Stress Symptoms and Stress for the Caregiver of Elderly Parents

As a caregiver to an elderly family member, or as a sometime-helper for mom or dad, it's important to recognize stress symptoms. Do you know what to look for when it comes to stress? 

Do you know how to lower your stress levels when offering care for a loved one?

Caregiving can be extremely challenging on a physical, emotional, and mental basis. Don't feel guilty or ashamed of admitting that. You can love mom or dad or a family member very much, but dealing with someone with cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's or a paraplegic can be very demanding.

Many caregivers within family units also have their own family responsibilities and obligations to deal with. We have to go to work, bring home a paycheck, go shopping, do things with the kids, and spend time with our loved ones. You can spread yourself too thin. Knowing when to recognize that fact is essential so that you can take steps to reduce stress. This is essential so that you can continue to provide compassionate, caring, and quality support and care for your loved one.

stress symptoms

What to look for when it comes to stress and stress symptoms

Everyone reacts to stress differently. Physical stresses are not the same as mental or emotional stress, and neither are our reactions to it. Some people get stressed out easier than others, and something that may stress one person may not stress another, and vice versa. Regardless, it's important to be able to recognize the signs and stress symptoms.  Following are the most common:

Physical - a number of signs and symptoms indicate physical stress including headaches, upset stomachs, digestive issues (constipation and/or diarrhea), muscle tension, accelerated heartbeat, trembling, overwhelming fatigue, and for some, a change in respiration.

Emotional - signs and symptoms of emotional stress can range from a slow burning anger to a sense of low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, lack of interest, irritability, depression, and more. Emotional reactions can also include a sense of increasing anxiety, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying, agitation, and for some, guilt. This cycle of emotions can prove depressing and sometimes debilitating for some.

Behavioral - the behavioral reactions to stress can lead to abuse of food, drugs, and alcohol. Some people dealing with a long-term stress symptoms show behavioral reactions through the development of sleep disorders, over-eating or "comfort eating" as well as confusion, and sometimes even memory loss.

Why does stress happen?

During periods of stress, and especially long-term stress, the body increases production of a number of hormones that can alter your metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and even your psychological emotions and feelings. One of the main causes of stress and associated stress symptoms is caring for a loved one, whether that loved one is a friend, a child, a spouse, or a parent. Be aware that caregiving can be incredibly stressful, no matter how much you love the person you're caring for. Don't feel guilty for that, but find a support group or someone to talk to about this who will be nonjudgmental and supportive.

stress symptoms

Preventing stress

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate stress from your life, you can take steps to prevent and control it. A variety of coping mechanisms include but are not limited to:

  • Sharing your feelings with trusted friends or relatives.
  • Learning a variety of techniques to relax that include meditation, imagery, or  taking time for yourself to read, watch a favorite movie or television show, or go for a walk.
  • Make sure that you get some time away from the stressful situation, even for a few minutes a day. Short walks can help clear mind while getting your blood pumping at the same time.

Most importantly, take the time to do things at you enjoy doing when you're not caregiving. Try not to allow negative emotions to take over. If you start feeling resentful, angry, overburdened, or underappreciated with your caregiving efforts, take a break.  Don't feel guilty. Such feelings are perfectly natural.


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