Caring for the Caregiver by Brynne Willis

Many consider the deepest expression of love is being a caregiver. Providing for someone’s needs is incredibly special and rewarding to the one who is giving, as well as the one receiving. Despite this, the extra demands placed on caregivers can often lead to chronic stress and stress-related disorders.

Chronic stress, if left untreated, can have unfavorable effects on the mind and body. Studies show that stress can lead to lowered quality of life, impaired social functioning, and compromised relationships with spouses and other family members. Common signs and symptoms of stress are lowered energy, muscle tension, insomnia, loss or increased appetite, isolation, difficulty concentrating, negative thinking, and increased agitation, among others. Its wear and tear on the nervous system can also lead to more chronic conditions, such as compassion fatigue and burnout.

Caregivers to people living with SMA may experience higher demands that could lead to an increase of chronic stress and stress-related disorders. These demands include physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial strains placed on the caregiver. Physical exertion from excessive lifting and bending, anxiety and depression, costly treatments leading to financial pressures, and social isolation are all examples of stressors that could increase risk of chronic stress and stress-related disorders in caregivers of people with SMA.

With this in mind, here are a few of things to remember:

  1. Remember you are not alone.

Many of these experiences other caregivers have experienced, too. There is no shame in sharing these same feelings and stressors. This also may be a way to figure out what has worked for others, especially if they seem to be managing the stress of caregiving.

  1. Remember your “why.”

Stress management can seem like a tertiary need compared to the laundry list of things to get done throughout the day. But, remember why you are incorporating this need into your routine. Is it to improve yourself? Your relationships with others? Better your quality of life? Define how mediating stress can help improve your life and set that as your goal.

  1. But most importantly, remember there is help.

Counseling is a great place to start. These specialized clinicians can help you reach your personal mental health goals in traditional talk therapy setting. More information about local therapists can be found here.

Help is never beyond on arm’s length reach, and always utilize the support networks like Cure SMA and free online resources, such as National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

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