It’s stressful watching someone we love struggle, and this stress is often compounded by the additional workload that caring creates. It’s probably not surprising therefore, that a higher level of psychological distress is common among carers.
Stress is not absolute, however – We all experience stress differently, and all perceive different events to be stressful. Events that are stressful for you, will be different from the events that others find stressful. Managing stress well means identifying what causes you stress, how it is impacting you and then creating a plan to reduce this impact.
Contrary to popular belief, stress is important for our survival. A little bit of stress is important to give us the energy to get out of bed in the mornings, to go to work, to push ourselves to stick with study or work when we would rather be doing something else. It is too much chronic stress, or not managing our stress well over time that is bad for our physical and mental health.
Top tips include:
Recognise the signs of stress early – If you cannot recognise the signs that you are becoming stressed easily, it’s particularly important to keep using the POD and pair the results on your POD with what you are experiencing physically and psychologically. Our stress response has both physical (trouble sleeping, headaches, sore muscles, racing heart, change in appetite) and psychological components (increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed, forgetfulness, feeling negative etc). The sooner we can recognise that our stress levels are increasing, the sooner we can do something about it. We have included a signs and symptoms of stress checklist in the resources for you to refer too and compare your POD stress score with. That way you can become an expert in understanding your personal stress markers, which is the first step in becoming an expert in managing your stress.
Speak up / Ask for help – Don’t expect friends and family members to be mind readers and know when you are struggling or when you need help. All of us need help sometimes, the challenge is being upfront and asking for it.
Get Green Time Daily – Green Time simply means spending time in nature – being able to see plants and trees, the natural bush, beach, rivers etc. Research suggests that spending ten mins/day in nature – turning off your phone and other distractions and focusing on what is going on around you, has a significant impact on our stress levels.
Exercise daily – Exercise is one of the greatest stress busters – it releases the fight or flight energy associated with stress, and causes the release of endorphins, which make you feel good.
Use Square Breathing Techniques – Breathing in a 5 x 5 cycle slows down our physiological response to stress. Sometimes called square breathing, this is one of the most effective techniques you can use to reduce your experience of stress on a moment by moment basis (and no one ever needs to know that you are doing it!). To practice:
Breathe in for a count of five
Hold for five
Breathe out for a count of five
Hold for five
The ‘holds’ at each end of the breath cycle are particularly important, as they force your internal system to slow down, which reduces the cortisol and adrenalin release associated with stress.
Check your thinking – Often our stress is exacerbated by negative self-talk where we focus on what has gone wrong, or what we believe will continue to go wrong. Check your thinking and see if it is possible to look at the same situation in a different way.
Focus on the things you can control – All too often we spend our time focusing on the things we can’t control, such as wishing for more hours in the day, that your children would help out more, that your loved one wasn’t unwell. Rather than stressing over the things you can’t control, focus your energy on what you can control and how you can react to the challenges you are facing.
Establish routines – Having predictable routines in your day can be calming and reassuring. It removes some of the day-to-day uncertainty, which compounds the stress. Helpful routines can include:
– Having a set time every day for exercise and relaxation.
– Setting regular meal times, waking and bedtimes.
– Establishing a meal plan for when you are at home so that you don’t have to scramble with ‘what can we eat tonight’, on top of your nightly routine.
Plan ahead – particularly for weekends and during R&R. Remember that when you are on shift, you work hard and it’s important to get some downtime when you are at home.
Talk to others – There is an old saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, and while talking to someone might not solve the problems we are facing, it will help us feel better. Talking through our problems helps us work through what it is that is causing us stress, which helps us ‘step back’ and move closer to a resolution or action. It reduces our sense of isolation and helps us connect, which is particularly important for our mental health.
Laugh – often – Studies show that on average children laugh 200 times/day while adults laugh only 15. Laughter improves our immune system, heart health, ability to deal with negative emotions, lowers our stress hormones, decreases pain, improves our mood, adds to our joy, enhances our resilience and makes us more attractive to others!
Smile – often – When you smile, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, which make you feel better. When you smile, you will also influence others to smile, which helps the people around you feel good too!
Spend time with positive people – Positive people make you feel more energized, hopeful, and happier. Accept that you feel good on some days and not good on others. All emotions will pass and fighting them is wasted energy.
Goal Focus – Keep focused on your goals and review your progress at least once each swing.
Spend time doing what you enjoy. Know what you enjoy and what you are good at, and find a way to incorporate your strengths into your daily life.
Learn – Learning new things energises your brain and makes you feel better – so take on new projects.
Most importantly … All of us need help sometimes. Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or take your loved one to an appointment. Depending on your situation, there may also be services available who can provide some at-home help, either occasionally or regularly.