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The Stress of Caregivers

From the outside looking in, caregivers seem superhuman. However, many times, they're another victim of the disease that has attacked their loved one.

The stress caregivers experience can be overwhelming. (Credit: Pixabay)

They have been married for 40 years, now. Their life was happy, enjoyable, and satisfying. Then, 20 years ago, the husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As the disease took more and more a toll on his ability to stand, walk, and care for himself, the wife slowly shrank their world around them, staying within the confines of the home. As the website, parkinson.org shares about late stage Parkinson’s, “This is the most advanced and debilitating stage. Stiffness in the legs may make it impossible to stand or walk. The person requires a wheelchair or is bedridden. Around-the-clock nursing care is required for all activities. The person may experience hallucinations and delusions. The Parkinson’s community acknowledges that there are many important non-motor symptoms as well as motor symptoms.” Life became merely existing for them both.

From the outside looking in, people were concerned for the husband, and rightly so. But, imagine being the wife and caregiver. She’s watched this once manly person become feeble and unable to help himself. The love of her life, the person who had always provided for, and took care of, her is now a shell of the person he once was. Now, with almost every hour of her life consumed by caring for her beloved husband, her life became non-existent. She lost her husband, her life, and her identity. She found herself not wanting to even breathe.

The Effects of Stress

We all feel the effects of stress every day. There’s actually two types of stress; the negative stress we usually mean when we say “Stress” and there’s a positive type called “Eustress”. Eustress has the effect of driving a person to do something they’re passionate about, accomplishing something for the good of others, being positively motivated, in general.

The stress we usually mean tears us down physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. According to the science of Epigenetics, all physical maladies can be traced back to negative beliefs and negative thinking. But, stress has another effect; because the brain and mind perceive negative stress as a threat to its host, the body, it puts the person into Survival Mode, fight-or-flight. This effect can range from becoming physically ill, like with the common cold, to changing and transforming a person’s personality into becoming whatever they have to be in order to survive.

Stress Changes the Person

This means that they may become unrecognizable from a personality standpoint. The person who had been fun-loving, bright, cheerful, with a positive outlook becomes withdrawn, negative, quiet, and sometimes hateful. Many people attribute the changes to getting older and ‘set in their ways’, when, in fact, they’ve become that way to deal with their circumstances.

This isn’t a matter of right or wrong, good, or bad, should have or shouldn’t have. These are conscious decisions that are made because they believe the changes will help them survive their current circumstances. The family is now faced with, instead of just one, two loved ones who have become unlike they were before the disease.

It Can Be Changed and Transformed

Many give up and accept that the way things are is the way they’ll be until the disease takes its final toll. They feel defeated each morning when they wake up. As they consider what their day holds, they feel worn-out by it…and the day has barely started. That’s certainly one way of perceiving the situation and circumstances.

And, that’s my next point; the past, the future, and even much of the present is only how we perceive it. Some in the field of psychology, such as Timothy Verstynen, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, say that up to 90% of what we observe in the present is made up from previous experiences, our memory.

So, fully consider how easily manipulated our minds are: We’ve all experienced a memory that we were absolutely sure of what remembered. But, then, we talk to other people and they tell us the event was different than what we remembered. In fact, research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that every time we recall a memory, it makes that memory less accurate. Every time you recall a memory, you put it back with deletion or addition of information.

And, of course, the future hasn’t taken place, yet, but how often do we feel the emotions of a situation we’re ‘predicting’ how it will be? I call these “Future Memories” because we react as if they have already happened. We can choose to create stress and anxiety, or happiness and joy…and the event hasn’t even happened!

Suppose there was a way to change how a person views their situation. What if they could mentally transform and learn to love life again, including the caring for their loved one? And, imagine them changing to see their life in a different way and discovering their identity again. How much different would their stress-level be?

Without getting into the depths of the neuroscience behind it, all of this can become a reality. It can happen more easily and quickly than what you might think. Watch the video below to hear a real-life experience of making such a transformation.

Feel free to comment and, if you would like to contact me, I’d be delighted to take your call or email!

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