By Dr. Jamie Huysman, LCSW
For the last 16 years, I have implored caregivers to take their oxygen first and not lose themselves in the emotional and mental quagmire that often comes with caring for a loved one. My experience in advocating for these courageous individuals was that those who maintained social connections for support, friendship, and assistance fared much better than those who did not. The case for self-care has been made many times over.
Recent findings about the effects of the chronic stress too many of us are unknowingly under have made the need for self-care more important than ever before.
HBO recently broadcast a ground-breaking and provocative documentary entitled “One Nation Under Stress”, hosted and produced by CNN’s Medical Officer, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It explores how chronic stress is changing us as a society, even altering our brain capacity to be empathetic.
Our fast-paced, unpredictable world of media soundbites is driving unhealthy expectations of how we should look, think, and measure our success. The constant barrage of information and other stimuli is reshaping us as a society, and not in a good way.
This new normal is not normal at all. We are becoming more and more desensitized to our surroundings and ourselves. The insidiousness of chronic stress is all around us, it creeps up on us without our consent. How can we possibly gauge the effect that chronic stress is having on us when we are under its influence?
When we sweat the small stuff and question whether all the good in our lives is good enough, we devalue ourselves and our place in the world.
The words of Timothy Leary have a brand new and more important meaning to me now: We all need to TURN ON our love lights, TUNE IN to the gratitude of being, and DROP OUT of the rat race for a little while every day.
We deserve a break today! The build-up of weeks or months of stress can dampen our immune responses and raise our risk for disease.
The level of stress we experience consciously and unconsciously will not change unless we do. Although some stress is to be expected, even mandatory in our primal DNA, suffering the effects of overwhelming stress is optional. Let go of what you can’t control. Practice gratitude. Spend some time in nature, alone, with a pet.
Listen to music. Just breathe.
Do whatever you can do to hang on to your humanity. The world needs us to be present. Happy Stress Awareness Month! Namasté.
If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible. Remember, you have the ability to choose your response to stressors, and you may have to try various options.
» Recognize when you don’t have control, and let it go.
» Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
» Take control of your own reactions and focus your mind on something that makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind.
» Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal growth, and set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.
While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward for your efforts is a healthy, balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun. Read more at foh.psc.gov
Dr. Jamie is a popular keynote speaker, media expert, and author. He co-authored the acclaimed “Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss.” Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Connections, JoanLunden.com, Huddol.com, and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.
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