Managing stress when a loved one is seriously ill
March 8, 2022
When a loved one is seriously ill it can feel like the world is full of problems with very few solutions. The shock of diagnosis coupled with worries about treatment, keeping up commitments such as work or school, potential financial worries and uncertainties around the future can all lead to feelings of stress. In fact, stress is a key issue reported by most of our young people and is one of the most common problems they seek support for.
It is easy when a loved one is ill to focus on their needs and health and not listen to what our bodies are telling us. Yet the impact of stress on our own mental and physical wellbeing is well documented and can lead to a serious decline in our own health if we don’t find strategies to cope with it.
What is stress?
Understanding stress is a first step in learning how to manage and even prevent it. So, what is stress? Stress is an emotional and physical response to a situation our bodies perceive as frightening, dangerous or distressing.
Common physical symptoms of stress include the tightening of muscles particularly in the jaw, neck and shoulders – you may find yourself clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, which can lead to headaches and other aches and pains in this area. Due to the flight/fight response your heart rate increases, and you may become agitated, hyperactive and unable to focus.
Emotionally, stress can make you feel angry, anxious or overwhelmed. You may find you have mood swings and be generally more impatient with others, especially if you feel they don’t understand what your family is going through.
Stress is like a build-up of pressure in your system, and without the appropriate release it can eventually cause you to explode – either emotionally or physically – manifesting as an injury or illness. It is therefore important to recognise when you are feeling stressed, when you can feel pressure rising and using coping strategies to help release it naturally.
How to cope with stress
We asked some of our young people how they cope with stress when they feel their pressure gauge getting out of control. Here is what they had to say:
- “You’re only human, you don’t have to try and do everything and its ok to ask for help from your school, family or friends. If you take too much on you might become overwhelmed and feel like a failure if you can’t do it all.”
- “Get as much support as you can. Talk to family, friends, Hope, school and anyone else that might be able to help or share their experiences. It can be hard to ask for help or seek support for what you are going through, but it does work, sharing my problems and working out ways to deal with them helped me to feel less stressed and overall, in a better mood. Support groups are a great way to get advice and hear what others have done in a similar situation as well as being a lot of fun.“
- “Take breaks and do something you enjoy. You might feel guilty about having fun when someone you love is unwell, but it is important that you give yourself a break every now and then from a challenging situation so that you have the strength to continue to support your family during this difficult time.”
- “Make yourself laugh, it’s fun to laugh and it makes you feel better. I love laughing with my friends and it means I don’t feel so sad when I am with my family.“
- “Be your best friend. Rather than thinking negative thoughts about yourself, tell yourself kind things like “I’m doing the best I can” and “I’m a good person, I’m trying.””
- “Try meditation and breathing practices to slow your heart rate down and help put your day in perspective. You might imagine you are in your favourite place or eating your favourite food etc. Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to help quieten your mind.”
- “Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, get exercise, plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water. Looking after yourself will not only make you feel better physically but help you to release stressful feelings.”
- “If you’re really worried speak to a GP or other professional. Don’t suffer in silence as this will only add to your family’s worries.”
We all experience stress at some point in our lives, what’s key is learning ways to manage it that work for you. If you are finding stress is taking over your life speak to Hope, we can help you create your personal stress toolkit to help release the pressure.