Category Archives: stress

The Cycle Of Worry and Anxiety

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we’re worried about something, our mind becomes our enemy. We tend to create a long list of “What if’s? What if we mess up at work? What if my car breaks down? What if I have a fight with my spouse? What if, what if, what if……?

Our tendency is to dwell on the bad things that might happen instead of ridding ourselves of these worries. Many people naturally have a more negative bias in our brains which, when confronting our “what if” scenarios, can spiral into more anxiety and worry.

If you deal with anxiety and anxiety disorders on a daily basis, it can be a challenge to put an end to those thoughts before they turn into chronic stress. However, there are ways to train your brain to stop these thoughts. Peter Norton, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston says, “The more you look for something or expect something to be there, the more likely you are to find evidence of it, so sometimes people can mislead themselves (when they’re having an anxious thought)”.

Here are some tips for getting rid of an anxious thought before it takes complete hold:

1. Check your feelings.  Recognize and validate your feelings, then take a step back, a deep breath and consider your anxious thought. Instead of trusting your pattern of worry, reevaluate the issue based on actual past experiences & current knowledge. You may find your emotions shifting and realize that this isn’t a true concern. If you find that it really is worth the worry, at least you’ve taken the time to evaluate it.

2. Ponder it carefully.  Many people will think they should put their worry out of their mind. But Dr. Mickey Trockel, M.D., a psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University says that but avoiding fearful thoughts actually makes anxiety worse. Rather, think it through carefully. “Challenge your own thoughts and diffuse them, rather than hide them underneath the rug,” he says.

3. Develop perspective. Ask yourself questions about the situation such as why you feel the situation is so bad or what you think the worst possible outcome might be. This allows you to step outside of your feelings to approach your thoughts in a logical way. Again, using past experiences and current knowledge will help you develop a more rational view of the situation.”

4. Meditate. When anxiety and worry start to creep into your mind, practice relaxation as a way to calm yourself. Set aside five minutes to push away the thoughts that are weighing you down. Focus on your breathing, something positive, a pretty scene, or a happy moment but don’t allow negative thoughts.

5. Confront your fear in small ways. Don’t expect that your most nagging fear is going to go away if you practice these techniques. Instead, start with the small worries, taking baby steps to overcome the habit of worry and anxiety. As you practice these techniques, you’ll be able to overcome the bigger obstacles of life.

Allowing your mind to control your emotions, creating anxiety and stress, can zap you of precious energy. Actively work on these techniques so you aren’t consumed by worry.

Stress Management Techniques For Caregivers

Taking on the role of caregiver can be both a blessing and a stressful situation. It was noted, in a study conducted by the American Psychological Association that, “caregivers manage stress in less healthy ways than the general population.” The reasons for this vary, but the unhealthy habits many of them share include: watching television for more than two hours a day, smoking, eating unhealthy and others.

Taking a temporary step to address stress, such as taking the day off and spending time at the mall means that you’ve relieved a day-to-day stress, but could potentially be faced with an out of control credit card bill. Drinking a bottle of wine to “take the edge off” can lead to a poor night’s sleep as well as other potential health issues. Stress needs to be managed on a daily basis in healthy ways.

How can you, as an overwhelmed caregiver, relieve your stress without adding to your daily burdens and tasks? You need to find methods that will help “alter unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving” and these could include taking a daily walk, going to the gym, making certain you take time for a sit down, healthy meal. In many instances, stress leads to a “fight or flight” mechanism in our brains and that leads to the thinking that indulging in a bowl of ice cream or doing nothing other than watching television will relieve it. Those are temporary fixes to an ongoing issue that caregiving brings.

As a stressed out caregiver, you are likely not the best advocate for your own mental health. You could see every minor setback as a major inconvenience and likely have a difficult time distinguishing between a “big deal” and something that truly is not. As an example, missing or forgetting an appointment is truly not a crisis that will bring the world crashing down, but if you look at is as a major setback in scheduling rather than something to be worked around, your stress may be getting the better of you. In some cases a missed appointment may lead to feelings of guilt and thoughts that “you’re not a good caregiver” and those are self-defeating and untrue.

What can you do to practice self-care and make certain you are not going to buckle under weight of the stress that being a caregiver brings? There are several relaxation techniques you can practice and we offer a few of them here:

  • Don’t think you need to set aside a large block of time for yourself, a simple 15-minute block of downtime at various intervals throughout the day could be just what you need to get a fresh perspective. Your 15 minute block could be set aside to pursue a hobby you enjoy, read a book, listen to a book on tape, take a walk – whatever will give you momentary pleasure.
  • Practice deep breathing techniques. When you’re stressed you tend to take short, shallow breaths which do not help your stress levels. To do deep breathing you need to take long, slow, deep breaths through the abdomen rather than short breaths through your upper chest.
  • Is there a time or place where you can picture yourself that brought you joy and peace? If so, practice guided imagery. Envision the location, and how you felt when you were there, in as much detail as you can and let yourself relax into the feeling.
  • If you have a pet or have time for a pet (cats are relatively low maintenance) spend time with them. Studies have shown that owning, and simply petting a dog or cat reduces stress. Even if you don’t have time for a cat or dog, consider getting a fish – watching them swimming is soothing to many people.
  • Practice yoga. This form of exercise works on both the mind and the body. It helps improve strength and flexibility and incorporates deep breathing techniques.

Do you feel you simply can’t get away or can’t leave your aging loved ones for the time it will take for you to get that “alone time”? Reach out to a friend, family member or church or other religious affiliation and ask for help. Look for someone who can come and sit with your aging parents so you can take time away for yourself. Don’t forget the benefit that having a home medical alert device can bring to both you and your relatives. With these devices, they are never truly alone because help is only a touch of a button away. A home medical device could provide you the peace of mind necessary to take a few hours away from your caregiving duties and the cost is typically minimal for the rewards reaped.

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For Your Health’s Sake Get A Grip On Stress

Whether you’re a caregiver or the elderly relative in need of care, stress impacts everyone. Regardless of whether it’s work, family situations, finances, failing health or even a social situation, stress can lead to potentially harmful impacts on your mind and body. Not all stress is harmful, though, there are times when a stressful situation may motivate you to make a decision or meet a deadline, but long term, chronic stress is another matter entirely.

Each individual responds to stress in his or her unique way and what is stressful for one person may not cause any anxiety in another. The ways in which you respond to your particular stress triggers can help you cope. For example how to react to stress can hinge on myriad items, including:

  • Your overall view of the situation. Is it as bad as you originally imagined?
  • Do you think you can get through the stressful situation? In other words, can you see light at the end of the tunnel?
  • Are you generally an optimistic or a pessimistic individual? Your attitude going into a situation could also impact the amount of stress is places on you.
  • What is your general state of health and mental well being? Have you been sleeping well? Eating healthy? Exercising regularly? Your overall health situation will impact how stress affects you.

Stress, especially chronic stress can lead to overall anxiety, sleep issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression. In the case of a caregiver and his or her stress, feelings of guilt may also factor into the stressful situation. Gaining control of your stress and managing stressful situations will help you get back on an even keel and lead you back toward a happier, healthier state.

Here are some steps you can take to rein in your stress:

  • Take control of the situation. There are items you can easily address and there are items that may be out of your control – determine which are which and then tackle those that you can and ask for help on those that are beyond your control. Simply knowing what you can and cannot do can relieve stress.
  • Write it down. Many people find they wake in the middle of the night with a to-do list running through their heads. To avoid this it’s best to write a list of items you know you need to complete; the simple act of writing it down will usually remove it from your mind. Also, don’t forget to write down those items which cause you the most stress. Writing them down may help you see a solution you hadn’t considered previously. Write down items which can be delegated to other family members or for which you may need outside, professional help; remember to ask others to help share the load.
  • Learn to say no. Remember, it’s all right to simply take a step back and take a day off from caregiving; or if you’re a senior that babysits the grandchildren you too can ask for a day off. There are times when a caregiver needs to take care of him or herself and the best way to do that is to ask for relief and a day off.
  • Prioritize and set limits. Only you know what are the most important items for yourself and your family. If you’re a member of the so-called “sandwich generation” (those who are raising their own families while caring for aging parents) you need to balance time with your family as well as with your parents. Once you’ve listed priorities take a hard look at the list and see if there are items you could delegate or simply not do.

Finding ways to manage stress will lead to a healthier and happier life for both the caregiver and the senior. Remember too, as a caregiver you need to be cognizant of the stress your aging relative may be under. Take time to sit with them and ask what stress they may be experiencing and seek out ways to help them cope – you will all be better off for it.

Five Ways To Reduce Holiday Family Stress

Holidays bring with them holiday stress and when you’re a caregiver you may be dealing with more than your usual levels of stress because you know that there are not enough hours in a “regular” day to juggle the activities the holidays bring. You may wonder how you’ll get everything done – taking care of your parents, your children, your significant other and of course, yourself.

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce your holiday stress this season:

  1. What are your holiday priorities and traditions? What are your obligations to those traditions? Can you let some of the obligations slide? Is it time to rethink priorities and traditions to accommodate the change in family dynamics? If items like baking dozens of cookies are a tradition, why not start a cookie exchange? Gather a group of friends or family and break the task down while still being able to enjoy a wide variety of holiday baked goods. The same goes for holiday meals; enlist the aid of family members to help with the cooking and clean up.
  2. Have a central calendar. Work with all of the caregivers involved in taking care of your aging relatives and write down the dates and times of holiday parties and events. Also plan who will take your parents holiday shopping and when. Note the dates you, if you’re the main caregiver, may need off to tend to strictly personal family obligations.
  3. Streamline your shopping trips and your shopping lists. Is it time to scale back on the number of gifts you purchase? Can you shop online and have the items gift wrapped and shipped? This will save you from having to fight the crowds at the malls. How about drawing names out of a hat and buying a gift for one person rather than the whole crowd? Buy gifts for the entire family, consider movie passes, certificates to theme parks or restaurants. Check the cupboards for items necessary for holiday events and shop early to avoid the crowds.
  4. Dressing for the season. This means you need to take time to pack away the summer clothing and pull out the warm weather attire. Do this before the season is in full swing to make certain the clothes that got packed away last year still fit this year. Try on shoes, boots, jackets and other warm winter attire to see if it is still wearable or if you’ll need to make a shopping excursion.
  5. Spend time at home. Are there holiday obligations that require you to pack up the car and the family and drive for hours to different locations? Can you combine your visits and have everyone meet at a central location? Can you begin a new holiday tradition and have it at your aging relatives’ home rather than having to make them go out into the cold and potentially snowy weather? Imagine the joy on your parents face at having all of the family converge on their home for a holiday meal. Also, the time you spend preparing for the meal is a great time to make memories with them.