Is Caregiver Stress Ever a Good Thing?

Not only is April the beginning of baseball season – it’s also National Stress Awareness Month. If you’re a Cubs fan, you may have difficulty distinguishing between the two.

If you’re a caregiver, the designation of a month to raise awareness about stress may seem a bit silly. As caregivers, how could we not be aware of stress? Yet our society has morphed into a conglomeration of caffeine-soaked workhorses that see stress as the norm…so much so that it’s sometimes regarded as a non-issue.

Courtesy of King County

Raising awareness about stress may be exactly what is needed right now, despite the preponderance of “special months.” Here are a couple of tidbits about stress that can help caregivers get a handle on the stress in their lives:

Stress is a neutral term. Stress is actually a biopsychosocial term referring to a person’s physical, emotional, and behavioral response to changes in life balance that create demands on the person. Stress is a natural response in our efforts to adapt.

Eustress is positive stress. We often use the word “stress” to describe negative events, so we tend to think that all stress is bad. However, good things in life can cause stress too. Landing a new job, getting married, and having a child would be seen by most as wonderful blessings, but they still alter our previous life balance and create new demands for us.

Some of the benefits of eustress are increased mental focus, renewed energy, increased life satisfaction, and an improvement in performance. Can you see how some aspects of caregiver stress are actually eustress?

Distress is still very real. If eustress is the positive side of stress, then distress is stress’s negative form. Distress can include events such as the illness or death of a loved one, loss of a job, financial troubles, and family conflict.

Some of the ramifications of distress can be depression, anxiety, physical illness, and decreased performance. As caregivers, I’m sure you can identify with the concept of distress as well as eustress.

Eustress and distress can occur simultaneously. Oh my, now this is getting messy. How do we untangle eustress from distress in the midst of caregiving? But I think it is possible. I also think that channeling the benefits of eustress can help us manage the effects of distress. Here’s how:

  • Write it down. Jot down (or type) the various stressors you’re experiencing in your life. Remember that a stressor can be positive or negative – the defining criteria are that it’s creating a change in your life’s balance and puts new demands on you. For example, paying for Alzheimer’s care might be a form of distress, but having to fix dinner for your father every night might be a form of eustress because of the new time you are spending together.
  • Divide the list. Once you have your big list, divide the stressors into positive and negative sublists. Beside each item, note the benefits you’ve experienced from eustress or the difficulties that have arisen from distress.
  • Harness your strengths. Look at the benefits you’ve experienced from eustress and see if they can be applied to any of the distress occurring in your life. For instance, has the eustress of spending more time with your mother improved your communication with her? Perhaps you can use this new skill when you face the distress of trying to get her to go to the doctor.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on eustress and distress in the context of caregiving. Can caregiver stress ever be a good thing?

And if all of this stress talk is getting stressful, just know that once April is over, you can move on to lighter things. May is National Macaroni and Cheese Month.

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