We all experience stress at some point in our lives, but when you have caring commitments, stress can gradually build up and start to feel overwhelming.
Stress is caused by the many demands made on our time and energy. It can be made worse by the expectations we have of ourselves. Not all stress is bad – stress can alert you to potential dangers and can also energise you 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 begin to suffer from too much stress.
Different people have different ways of responding to stress, so a situation that feels very stressful to one person might not feel so stressful to someone else. However, stress (and especially long-term stress) can affect our physical and mental health. According to the charity, Mind, if you are stressed, you might feel (among other things):
Some of the physical symptoms of stress include:
It can also affect your digestion and appetite; make you feel sick, dizzy or faint; and make existing health problems worse. Stress itself is not an illness, but it can cause serious illnesses if it’s not addressed.
Stress can make it especially 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 of your life. Sometimes the pressure of caring for someone else can build up until it feels like you can no longer cope. This is completely understandable, but it may be a sign that you need to look after yourself a bit more and ask for help. If you are feeling exhausted, desperate and in despair, you won’t be able to keep supporting someone else.
Try and take a small break. If that’s impossible, have a moment to yourself and take some long deep breaths or do some gentle stretching exercises where you are.
If you are feeling like you can’t cope any longer, if you’re in despair, or you’re feeling hopeless or suicidal, it’s important to talk to someone right away. If you have a trusted friend, neighbour or relative, tell them how you’re feeling. Getting their perspective on things could help. You could also phone your GP or a free helpline like the Samaritans or Breathing Space.
Research has shown that practising mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce stress and anxiety and promote greater resilience. Try downloading and using a free mindfulness app. Gentle forms of exercise like yoga or qigong can be practised at home. These forms of exercise are also helpful for strengthening your heart, immune system and muscles, and promoting a greater sense of wellbeing. There are lots of videos online for every level of practice. Find one that you like and have a go.
If you’re struggling to cope, talk to a trusted friend, your GP or one of the Rights and Engagement Officers at the Angus Carers Centre. They may be able to help arrange more support for you. If you feel you’d like to speak to someone anonymously in the first instance, you could also phone a free helpline: