The Why and How of Relaxation

The Why and How of Relaxation

By Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

 

In a previous blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I mentioned the body’s “fight or flight” response. Today, I want to look a little more deeply into this because from my perspective, it becomes easier to navigate something once we can understand it. 

 

The physiology of stress

 

So, the physiology of stress. It’s complicated but I will do my best to simplify it as much possible. In the body, we have the Autonomic Nervous System and, as Dr. Phillip Low, MD, Professor of Neurology; Consultant, Department of Neurology, College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic; Mayo Clinic says in an article entitled Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System, “The autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing. This system works automatically (autonomously), without a person’s conscious effort.

Within the Autonomic Nervous System, we have the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the “flight or fight response” and the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for “rest and recovery.”

So when we get stressed, our bodies immediately kick into action. Hormones get secreted and the body readies itself for action. In an article entitled The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis, author Michael Randal states that “The human stress response involves a complex signaling pathway among neurons and somatic cells” with cortisol being “the primary hormone responsible for the stress response.” According to him, “The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body and impact several homeostatic mechanisms. While cortisol’s primary targets are metabolic, it also affects ion transport, the immune response, and even memory.”

Now, remember not all stress is bad. Some of it is, depending on the situation, can even be beneficial. It can help us when we have that mountain of work to do, or if have to go to that board meeting that we just don’t want to. Stress can be just the motivator we need to get us over the hump. 

The problem is when we have too much of it over time and it becomes chronic. As Jane Collingwood states in an article titled, The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress on psychcentral.com, “Chronic stress can have a serious impact on our physical as well as psychological health due to sustained high levels of the chemicals released in the ‘fight or flight’ response.” 

But there is good news, too. It comes in the form of the parasympathetic nervous system because this system allows the body to throttle back, relax and recover but we have to give it time so do that.

“How much? An hour? Two hours?” I hear you asking. “Come-on, I’m busy. I can’t afford to sit around, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my parasympathetic nervous system. I have responsibilities. A spouse. Kids. A job. Not to mention everything I have to do for Mom (or Dad, or whomever).”

Yeah, I get that. Not all that long ago I would’ve said the exact same thing, only I probably wouldn’t have said it quite so nicely.

 

So, really, how long will does it take?

 

The other piece of good news is that it doesn’t have to take that long at all. Really, it depends on how much time YOU have. A few minutes? Totally fine. But if you have longer than that, it’s even better.

So, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say you have a weekend all to yourself. Yes, a whole weekend. Two days. Forty-eight hours. With nothing to do for anyone but yourself. Your sister finally decided to step up to the plate. She’s going to come over and stay with Mom so that you can take the weekend off and get some much-needed R & R. Yipee. You’re thrilled. You don’t ask why she’s suddenly making herself so available. You don’t ask why she’s making the offer, you just accept it and start planning what you’re going to do – maybe go to the mountains or go to the beach – and what you are going to take with you.

You imagine packing and all of a sudden you become even more tired. The thought of actually getting in a car and hauling yourself anywhere feels just too much. You are that pooped. The solution, go to a nearby hotel, maybe even one with a spa. You can rent a room, get a massage and room service, really pamper yourself and if you happen to be a worrier (like me) being close by if your sister calls in a panic about something having to do with Mom, you can still check in at the house (if that makes you feel better) then “disappear” again. 

But what if you only have a couple of hours? Mom is at respite care and you know better than anyone that her limit for being out of the house is two hours, no more. After that she gets cranky. So what then? How about an exercise class? Maybe a yoga class? Being a yoga practitioner for over twenty years and a yoga teacher, I can tell you, first-hand, how powerful yoga is when it comes to relaxing the body and clearing the mind. 

But if exercise classes and yoga aren’t your thing, how about going to the mall? Or take a gentle walk in nature? You can call a friend and the two of you can go for a mani/pedi together then maybe for lunch afterward.

If you have only twenty minutes? Meditation or do a deep relaxation. If you don’t know how, you can always Google meditation or deep relaxation or, if you prefer, you can always go onto helpyouthru.com. There, you will find instructional video clips. Simply scroll down for the video you want.

And if you have only a couple of minutes . . . deep breathing exercises. Again, feel free to do a Google for instructions but for convenience, again feel free to onto helpyouthru.com and scroll down.

 

 

 

Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver Stress

By Karen Bromberg

What is it?

Stress, as we know, is the body’s “fight or flight” response but as family caregivers how can we, even if we may want to, pick up and leave. We can’t. We know we can’t. Who’d take care of Mom (or Dad, or the spouse, or whomever)? After all, they can’t be left alone. 

Any of this sound familiar? 

It would be so much simpler if we could just get up leave or put up our dukes whenever we find ourselves in a stressful situation while caregiving, wouldn’t it? The getting up and leaving, that we can imagine doing. The putting up our dukes? Why, the picture is almost laughable.

We can’t do that, and we know it, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. We’re caregivers and these are our loved-one. We care for them . . . deeply . . . and want the best for them. That’s why we’ve sacrificed so much for them. (But is it really a sacrifice?)

Yeah, family caregiving can be SO complicated, can’t it? And exhausting. And stressful. It’s so stressful that it’s even a syndrome. Caregiver’s syndrome. I discovered that when I was preparing to do this blog post. I Googled “caregiver stress” and not only did I find numerous articles pertaining to the subject, but what I discovered stunned me. Did you know there’s such a thing as caregiver syndrome? You heard me right. Caregiver Syndrome. If you did, you’re one up on me.

An article on Wikipedia entitled Caregiver Stress describes what I’m sure many a family caregiver has experienced. It says, “Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress is a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent.[1] The term is often used by healthcare professionals, but it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

 

Why is this important to know?

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us caregivers actually notice that we’re stressed? 

We go about our day, coping as best we can, trying to maintain our balance, trying to keep our cool. We have SO much on our plates that at times it feels as though it’s about to tip over, but we carry on. We’re smart. We’re capable and we know how to get the things done. That’s just who we are. 

 

So what do we do about it?

1. Try not to feel guilty

This is so important, and I know what you’re probably thinking “it’s easy for her to say that, sitting in her living room, writing this post.” And it’s true, it is easy for me to say it and just so hard to do it, but think about it, what has guilt ever given you besides more guilt? I mean, really, it’s not like guilt is empowering. It doesn’t provide any energy. In fact, quite the opposite. It actually makes us feel more tired. It doesn’t provide a positive outlook. Instead of helping us to see possibilities, all it does is provide us with a gloomy outlook. 

2. Assess your level of stress

How? There’s a variety of ways. Talk to a physician or mental health professional. Mentally go through your body and become aware of what muscles might be tight or tense. Notice if your jaw is clenched. Or if the back of your neck is stiff. Additionally, there are quizzes and scales (many scales and quizzes) easily found on the Internet. Simply do a quick Google search on the topic of “Caregiver Stress Assessment” or ”Caregiver Stress Assessment Tools.” You will see a whole list pop up. Some on this list are connected with Assisted Living or other facilities. Others aren’t. Feel free to choose one or two that speak to you. Think of it as a game. After all, as we’ve so often heard, “knowing is half the battle.”

3. Do things to dial back the stress

Okay, now you’re saying, “Sure. Right. Sounds good, but you don’t have my life.  If you did, you wouldn’t be saying that.” And that’s totally true. I don’t have your life and I have no idea of the specifics of what you go through day-to-day. Even so, (and I don’t want to sound judgmental IN THE SLIGHTEST) but I have to tell you there are things you can do NOW that’ll make you feel at least a little better, no matter how busy you are. I’ll be going over more specific techniques and ideas in upcoming posts but for now allow me to give you a few suggestions.

Accept help when it’s offered. This is no small thing. As caregivers, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. I know because not only have I’ve spoken to numerous family caregivers, it’s also what I experienced. We think that we’re the only ones who can take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, but that’s not entirely true. Accept the help where appropriate and realize that help may not come from where you expect it, (your brother or sister, for example). It may come from your neighbor down the block ringing your doorbell and asking if you need anything from the grocery store.

Make yourself a priority. As family caregivers, we are so good at putting ourselves last. Exercise? Me? Who has the energy? Cook a healthy meal? Who has the time? But we must take of ourselves (Okay, I see you there rolling your eyes), and I know it’s annoying to hear it, but it’s true. We must take the few, precious moments we can to make better choices for ourselves. Why? If for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than who’d care for our loved ones if something were to happen to us?

Get support. Let’s face it, family caregiving is one of the hardest jobs we’ll likely ever be called on to do and we can’t do it alone! My suggestion, my urging, is to find a group either in your neighborhood or, if you can’t leave the house, online that’ll offer you the support you need. Find a place where you can vent, where you can share, where you can get resources and tips to make your journey that much easier. There are tons on Facebook. Find one (or two or three) that meet your needs. Feel free hang out and not say anything if you choose. You’re not required to share but also don’t be afraid to. Remember, people want to listen, they want to help, and they want to be there for you, even if it’s virtually.

 

 

 

Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

 

Essential Documents Every Family Caregiver Should Have

Essential Documents Every Family Caregiver Should Have

Being a caregiver often entails a lot of a planning and organizing. However, unexpected events can and do happen which add further stress to an often already difficult and emotional time. Having in place the necessary legal documents allows the caregiver to take appropriate action on behalf of their loved one.

Join our mailing list to receive your free PDF entitled, "The Caregiver's Organizer"

Be part of our community. Receive news, updates and information.

You have Successfully Subscribed!