Family Caregiving is Equated to Chronic Stress. Really?
If you have just brushed past this blog because you don’t think it applies to you, I confess, I thought the same. I realized I went through something traumatic, but chronic stress? Surely not. Chronic stress scenarios were more akin to post war victims, people who have been physically or sexually abused, or just people who worry a lot. I never even saw myself as the worrying type.
Now I know differently. If you look up the definition of chronic stress it says, “Chronic stress is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time in which an individual perceives he or she has little or no control. It involves an endocrine system response in which corticosteroids are released. While the immediate effects of stress hormones are beneficial in a particular short-term situation, long-term exposure to stress creates a high level of these hormones. This may lead to high blood pressure (and subsequently heart disease), damage to muscle tissue, inhibition of growth, suppression of the immune system, and damage to mental health.
Still not sure it applies to you… I was talking to a friend about a typical day in my life. I wake up in the morning, not knowing how the night will go. That’s because my daughter has erratic sleep patterns and there have been many nights when she has come into our room to bang on our window. Then if I think she had a decent night of sleep (am not really sure but she didn’t come out of her room), I have to get her ready for the school taxi and escort who arrive at 6.45am to pick her up. 6.45am is tough for anyone, but especially for someone who you are not sure actually slept the night. So before I have even managed to get her downstairs, I might be worrying about what mood she is going to be in, will she eat her breakfast, will she manage to do a pee pee beforehand (if not, she will need to wear a diaper until she gets to school), if she does pee in the diaper, she might wet her pants and then she will need a dry pair. At 6.45am the driver comes and I start to worry about her getting in the car, will she be in a good mood, will they call me later to say she started to hit herself, is she tired, how will her day be? When I start to describe it like that, then I start to realize that I am living with extreme unpredictability.
Later on in the day, I get a text message to say she didn’t eat her vegetables. Now if my other daughter’s nursery teacher had called up to say she hadn’t eaten her vegetables, I don’t think I would think twice about it. Well maybe twice. Maybe I would think, is she getting sick, will I need to keep her at home tomorrow? But that’s about it. When Leia’s school teacher sends a benign message like she hasn’t eaten her vegetables, I immediately start to imagine the worst. Is she getting sick? Does her stomach hurt? Is she miserable in the classroom? What will I need to change in her diet to get back on track? In short, I am jumping to so many conclusions about her possible state of being, and yes, it’s all in my head.
But this is how we live as caregivers. The key part to the paragraph that describes chronic stress is, “individual perceives he or she has little or no control”. The little or no control means, we are constantly trying to imagine every possible scenario of what can go wrong that it’s very easy to drive ourselves nuts. This way we feel we are in control. In the early years, when you are in the war zone phase trying to figure it all out and get a handle on a situation that is worlds apart from anything you have ever faced, the chronic stress title makes sense. But as time passes, the prolonged state of chronic stress is precisely that. We really are living with an intensely unpredictable situation, possible for the rest of our lives, over which we have little or no control.
I’ll be honest, this doesn’t sit well with me. I am working on myself. I am starting to look at these moments when my mind goes into stress mode to see if I can in fact, take some control and start to rein back my wild and very creative imagination. After all, most of the things I worry about, haven’t happened and are actually nothing more than a figment of my imagination. Usually if I manage to stop a stream of worrying thoughts, and bring myself back to the present, I am usually doing something rather dull and routine and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. Now that’s something to think about.
I want to thank and credit RegGibson for his windy tree image. As you can see, trees blow in the wind. But the root is very strong. That’s how we need to be.