Critter Corner: Stress Relief Tips for Seniors and Caregivers During Stress Awareness Month

Dear Angel,

I have been incredibly stressed lately. I’m a caregiver for my mother and my children, and want to be the best I can be. What are some ways to alleviate this stress?

Thanks so much for your help!

Anders Umpressure

Dear Anders,

April is Stress Awareness Month, a national effort to share information and raise awareness about the dangers of stress. It is also an ideal time to share coping strategies for seniors and caregivers who are in stressful situations.

Stress is your body’s response to a challenge or demand. “When you experience stress, your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which increase alertness and put you in a ‘fight or flight’ mode. When this happens, you may experience an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Chronic Stress Hurts the Body

Stress is a part of life, but short-term stress can actually be helpful (like when you have to run away from a dangerous situation). It’s the long-term stress, also called chronic stress, that’s unhealthy. Chronic stress can cause serious mental and physical health problems, and it’s an issue that’s becoming more common.  According to the American Psychological Association, our bodies can handle stress in small doses. However, if we experience chronic stress, our bodies respond in negative ways, affecting our heart, blood vessels and blood, as well as hormones, gastrointestinal system, and even our bones and muscles.

If you experience chronic stress, it’s important to learn ways to cope with it and lessen your risk of developing chronic disease or other negative effects.

Ways to Manage Stress

If you are a senior or caregiver, manage stress by:

  • Getting outside and spending time in nature can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels.
  • Including physical activity in your weekly regimen.
    • The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week or a combination of the two.
    • This can include anything that increases your heart rate, such as walking, cycling or swimming.
  • Eating a regular healthy diet can help reduce stress.
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation have been linked to lower blood pressure and reduced cortisol levels. Doing so may also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and help you sleep. If you don’t know where to start, try downloading a meditation app on your smartphone.
  • Getting enough sleep can help improve your thought process and mood. Aim for at least 8 hours every night, if possible.
  • For caregiver stress, consider joining a support group to talk out frustrations with other people in your situation and to get helpful ideas. Some caregiver support groups are available online. Others are run by local hospitals, senior centers, and community groups. In addition:
    • Consider getting extra help with some household tasks;
    • When someone offers help, accept;
    • Do things that you find to be relaxing;
    • Focus on the love you have for your loved one when things become frustrating and overwhelming and most importantly;
    • Protect your own health! Research suggests that a caregiver’s immune function is often suppressed by the stress of caring for others. Boost your resistance by eating well, getting enough rest and exercise, and pursuing activities that bring you pleasure. Take advantage of regular respite care from professionals, family, and friends to give you much needed breaks.

Hope this is helpful!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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