BY PATTI HADDICK – Home Services Director – Chronic stress affects just about all of our body’s systems. The effects on the circulatory system can cause high blood pressure, angina, migraines or even heart attacks and stroke.  Effects on the digestive system can result in chronic heartburn, ulcers, colitis, obesity, or diabetes.  They are now saying that chronic stress causes the body to lose its ability to regulate the inflammatory response and that inflammation is the cause of disease in the body.

In the Savvy Caregiver class for families caring for a loved one with dementia, St. John’s staff teaches about self-care.  The family caregiver needs to find ways to de-stress and recharge their batteries with activities that give them a break from their duties and that bring them joy and peace.  We all need to take good care of ourselves and relieve ourselves of stress so that we are better able to continue our daily duties whether or not it includes caring for others.  In the class, we liken it to being in an airplane emergency.   Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to help others with theirs.

It’s okay and even healthy to carve out time for yourself to have a few quiet minutes in the morning with your favorite tea or latte, to order a pizza for dinner so that you have time to relax in a hot bath while your loved one takes a nap, or to hire someone to do the chores your loved one can no longer complete.

Other stress relievers include:

getting sunlight on the nicer days for serotonin production/mood enhancement. Listening to your favorite genre of music to relax and make yourself happy.  My personal favorite is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams or anything smooth jazz. Enjoyable music relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow.  And while you are at it, dance to your favorite music for exercise.  The exercise boosts endorphins and endorphins are good-mood boosters.

Scale back on demands on yourself.  In my early childhood, my mother cleaned the house in its entirety twice a week.  I wonder how much this stressed her out to always have a house where “you could eat off the floor”.  I also wonder what activities she would have enjoyed to relax and renew her spirit rather than performing chores.  Most of us could use the time to recharge and relax in light of our busy lives. Laugh and find humor in things to reduce stress hormones.

Think positive thoughts and count your blessings.  I always find comfort in knowing things are not as bad as they seem if things seem to be “going wrong”.  Focus on gratitude and the blessings you do have.

Talk to and smile at others; they usually respond likewise and you never know what burdens they have been carrying that you may have lightened by your kind hello and happy smile.  Positive people tend to be happier. You can train your brain to gravitate to the positive by concentrating on what you are grateful for…in other words, count your blessings and don’t dwell on the negative.

Our daily lives are filled with stress, but when you add on the stress of caring for a loved one it can be overwhelming.  Services from St. John’s can help.  Our Home Services Caregivers assist with light housekeeping, laundry, cooking, med reminders, and non-medical personal care, i.e. bathing, changing Depends.  They can come in and help a senior clean their home or help them downsize in preparation for a move to Assisted Living.  Caregivers can cook nutritious meals and make extras to freeze.  They can also stay with a loved one challenged by dementia so that the family caregiver can run errands or keep appointments and know that their loved one will have good care.