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Seven Tips for Reducing Chronic Stress

by Cari Ansbro

Let's talk about health.  All you caregivers out there, please pay attention.  You've got to take care of yourselves.  I know you're protesting right now.  You don't have time.  All your energy goes into taking care of your family.  You don't have anyone who can/will step in and give you a break.  I know because I said all the same things for many years.  But let's go over a few basic facts.

  1. Being a caregiver is stressful.
  2. Chronic stress causes a dramatic and sustained increase in stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol being the main culprits).
  3. Chronic stress negatively impacts every aspect of your health.  Think diabetes, heart problems, anxiety and depression, sleep issues, arthritis, weight gain, and hormone imbalances to name a few.

It's vital (seriously) that you find ways to lower your stress levels to help your body fend off the health problems caused by chronic stress.  True, stress in our lives is inescapable.  And our bodies' response to stress is necessary to our survival. 

But we're talking about chronic stress, not immediate impending danger.  Finding ways to reduce and cope with ongoing stress can help you live a longer, healthier life.  After all, if you keel over from a heart attack (God forbid!) what happens to the people you love and care for?

It's NOT selfish to take care of yourself.  It's the best way to ensure you can continue to be there for your loved ones.  So, okay.  Maybe there's no such thing as respite in your personal universe.  But I'll bet there are some small things you can do.

Some of these small changes can make a big difference.

  1. Improve your diet.  We're not talking going vegan when you can't live without cheeseburgers, just making a conscious effort to eat more fruits and veggies.  Maybe a little less of the stuff we know is bad for us.
  2. Cut back on caffeine.  Yeah.  I had a hard time with this one too.  But too much caffeine is not helpful to the stressed out and sleep deprived.  If you really need some caffeine, try green tea.  It's lower in caffeine and has theanine in it, which has many health benefits.  Other good alternatives are chamomile, lemon balm, and peppermint teas.
  3. Find some way to get at least a little exercise.  If you rarely get time to yourself, you may need to be creative for this one.  You might be surprised how many exercise videos you can find on YouTube.  You don't need a gym membership, but if that's an option for you, great!
  4. Learn some breathing exercises (you can do them virtually anywhere, and don't need equipment or even privacy).  If you're up for a bit of a challenge, learn to meditate.  It's excellent for reducing stress.
  5. Take a good quality vitamin B complex supplement.
  6. Do whatever you can to get more sleep (I know!  This one can seem impossible).  But going to bed just a half hour earlier can make a difference over time. 
  7. Take breaks when you can.  Don't feel guilty about putting your feet up and relaxing for a few minutes.  The dishes, laundry, etc. can wait 20 minutes.  The world won't end because your housework isn't finished (is it ever?).

After more than 15 years of living with the daily stresses of autism and failing to prioritize my own health, I suffered a health crisis.  Being unable to continue caring for my family both terrified and awakened me.  It was only by making my health every bit as important as my family's that I began to recover. 

I was lucky.  I had a second chance.  But what if I hadn't?  What would happen to my family in my absence?  While it's both responsible and necessary to plan for what happens to my family when I'm gone, it's also responsible and necessary to look after my health while I'm still here.

And you need to do the same.  You're important too.  Be well and God Bless!