Caregiver stress is a gift

Caregiver stress is almost guaranteed if you are the primary caregiver for someone with mental illness. And I propose that you view it as a gift instead of a bad thing. View it as the essential ingredient that will help you solve the riddle of mental illness in your family.

Most people see stress as a bad thing. There's another way to see it: it is telling you something. It is sending you a message. What is it telling you? That your life is out of whack, your life is no longer aligned, no longer flowing. That you're skidding up against a wall, or maybe you've hit it head-on. That you're missing something. You're just not understanding something.

There are lots of ways to address this stress. There are lots of ways of coping with stress, especially quick fixes that cover up the problem or make you not feel it. And there are lots of sites to help you with stress-management tactics and even stress-reduction approaches.

However, if you want to get to the bottom of the stress, if you really want to use the situation that presents itself to you in the most effective, leveraged way, take a different approach: give yourself permission to fully feel that caregiver stress.

That may be painful, but that is the first important step. If you cover up the stress, if you push it away, if you hide it somehow, it is going to get stronger. And one day it will rear its ugly head just when you least expect it--and cause a disaster. Caregiver stress will turn into caregiver mess.

If you are thinking, "no I don't want to do that, I do not want to really feel what is going on because it is too painful", review the 5 characteristics of someone who has a good shot at solving the riddle of mental illness. Remember that you have been given a riddle called "mental illness in the family". You will solve it because you fit the criteria of the sort of person who faces their fears.

You will do it and you must. For the sake of your loved one. For the sake of yourself. And the first step is to acknowledge the pain of it. Take a look at your caregiver stress, especially when it feels really burdensome.

For example, let's say you have been dealing with some issue that keeps coming up with your loved one--some infuriating, deeply saddening issue. Right after dealing with that issue you could transition to the next part of your day. But you won't. Instead, you just stop. Don't move on to the next activity. See if you can just do an inward check. Drop your guard and fully feel that anger, that sadness.

Take a look at the dragon. Even if just for 1 moment. Feel it for just 1 moment. It's almost like looking for a moment at a scary movie--you might be blocking the movie with your hands or closing your eyes for most of the time, but then you watch it for 1 instant. Now do that in real life.

Just take a look at what is going on inside you. What is going on in your head? See if you can feel your body. Do you feel some emotions? Where do you feel them? What do they feel like?

If you don't feel a thing, then there are a few different approaches you can take.

  1. Unblocking your feelings
  2. Start with your thoughts rather than your feelings
  3. Start with other sensations rather than feelings or emotions.

For #1, maybe there is a block to feeling caregiver stress. There is some almost invisible wall between you and the feeling. So, if you don't feel a thing, ask yourself an authentic question that might be something like this: what is blocking my feeling? Why can I not feel? Why do I not want to feel? (Use your own words.)

Just ask yourself that sort of question and then, let it go. Let it burrow its way deep into you and open a little hole to the feeling. One day then, you will feel. Just pay attention. It might come rushing through, or just barely feel palpable for the first time, but it will be there.

Then, take a look. Just for 1 moment, feel it. Give yourself permission to feel for the tiniest little moment.

In terms of #2, maybe you need to start with your thoughts. Are you having a lot of thoughts about your loved one's situation or your own life? Has it gotten to a point where you cannot turn it off? Where the chatter is almost starting to come out of your mouth uncontrollably? Where you talk to yourself when you are alone or even when you are with others sometimes?

In that case, start with your thoughts and simply start observing them. (More on that later.)

Finally, for #3, maybe you are experiencing no strong emotions or thoughts, but definitely sensations like pain in your back, constant fatigue (which could be called a "feeling"), and weird bodily sensations which burst into your awareness sometimes.

In this case, start with your sensations, be open and accepting and stop ignoring them. More on that later.

Feeling your stress, observing your thoughts or noticing your sensations as fully as possible, in their most raw form for even 1 moment is the first step toward dealing with caregiver stress in a fundamental, transformative way.

Don't go to the next step until you do that. Even if you have to wait for days, weeks or months.

What is the next step? Click here.

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