Stress is part of everyday life and, for many carers, stress can be a major factor affecting their health.
Stress is caused by the many demands made on our time and energy and the expectations we have of ourselves. Not all stress is negative â€“ stress can alert you to potential dangers and can also spur you on to achieve a goal or complete a task. However, sometimes the balance tips too far and the pressure becomes so intense or so persistent that you may feel unable to cope.
Stress can make it hard to cope with the demands of caring. You can become more and more exhausted, tense and irritable, putting a strain on relationships. This can make you feel you are losing control over your life and that there is no way of regaining this control.
The first step in dealing with stress is to recognise that it is happening. You may have so little time to yourself that you donâ€™t realise at first. When you do start noticing the symptoms of stress (see below), do not struggle on, hoping it will go away. The sooner you deal with the problem, the better, and just talking about how you feel can help you find a way to deal with it.
Symptoms of stress
The symptoms of stress can be both mental and physical, and can vary from person to person:
- Mental symptoms can include anxiety, anger, depression, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, crying often, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
- Physical symptoms can include chest pains, cramps, muscle spasms, chest pains, dizziness, restlessness, nervous twitches and breathlessness.
In the long-term some of these stress symptoms can affect your health - putting you at risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Coping with stress
Talking to other people who are in a similar situation can be a great help when you are feeling stressed. Not everyone finds this easy but it may be a surprise to find that others feel the same way as you. For example, you could join a local carers' group or branch of Carers UK to share your experiences.
Your local carers' group or local council may also be able to help you get a break from caring so you can allow yourself some breathing space. Even if just for a couple of hours each week to treat yourself to something you enjoy.
If you are not the sort of person who wants to join a group why not try talking online at the Carers UK website forum where you can meet other carers anonymously, share experiences and find support.
If you can, talk to your family and friends as well. Just talking about how you feel and getting it out into the open, can make you feel better. Sharing your feelings and problems with those close to you may mean that they realise that you need more help from them.
If you are feeling tearful, angry or have other symptoms of stress, there are a number of steps you can take to help bring down your stress levels. These include:
- Go out of the room â€“ or right outside if you can â€“ for at least five minutes. Take a deep breath and hold it for a count of three, then breathe out. Repeat again, until you feel more relaxed, but not so often that you feel dizzy.
- Relax your muscles. Tense muscles are a physical sign that you are stressed. Training on relaxation techniques is often available locally. Your local healthy living centre or local library may have information about this as well as books or tapes about relaxation.
- Donâ€™t drink or smoke too much. Alcohol and cigarettes have harmful effects on your body, and make you more at risk of the physical effects of stress.
- Caffeine can have similar effects on your body as stress, so watch your coffee intake.
- Get active. Physical exercise is a simple way to relieve tension. Even a walk to the shops can help reduce your stress levels.
- Try to pace yourself and tackle one thing at a time. Be realistic about what you expect of yourself. Learn to say â€śnoâ€ť to other people, some of the time at least.
Talk to your GP, who will have seen a lot of patients with stress-related problems. Your GP may recommend counselling or another talking treatment. A counsellor will listen to you, and help you to find ways of dealing with your stress.
There are also medicines you might be able to take to relieve some of the symptoms of stress. If stress is making you feel depressed, your GP may prescribe antidepressants to help make life feel better. Different antidepressants suit different people, so if you arenâ€™t happy with the one you are prescribed, go back to your GP. Consider all of your options before taking antidepressants. Ask your GP for information about side effects. Tell your GP if you would prefer to try talking treatments first.