By Samantha Norberg, JFSC
(AJNews) – JFSC is hosting “You Matter: Coping with Caregiver Stress and Avoiding Burnout”, a free virtual workshop with registered social worker Samantha Norberg on Wednesday August 17, 2022, 10:00am –11:30am.
While caring for family members is not a new phenomenon, the pandemic has added another layer of stress for already stretched caregivers. Caregiving can be rewarding but can also pose challenges and have significant impacts on family and relationship dynamics.
We often seek to eliminate stress in our lives, but not all stress is bad. From an evolutionary perspective, the fight or flight response to stress is a protective mechanism against harm and has short term advantages. Short term stress can keep us productive and can be accompanied by the urgency to complete important tasks. When we aim to fully eliminate stress in our lives, this unrealistic goal blurs the line between helpful and unhelpful responses, and when we ultimately fail to eliminate our stress, we have yet another thing to be stressed about. Prolonged stress can have serious adverse effects on our bodies and our emotional well being and hampers our ability to cope.
Caregivers report higher levels of long term stress compared to people who are not caregivers, and stress is even higher among carers of persons living with dementia. Caregiver stress is used to describe a set of symptoms including declining physical and mental health, a lack of energy (which can include sleeplessness), and a withdrawal from social interactions. Unaddressed, caregiver stress can increase the risk of caregiver burnout, a physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from the stress and burden of caregiving.
Stress regulation is often more attainable than elimination. Often the first step, is to recognize our signs of stress and its sources. Symptoms of stress can include an upset stomach, muscle tension, restlessness, increased irritability, unhealthy eating, and constant thoughts about stressors. Recognizing our signs of stress helps us recognize when it is time to slow down and figure out its source. When working with my caregiver clients, one of the most helpful questions I ask is ‘what is most stressful about caregiving right now?’ The answer often leads caregivers and their families to supports that will help them to cope.
Experiencing difficult emotions, like grief and anger, is normal throughout the caregiver journey, however this can increase vulnerability to stressors and their impacts. A similar approach can be taken to cope with difficult emotions: acknowledge what you are feeling, become familiar with your physical, emotional, and psychological signs, and seek out the source. You may need to practice being comfortable in the discomfort. We can not eliminate how we feel, there are no good or bad emotions. All emotions, like stress, have a function, though we can release the control we believe our emotions have on us. Create moments for yourself, the caregiver, that brings you healing and energy. You are allowed to feel good even when you feel bad.
I would like to reinforce that there are many supports in the community for caregivers. In Calgary, JFSC’s Caregiver Support Program provides free social work services to carers of seniors (55+) with chronic illness and/or (dis)ability, including age-related concerns. Caregivers can access individual counselling, group sessions, education, and access to resources in the areas of aging and memory, dementia (such as Alzheimer’s Disease), chronic illness, coping and self-care strategies, grief and loss, and resiliency.
JFSC is a non-denominational, accredited, non-profit social service agency dedicated to enriching lives and strengthening communities since 1961. We provide inclusive and accessible programs and services in Calgary for individuals and families across their life spans, based on the values of compassion, social justice and improving the world.
To register for You Matter: Coping with Caregiver Stress and Avoiding Burnout”, or for more information, contact Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403-692-6392. For more information on JFSC’s programs and services go to www.jfsc.org.