Perhaps there is no greater stress than caring for a loved one. The amount of physical and emotional effort we put into caring for others can be very taxing. In fact, in many cases, the caregiver literally needs someone to care for them!

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and can effect you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Enduring stress over a prolonged period of time will effect one mentally. Simple mental tasks become more difficult to complete because your circuits become over-ridden with worries. It is not uncommon to begin forgetting the simplest tasks or get side-tracked and forget important appointments. Being a caregiver to a loved one who is suffering from a slow and insidious illness can be very debilitating emotionally. Many caregivers develop feelings of helplessness, haplessness and hopelessness which start to facilitate the phenomenon of depression. It is not uncommon for caregivers to experience crying spells on a regular basis. Often times, caregivers will break down and become overwhelmed with feelings of sadness.

The physical stress one experiences while being a caregiver can become so overwhelming, you can literally burn out. Often times, caregivers are so worried about their loved ones getting proper rest, eating and feeling comfortable that they neglect these tangibles in their own lives. In fact, many caregivers throughout the care-giving process develop their own stress-related physical ailments. Some require medication to correct their physical problems. Finally, being a caregiver can also lead to experience what is called spiritual stress. When you have a loved one who is sick, you often believe in the power of prayer or God to make them better. When your loved one does not get better, or they deteriorate further, you begin to question your faith and belief system and start to doubt. Some become angry with God, their church, their minister, or rabbi and literally get stressed out over their faith because it doesn’t seem to be showing them the results they hoped for!

Walter Cannon is famous for coining the phrase “fight or flight response”. Cannon used it to describe what happens to individuals who experience a very stressful experience. Most individuals opt for the easy way out which is the flight response, where you run away from your problems. On the other hand, many will go with the first option and stand up to their problems and try to resolve them. There is a situation however which can debilitate a lot of people. This occurs when individuals fall in between the fight or flight response. They literally get caught between the two polarities and do not know what to do. Figuratively speaking, it is like being a deer and wandering onto a highway and getting caught in the headlights of an on-coming vehicle. Many caregivers get caught in state of catatonia while caring for their loved one. They become frozen in their actions, thoughts, feelings and assistance. They feel like their hands are bound and this exerts a tremendous amount of stress on them as they feel totally helpless. They chose to “fight” and help their loved one, but the outcome didn’t go as they planned. They may have chose the “flight”, but something has brought them back to their loved one’s bedside and they now feel caught in the middle. The “fighters” were willing to endure the battle with their loved one, even wanted to re-retreat at times, but now feel caught in the stressful “stuck” state. And the “flighters” tried to run away but tried to help out only to now feel “trapped”. However way you want to look at it, this is stress. In fact, this is what professionals would label DISTRESS! Distress is negative stress as a result of some trauma or negative life change and it is very destructive.

If you don’t manage your stress, no one will manage it for you. Often times caregivers will report feelings of fatigue, frustration and burnout. Being a caregiver is an unselfish and overwhelming sacrifice of one’s self. Moreover, it is most times a thankless job with few tangible rewards. Nurses and health care aids are trained to deal with others and taught to be objective. When you are caring for a loved one, it is hard to remain objective and disallow feelings from getting in the way. Professionals can walk away from their job and enjoy their personal lives. When you care for a loved one your personal world literally becomes re-created by the health status of your loved one.

There are no clear-cut, great strategies for being the perfect caregiver. However, to be an effective caregiver, you need to keep your life in balance. You need to learn to keep things in perspective and keep stress in check before it overwhelms you. Here five strategies you might try using to manage stress.

Take a physical break from the care-giving situation. Being a caregiver will keep you glued to one’s bedside, chair or room. You need to totally dissociate yourself from your loved for a period of time each day. Most will feel guilty about not being around their loved on all hours of the day. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like your abandoning them. Perceive this as time to re-charge your batteries. Care giving is a physically draining job and you need to constantly be refreshing yourself. Just going for a walk is a great tonic. Any sort of exercise is encouraged. You need a fresh supply of oxygen to your brain as well as keep your heart and blow flow healthy. In fact, a 20 minute walk will make you more refreshed and alert!

Always try to keep open the network of support systems you have. Friends and family are very important during times of stress. Whenever family and friends offer to help out, jump at the opportunity. Some caregivers become so enamored and fixated with curing and caring for their loved one. They lose track of the boundaries which separate them. In fact, some actually develop a “martyr” complex where they sacrifice their very existence for their loved one. They believe they should be the only ones offering care and they don’t want to “burden” others. Care-giving can create egoistic attitudes in the caregiver whereby they view their way as the only way. Moreover, they may deter those that want to help. Whatever help you can get accept it. You may be in this situation for the long haul so keep your troops fresh!

Try and get plenty of rest. If you don’t get rest or sleep, you are going to become so run down you will not be of optimal use to your loved one. It is noble to try and be superman or superwoman, but your body will eventually tire and waken and you will be of little use to your loved one. It is best to regroup and take care of your physical body and mind so you can provide the best possible support. Your loved on has enough to worry about with their own ailments without having to worry about you! Also, avoid taking any kind of sleeping pills or sedatives to help you rest or get caught up on sleep you have missed. The last thing you need is to develop a dependency on pharmaceutical drugs!

Finally, apply the Serenity Prayer to your care-giving ritual and your life. Remember the following statement: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference! Whether you are a “believer” or not, this a profound tool as a caregiver. If you pray, perhaps you will be shown the answer to what you are seeking. If you are not a believer, then perhaps introspecting within yourself will show you the answers for how to cope better with the situation you are in. And the key word in the “prayer” is change. The only thing you can change is yourself and how you choose to handle the care-giving situation

Try applying these five strategies to your life. See if they make a difference to optimizing your care-giving abilities. No one said providing care to a loved one would be easy, but you only offer what you have. If you remain cool, strong and as de-stressed as possible, you will be able to handle care-giving more readily.