Stress is Good for You – 5 Tips to Keep You Resilient Instead of Distressed
By Dan Bulgarelli, PAC Team Member
Are you a caregiver, and have felt stressed lately? People often complain about stress – they are feeling stressed out, being a care partner is too stressful, they just can’t handle the stress. I get it, I’ve been there, too. Teepa said something during the 2021 PAC Conference All GEMS Can Shine that hit me like a lightning bolt. Stress is good because it builds resiliency. What happens is that too much stress for too long can lead to distress. Distress is overwhelming and can lead to negative spirals and a sense of hopelessness unless a major change is made. Why Stress is GoodAs I mentioned before, stress builds resiliency – it allows you to handle and do more than you could before. Essentially, it allows you to grow. Take for example – credit scores and exercise. If you’ve never had a loan or car payment when you get your first credit card, for example, the limit probably won’t be very high. You need to prove that you can act responsibly and follow through with your promises. If you do, then that limit will start to go up.Similarly, if you think to yourself The new year is around the corner, I’m going to start getting into shape now. Look, there’s a marathon tomorrow, I’m in! Unless you’ve been training diligently for months on end, that may not be the best first step. You need to build your body up by starting small, giving your body time to recover, and then do a little more. You build strength and resiliency in your body and mind when you put a little stress on yourself.Stressors and GrayscaleIt is very cliché to say that each person is unique, but it’s true. While stress can be good for us, we each have different stressors. What may be stressful for you may be a rejuvenating activity for someone else.Feelings of comfort, stress, and distress do not exist in a vacuum, and they are not as clear cut as black and white, or yes or no. Instead, it will vary based on factors such as your comfort with the current location, your levels of nourishment and rest, what else is on your brain, as well as other internal and external factors. The level of stress will vary, and you need to be honest and aware of your resiliency to handle it.Another factor to consider is the state of a person’s brain. All human brains change day-to-day and minute-to-minute, depending on a number of internal and external factors. However, with dementia, there will be chemical and physical changes in addition to those same factors affecting healthy brains. When a person is living with dementia, it can take more energy and effort to tolerate stressors, fatigue may set in earlier, and it may take longer to recover.To help you and those you care for avoid distress, here are 5 tips:
1. Be Aware of Noise
This includes noise as something you hear, but also how busy or chaotic the environment around you is. When one sense becomes overwhelmed, human brains can become less able in the moment. If the noise of an environment is more than you can handle, it requires more effort to stay in the moment. A prime example of this is when you are driving to a new location, and as you get closer, you need to turn down the radio to find the right spot.As dementia progresses, it can impact sound processing. Large groups with a lot of conversation can become challenging. One of the changes in many forms of dementia is the inability to discriminate sounds and voices; that is to know who is talking to you and who is part of a different conversation. Instead, it becomes one big wall of sound that in turn limits the abilities of the rest of the brain.As you close out another calendar year, there will most likely be parties bringing family and friends together. If you or someone else starts to feel overwhelmed by the noise and commotion, try to find a quiet spot. Stepping away from the noise can allow you to take a deep breath and recalibrate before going back to where you were or possibly finding another, less hectic place to be.
2. Take a step back and look at the coming days, weeks, and months
While the end of the year and holidays in particular can be a distressing time, there are more than enough stressors throughout the year. It can be easy to lose track of everything that is going on, because we all have different aspects of our lives that overlap.Writing things down on a calendar, taking notes on your phone/tablet, or some other visual representation of what is happening in your life or in the lives of the people you care for can be a big help. You are, more than likely, a good person that wants to help. And when your focus is on what is being asked in the moment, you may forget what else you have going on. Taking time to look at what is happening and when, will help you get your ducks in a row and build resiliency instead of feeling overwhelmed and distressed.
3. Be willing to say no
This is somewhat of a continuation of the previous point, but sometimes you have to prioritize yourself and the lives of those you care for most directly and say no to others. Saying no doesn’t have to be mean and it isn’t inherently selfish. No can also mean not right now, but maybe in a little bit.If you are willing to take the time to look at everything you have coming up and understand what it will take from you to be successful AND be able to recharge to keep going, you’ll know whether you can say yes or if you should say no. For some of you, saying no does feel selfish, as if you are letting someone down. Think about this though - is that person aware of everything you have going on, or are they looking at their own wants at that moment?If you are both willing to look at it from the other person’s perspective, there is a good chance you will be able to find something that works. Maybe you can’t do everything they are asking of you, but is there an aspect that you can do that will help? Maybe you can’t help right now, but the next week looks better?
4. Be willing to ask for help before it’s too late
This may seem like it contradicts #3, but it in fact goes hand-in-hand with it. There are times you may have too much going on or something unexpected comes up. What you thought you could handle has become overwhelming and now you are feeling distressed. The sooner you can ask for help, the better.Just like saying no isn’t inherently selfish, asking for help is neither selfish nor a sign of weakness. Just like you want to help others, people will want to help you!Picture yourself in these scenarios:
- You look ahead and realize that you have overcommitted and there’s no possible way you can do everything, but you don’t want to let people down
- You’ve tried to push through tough situations and you realize you just don’t have it in you to keep going, you’ve never gotten that chance to recharge
- You were doing fine and then this thing came up out of nowhere, and now…
These situations can and do happen to all of us. You can get through this, but you may need some help, but how do even know what to ask for? Try this:
- Make a list of things that need to be done. This may include grocery shopping, picking someone up, household chores, or any number of things
- Determine which ones are causing you the most distress
- Figure out which things someone may be able to help you with
5. Check In with Yourself and Others
One of the most important things you can do is to check in with yourself. Take a good, honest look at how things are going and how you feel about it. You should also check in with those around you, but be careful in how you do it.Most of us will give the standard Hey there, how are you doing? In that situation, what’s the answer the other person is supposed to give? I’m fine. This is a common question, but it’s not an actual check-in, it’s small talk.Instead, ask a specific question like How is your practice going or How are you feeling about this project, and pair it with a visual cue like a thumbs up or down.By asking about a specific topic and using the visual cue, you change the conversation from small talk to an actual check-in. Now you can gauge how a person is feeling in that moment and assess whether or not they need help or are good to go. Tip: This visual check-in is also a way to stay connected with people in a noisy or crowded gathering.
Most of us talk about striving for a stress-free life. Stress is spoken of as something to avoid at all costs, but it actually leads to growth. If you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, you might be amazed at what you are able to accomplish.Look back 5, 10, 15 (more…?) years ago and think about your accomplishments, things you’ve learned, and skills you’ve developed. Each bit of growth and development was your mind and body having to move out of a place of comfort. Pat yourself on the back!Stress can help you grow, but if you aren’t careful, it can become overwhelming and lead to distress. Stepping back to look at what is happening for you, what is causing distress, and what actionable items can be delegated, can help you get back on top and to a place where you can recharge.
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