Pictured above is my home away from home. This ride is a 2015 Freghtliner Cascadia with a walk in, two bunk sleeper berth. I begin my work week Tuesday evening when I leave out on my 950 mile route from Kansas City through out western Kansas and back. I will return Wednesday evening, get reloaded and depart on a 565 mile run solo which will get me home about noon on Thursday, where I once again get my trailer reloaded for my full 950 mile route again, only for another reload and trip back out on Saturday night. Fortunately, I get every other Saturday off. Thank God, this schedule is mentally and physically demanding without stresses from home to compound life’s nagging problems.
Like anyone else, my life has its ups and downs which can keep my stress meter pegged in the red if you will. In the first part of this series, I addressed how my my wife and I have become care takers for a loved one who is bad off. Thankfully, other family members are stepping up to the plate too, but, what our loved one really needs is to be placed in a nursing home where he can be properly cared for. The problem is, his mind is not so far gone that we as a family can not force the issue.
So, what are we to do when we already have a very busy life and then because of circumstances beyond our own control, we find ourselves having to care for a loved on outside of the home? How do we best handle the stress, and who becomes your first priority in life? There are many ways to handle stress, but what ever path you choose, it need be one that truly helps for the long run and not a temporary band aid fix such as alcohol or comfort foods. As for who comes first in care, it had damn well better be you. Yes, I said it, you are your first priority in the care of a sick loved one. Your loved on can run a close second behind you in priority, but never forget you have to be number 1.
I know that some will think the noble thing to do is to place this unwell individuals needs above their own, but let me ask a couple of questions where you would need to be honest with yourself. By caring for this individual, are they going to suck your life down the drain along with theirs, and what are you going to do in order to stop this. How can anyone in the right mind believe they can place their own needs last and maintain being able to help someone with long term care. It may not be impossible for all, but it is for most. It is not uncommon for long term care givers to find themselves also down after a point when they have not taken care of their own personal needs.
Signs of caregiver stress
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. (1)
When life becomes the doldrums because of difficult circumstances, we must remain vigilant of our nutrition and exercise. If you watch these issues, health will be much better off. For instance, the first thing a lot of people want to do when stressed is to eat. Comfort foods are called comfort for a reason, they provide a temporary comfort which leaves shortly after the food has been consumed. The problem is comfort foods are about always loaded with sodium, sugar and preservatives. As I have written about extensively already, these substances cause inflammation in our bodies which results in other health issues. There are some arguments that a short term reduction is stress is helpful, but for long term stresses, I could never agree that reaching for comfort foods is of any use.
From US Library of Medicine
Stress is an important factor in the development of addiction and in addiction relapse, and may contribute to an increased risk for obesity and other metabolic diseases. Uncontrollable stress changes eating patterns and the salience and consumption of hyperpalatable foods; over time, this could lead to changes in allostatic load and trigger neurobiological adaptations that promote increasingly compulsively behavior. This association may be mediated by alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and other appetite-related hormones and hypothalamic neuropeptides. At a neurocircuitry level, chronic stress may affect the mesolimbic dopaminergic system and other brain regions involved in stress/motivation circuits. Together, these may synergistically potentiate reward sensitivity, food preference, and the wanting and seeking of hyperpalatable foods, as well as induce metabolic changes that promote weight and body fat mass. Individual differences in susceptibility to obesity and types of stressors may further moderate this process. Understanding the associations and interactions between stress, neurobiological adaptations, and obesity is important in the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies for obesity and related metabolic diseases. (2)
I am as susceptible to overwhelming stress as anyone else. I am, how ever, fortunate in finding coping skills which minimize the ill effects of stress. First, I eat whole, healthy foods that are not processed, nor do they contain sugar. I do my shopping at the grocery store almost exclusively from the perimeter and if I go down aisles, i am after very specific items. If it is a food item, I will take the time to read the nutritional label. If it contains sugar, it goes back on the shelf. If the ingredients contain anything I can not pronounce or have to Google to see what it is, I put it back on the shelf. Proper nutrition helps me in having not only a healthy body but also a very clear mind.
Avoid: High-fat dairy, and fried, refined and sugary foods, which have little nutritional value. In addition to contributing to weight gain, and conditions like diabetes, research shows that a diet that consists primarily of these kinds of foods significantly increases risk of depression. (3)
To lower the effects of stress, I work out with weights and go for long brisk walks. I tell people all the time my physical exercise is about my mental health as much as it is my physical. I lift weights 3 days per week. Thursday, Saturday and Monday. Yeah, its a weird schedule unless you understand programming and my work schedule, then it makes sense. I make it a point to work my body hard as once the endorphins begin to release, my mind gets better centered and focused. Difficult problems become simpler to deal with. Also, with the knowledge of being able to get through heavy squatting and dead lifting sessions, comes a knowledge that other issues can also be over come with a bit of effort and focus. At least twice per week, sometimes three days, on my non lifting days, I will go for long distance walks at a brisk pace. I find this to be a relaxing activity as well as rewarding when you take the time to stop and chat with friends and neighbors. Just getting out and living healthy pays great dividends which can carry us through the worse of times.
By taking care of my own health first, this ensures that I will be able to help my loved ones while also maintaining my own life without jeopardizing my health in the process.