Episode 63: Stressing You Out?

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There’s so many different levels of stress right? But I find that the higher up we go on that stress spectrum my body reacts to it differently.Then there is caregivers stress that just is it’s own beast, right? 

I feel that as a caregiver there is always the potential that big things can happen quickly. I can walk into a doctor’s office with my husband living one life and walk out into a new life. Meaning, I can walk in feeling pretty good about things, thinking my husband’s cancer is controlled, and there is always the potential that I can leave that office knowing that it isn’t controlled and his care plan needs to change. Or maybe you walked in thinking your loved one’s cancer was in remission and left into a world where it wasn’t, or that everything had been done that is available and there is nothing left to do.

Or, you stepped out into a world where things are much better than you thought they would be and life feels good for that moment.

The point is that we don’t ever really know what is going to happen next. As much as we try to do things a certain way in the hopes that it will help the disease or condition your loved one has, there really isn’t much under our control. So we survive on hope.

I always have that underlying stress. Life for us changed in 2013 and to tell you the truth, it doesn’t matter if we have good cancer years or bad cancer years it is always there right under the surface.

For me stress gets amped up when I know when there has to be a surgery or we need more testing because the result from the normal tests showed something that needs to be explored. I walk out that door or away from that phone conversation and I can feel it happening.

So my question for you today is - do you notice what stress looks like for you? Do you know how it feels?

When I know there will be a surgery I am not necessary worried about the actual surgery. We have doctors and surgeons that we trust and I hope that you trust your medical team too. If not then you need to re evaluate why you don’t and if they are the right team for your family.

So let’s say I know surgery is coming up. There are so many things that start to go through my head. Lists begin to be written that I hope I can remember until I have a chance to write things down. I start to think of all the things that need to happen in a certain order. Try to figure out how the house needs to be set up in order for my husband to be able to recover comfortably. What my daughter needs during this time. I start to write grocery lists for when we come back from the hospital and a million other things. My husband knows this happens and I know he tries to pull me out of it. However, thinking of all of these things and coordinating the dog, and the house, and where we will stay while he’s in the hospital because it’s two hours away from home. That all exhausts me. 

These are the signs I look for to know I’m under too much stress. 

Stress makes me exhausted. First sign that I always have to be aware of. It makes me tired as if I haven’t slept for a week. Not just a little tired but the kind of tired that sleeping at night doesn’t satisfy. This is not a good place to be because that means that my mind isn’t shutting down at night and my body isn’t getting it’s chance to reset, restore and repair.

When I have all of these things going on in my head it also means that I need to communicate an important message to a lot of people. Part of the steps that need to be taken is giving notice to family and friends and I have to make realistic decisions about my own work. As I communicate more and tell the story over and over again I feel like I reach the limit of words that can come from me and I grow silent. I start to shut down a little. I can’t work what’s going on in my head, talk to people about what’s going on and live fully with my family while exhausted without feeling like I need to shut down a little. 

Second sign is I stop talking. I don’t just stop talking. I talk.. I don’t go around the house not answer questions or speaking to my family. I answer the phone calls and texts as they come in, however, in between those times I’m totally in my head. That isn’t fair for the people that live with me because it is very clear that I am not engaged with life. It isn’t that I am mad or upset with anyone but my mind just automatically goes into hyper drive. Any room I walk through I see something that reminds me of another to do that should go on my list. It’s as if subconsciously I am running through every scenario so I can make sure things are set up appropriately. It happens all the time and a lot of times completely randomly.  For example - I’ll cut into a piece of fruit and realize my husband will have a wound that will need to be cared for. I’ll wonder if I have gauze and the appropriate first aid supplies. The problem is I don’t always go check for these things and I’ll just order them just to check them off the list. That is why I have 5 boxes of gauze and no regular bandaids in the house!

The third sign I know all too well. I cry. I don’t go around crying at everything. I’ll tear up at random times throughout the day. It happens especially if I am communicating to someone about the news and especially if anything is difficult to schedule or there are any roadblocks in trying to get things set up for before, during or after surgery. I don’t have full on meltdowns. It’s more like a faucet that needs to be fixed. It’ll leak a little here and there.

So those are the three major signs that I am really stressed out. I am finding that the more I understand how my body reacts to stress and the ways it tries to alert me about it the better I am able to take care of myself. If I don’t manage the stress levels then I become overwhelmed pretty quickly. If I can stay alert enough to catch these signs then I can do things to try to calm myself a little. Of course in the middle of something big I’m not going to escape for long periods of time each day because that essentially would be avoidance. But once I see the fatigue, withdrawal and crying I know those are alarms sounding that I need to listen to. 

Knowing how to recognize signals that you are under intense stress is important for you to be able to do as a caregiver. That may take a while to do. I know it’s taken me years because, let's face it, when life becomes complicated the last thing you even think of doing is checking in with how you feel.

There are some things I will do now that I understand these signs. 

I’ll change how I prioritize things. If it isn’t important for RIGHT NOW it gets put on a list for later. That way I don’t feel like I have to remember to do something and I can completely forget about it. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the immediate needs of myself or my family then it’s ok that it doesn’t get done. I basically make sure bills are paid, meals are eaten (take out counts!), medications are current, dishes are washed (makes mornings much easier) and we have milk, eggs, bread and toilet paper. That way I can give myself permission to not be busy all the time and not feel additionally stressed out that I need to do something but don’t have the energy to do it. 

I take naps, rest with my family and take time outs to breathe when I’m in this stage of caregiving. I usually feel the exhaustion first. So I will take 30 minute naps. My family knows that I have it down to a science because I put my timer on for 35 min ( I give myself 5 min to settle in) and I wake up a couple of minutes before the alarm goes off. Can I probably sleep for a couple of hours? Of course but I know that I’ll feel like crap when I do that. Just a half hour. There’s always a way to do that. Sometimes I’ll announce I’m going to take a nap and everyone else will do their own thing. Other times they are all doing their own thing so I go and take a nap. Really it takes at least 45 min for anyone to wonder what I am doing and by that time I’m already up.

I also go to bed early and try to stay off my phone when I get there. I always have a paper book beside my bed and when I really need to turn off early but my mind isn’t ready to close down for the night I’ll pick up a physical magazine or book and that usually helps me get ready to go to sleep fast. 

I take moments to breathe. It happens everywhere and anywhere. When I get stressed my breathing becomes shallow. I know because stressed breathing makes my body really uncomfortable and it’s basically because I’m not getting enough oxygen. So, anytime I can think of it, I’ll close my eyes (if I can) and I’ll take a good ten deep breathes. If I feel really stressed out I’ll stay there longer if I can. But thankfully this is something that I can do without having to go anywhere special to do it. It makes me feel so much better and calms me down super fast. 

Since now I know I shut down and withdraw a little I will make sure that I communicate more with friends and family. I will continue with texting the holy crap you won’t believe this happened! Or the Hey how are you messages. I make myself check in with people I haven’t heard from in a while because I am reminded when I withdraw that other people in my life might be doing the same for their own reasons and may need for me to check in with them.

As for the crying, I let it do what it want’s to a healthy degree. I’ll let it come out a tear here and there. Then I for sure watch a sentimental movie or show and just let it all out. There’s nothing wrong about a  good, hard, ugly cry. Don’t hold that in! I know that after one of those I feel much better.

It’s taken me years to realize this is how I react to big caregiver stress but now that I have figured out what my signs are I am able to put in an emergency plan so to speak and give myself room to not have to do everything and be everything to everyone. 

If I can do that then I rebound much faster and continue to enjoy my family and my life.

What does stress look like in your body? What things would you do to counteract that stress? If you’d like to problem solve stress reducing options you can do at home send me an email and we can work on it together. 


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