Rethinking your Reactions: How Stress Can Help you as a Caregiver

If you’ve ever had to care for an aging family member, friend, or loved one, you’ve probably experienced a fair bit of stress from time to time.  Your heart beats a little faster, your breaths becomes a little shorter, and you worry about the next steps to take or if you’re providing the proper care.  Our bodily reactions to these situations are normal, but stress is stress, and it’s something we don’t like to feel.

Changing the way you think about stress can actually reconfigure the way stress affects your body.   A TED talk entitled, “How to Make Stress your Friend” by Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explores this topic.  McGonigal had been teaching that stress is negative or bad for most of her career, but after discovering and reading a study, her mindset changed.  The study researched how people thought about stress, finding that people who had a lot of stress and viewed stress as negative, were expected to have a lower life expectancy.  But people who experienced the same amount of stress but viewed it as beneficial to their health experienced no more likelihood to die.

McGonigal claims that if you don’t see stress as a negative thing, but rather as your body preparing you to meet a challenging situation, the biology of your body has a healthier reaction.  For example, when your heart beats fast as a result of stress, your blood vessels constrict.  But if you view stress positively, studies show that your blood vessels stay relaxed, similar to how your blood vessels react in moments of joy.

Caregiving can be an incredibly stressful time, but with this mindset, you are able to use stress to your advantage.  Instead of worrying about the short breaths you are taking when thinking about providing the right dosage of medicine, view that response as your body getting more oxygen to the brain so you can do it correctly.  Instead of feeling your heart pound from thinking about how much time is left, use it as a reminder to cherish the moments you are in.

I encourage you to take the time to watch McGonigal’s TED talk for more details. In rethinking how you react to stress, caregiving might just become a little easier.

In the endeavor of caring for your loved ones, you are not alone.  Celtic Healthcare can help in providing support and aid if caregiving becomes more than you can handle.  Our certified Home Health and Hospice Clinicians are prepared to help you handle stress and provide the best possible care for your loved one.  Please contact us for more information at 1.888.923.5842 or at 1.800.358.8227 for our Illinois office.


Blog post by Troy Abbott – Support Services Coordinator

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