possibly working and looking after the rest of your household.

All of these situations have the potential to trigger the ‘stress’ response in the body and if during these times you are also in cycles of not eating correctly, resting or getting enough sleep there is a real danger that the body will begin to suffer from chronic stress. 

 

Physical Symptoms of Stress

headaches or dizziness
muscle tension or pain
stomach problems
chest pain or a faster heartbeat
sexual problems
difficulty concentrating
struggling to make decisions
feeling overwhelmed
constantly worrying
being forgetful
being irritable and snappy
sleeping too much or too little
eating too much or too little
avoiding certain places or people
drinking or smoking more

 

Alongside the huge amounts needed to be accomplished each and every day, the psychological expectation on oneself to complete your ‘should do list’ could slip very easily into a place of self criticism for not completing everything. Consequently creating more psychological distress.

Negative self talk is the mind pressurising you to do more, otherwise you are:

Lazy
– Bad
– Failing
– Not trying hard enough
– Not working hard enough

The list goes on.

Our minds create these thoughts as they align with our own personal values and create a moral compass to which we hold ourselves accountable against. When we ‘fail’ to meet these ideals we feel bad and feel obliged to complete the tasks. 

As a caregiver even the question about being stressed can cause stress. The suggestion of resting and self care can be lost in the reality of the role having continuous demands. As a parent caregiver working hours are not set. Support may be sparse and responsibilities often extends across day and night, without opportunity to rest or recharge. Creating opportunities to have rest can seem impossible. Leading to helplessness, frustration and more stress.

 

 

72% of carers feel they had suffered from mental

ill health as a result of caring. That is 4,680,000 carers in the UK alone

who experience and feel mental anxiety with their roles.

-Carers UK’s State of Caring 2018 Survey 

 

 


 

Quick Quiz: Are you stressed?

  • Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed?
  • Do you get down time?
  • Do you have support?
  • Do you have people to talk to?
  • Do you ever feel a sense of uncertainty which leads you to worry?
  • Do you find you can’t sleep as well as you’d like? Or wake in the night frequently?
  • Are you skipping meals or find you go for long periods not feeling hungry and maybe binge at night?
  • Do you have frequent headaches, aches and pains, stomach issues and general lethargy?
  • Have you felt your self swinging from emotion to emotion, irritation, apathy to overwhelm without knowing the cause?

The above is not a diagnosis of stress but it can give an indication as to whether there are areas in your life that may cause you stress more continuously.  Please speak to your GP if you feel you are suffering from stress and need extra help. 

 


 

How can carers reverse the effects of stress?

 

First of all some information needs to be gathered. 

Understanding your own unique situation will take some analysis but will reveal some of the opportunities to make manageable changes. 

Looking at your daily schedule, support systems and available resources.

  1. Identify triggers:
    WHEN you are in a stressed state.
    WHAT you do when you are stressed.
    HOW you can pivot and regain calm quickly and effectively.

  2. Look for particular times of day that might create a ‘stress storm’.

  3. Pin point any small changes you can include to minimise the chances of encountering potential triggers. Eg meal planning, walking with healthy snacks, alarms to remind you to eat.

  4. Look for red flags as to times you could be unwittingly luring your body into a states of stress. Eg skipping meals, not getting exercise, not sleeping.

  5. Try Audio Release Therapy

    Record yourself, telling yourself what is stressing you out.
    You say it
    You listen back
    You begin processing  as a spectator.

    Sometimes there isn’t someone to talk to. Sometimes there is shame linked to your stress and you may not want to share. This is a personal, easy thing to do and acts as a way to take the stress from inside your head. It helps to create new thoughts and trigger a different reaction from your brain.  

  1. Journalling – The power of releasing

    Journalling is a reflective and healing practice. The process of writing your thoughts down changes the thought patterns in your brain and focuses your brains attention on what you are writing. Grabbing yourself a guided journal like the Special Journey Journal is powerful way to realign and reframe the thoughts that may be overwhelming you.  Journalling is deeply effective and with sustained use improves your health and well being.

    In a study looking at the positive effects of journaling it was highlighted that patients with auto immune and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, asthma, IBS saw positive improvements whilst using journalling.

    There were also small but consistent improvement of wellbeing, with some cancer patients.  It was found “…people diagnosed with major depressive disorder found (that those) writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to emotional events had significant reductions in depression immediately after writing and over 1 month thereafter.”

    Journalling is very flexible and can be done at a time that is convenient for you. Taking a few moments to channel your mind into writing how you feel has the transformative action of releasing tension and shifting energies.  Giving you the chance to realign and relax.

    Reimagining the days events can move focus and renew a sense of purpose and optimism for the following days.

  2. Exercise and Meditation

    Exercise and Meditation are great regenerative activities whilst trying to shift the scales of stress. Both involve deep breath work. Deep breathing stimulates the release of another counteracting hormone called endorphins. Endorphins helps calm the body and trigger positive feelings. 

    Our brains use 20% of the body’s oxygen supply at any one time and so increasing the volume of oxygen feeds and protects your brain. In just 8 weeks consistent meditation has been shown to positively change the brain, making measurable changes in areas such as memory, self awareness and stress.

  1. Laugh!
    Apart from breath work, Laughing is also a powerful way to reverse the effects of stress. If you can’t get to a gym or take a yoga class, never fear watch something that makes you laugh studies show that laughing can be just as effective in lowering blood pressure as performing a bout of exercise!
 

Alternative therapies

Acupuncture is another modality that might be useful in trying to reduce stress.  

Massage –  Deep tissue, Shiatsu, Swedish or hot stones. There are a lot of different types of massage options that are available that may be helpful in promoting the release of stress from within your body by releasing tight and tired muscles.

Yoga – Originating in India over 5000 years ago, Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that improves strength, flexibility and has been shown to improve blood pressure, heart disease, back pain, stress and depression.  Low impact and suitable for most ages. Not sure where to start check out this yoga video to get you started.

Finally, look at your lifestyle from relationships, to how you organise your time. Spending some time looking at these areas will uncover some stress points that are in your life.

 

Can stress be a good thing?

Our brains are wired this way to protect us. Consequently though, being perpetually primed to ward off ‘danger’ keeps our brains and bodies locked in a cycle of hyper alertness or ‘stress’. 

Stress can however be a good thing, but in small amounts. It can help you react quickly to a falling hot cup of tea or move out of the way of a speeding car, but large amounts over continuous time can have a negative and damaging affect on our bodies.

Unbeknownst to many, our pesky hormones, brain and thinking all come in to play when trying to manage and control a ‘stress storm’.

Awareness, planning and strategies are vital in overcoming and sailing through these moments more easily. 

Need more help to identify where stress may be affecting your life as a parent carer? Download this complimentary stress checker where you can hone in easily and start making changes today.

 

Help and Support

The information in this article is not a replacement for professional medical advice.
If you feel you need to speak to someone please visit your local GP or visit mind.org or carers.org carers centre. 

 

As a caregiver even the question about being stressed can cause stress. The suggestion of resting and self care can be lost in the reality of the role having continuous demands. As a parent caregiver working hours are not set. Support may be sparse and responsibilities often extends across day and night, without opportunity to rest or recharge.

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