“Both tears and sweat are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy; sweat will get you change.” -Jesse Jackson
There is no question about the impact of stress on a person’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. Stress in our society looks differently by gender, race, socioeconomic status and age. However, the stress burden has increased over time across all demographics. It is toxic, intense and can actually turn your genes on or off. Stress can cause brain damage, impact memory, shut down your immune system and increase inflammation in your body.
As it relates to caregivers, the increased stress burden, is referred to as Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress. This syndrome is described as a condition that strongly manifests exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt resulting from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill patient or loved one. Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term is often used by many healthcare professionals, in the terms of expereinced trauma, grief and compassion fatigue. With all the known science, knowledge and research behind the caregiver stress, what is the proposed solution?
May 30, 2019 will mark my fourth year of becoming a full-time caregiver for my mother with Alzheimers. I can testify to the stress like no other, as I still maintain my full-time job, take on a second part-time job as a spin instructor and Health Coach, in addition for caring for every aspect of my mothers life. Daily I fight systems of care, advocate for proper diagnosis, testing and treatment of her illnesses, manage all her finances, and experience her dementia behaviors in my home. If you want to truly know what a war on healthcare looks in this country, take on caring for a chronically-ill loved one with limited resources and finances. My world has been completely altered for both the bad and the good, yes, the good. I am working on a better me, on a better world, all in the name of love for my mother. Her diagnosis has changed my life’s direction, permanently.
What I have learned through this caregiving journey has extended my quality of life, through a personal investment in my own health. However, not every caregiver has this epiphany and is usually buried miles deep in stress due to loss of every kind, including employment, health insurance, retirement benefits, social outlets and finances, in order to be the rock for their sick loved one. As the the numbers of caregivers in this country increases, so does the level of burden on the systems of care and the economy. We are encountering a Public Health crisis with this underserved population being ignored by all professions.
What is the solution? I have many thoughts on how societal polices and laws could impact an individuals world through local community supports and financial relief. However, there is not one simple easy answer to address the multifaceted world of a caregiver. I have always said, if an answer does not exist, seek it, search diligently or become it. Yes, become your own answer. Do not sit in apathy, but instead, stand up and fight for the justice you so much deserve. Be the voice, the reason and the solution not just for yourself, but an entire population in need. Research, study, ask questions, do not accept the lack of, the minimalist solutions or closed doors.
I may have read every research article on Alzheimers, wrote world-renowned physicians, sought holistic preventative measures and studied the body composition and its reactions to environmental influences. I increased my knowledge of the brain-body connection, inflammation, the importance of proper nutrition, exercise and stress reduction activities. In a recent blog post, I described the connection between cycling and brain health. We have ignored brain health for so long and the current dementia epidemic demands that we elevate the science, research and knowledge as a national priority. In turn, I have taken my love for cycle and translated it into a disease-prevention approach in my life and messaging platform for others.
Recently, a good friend of mine asked me to attend a heated cycle class, at the Sweat Shoppe in Atlanta, GA. Yes, that is what I wrote, “heated cycle.” I sat and processed that request for a minute, and then of course I agreed to go. I mean, how bad could it be? I had taken heated yoga and was game for anything new, especially fitness-wise. Well, my first encounter with this “heated cycle” was hellacious, to say the least. The extreme heat, the intense spin moves, and a packed class full of enthusiastic sweat- loving cyclists had me visualizing a “polar-bear” plunge. (You know, that activity in the middle of winter, where you strip down into your bathing suit and leap into ice-cold ocean water.)
After the 50 minute ride, I emerged from the room, soaking in sweat like I had just taken a shower in my clothes. Every part of my physical being was drenched and I really was questioning my sanity at this point. As I left the “heated room” and drove home I could not help but think about the physiological benefits of what I just experienced. I was feeling great, refreshed and full of energy. According to the benefits listed on the Sweat Shoppe website, the heat and the sweat have major impacts on your immune system, removes impurities from the body, releases endorphins and much much more. So let us connect all of this; cycling, sweat, heat, physical activity, brain-body connection and caregiver stress. This sounds like a health correlation and possible protective factor to me. If stress is the major risk factor in a caregivers world, let’s increase the protective factors around them at the community level, so there is a positive individual outcome to negate that stress. In a one hour sweaty cycle workout, I increased my mental, physical and emotional well-being, reducing my physiological response to the caregiver stress burden.
Caregiver, I encourage you to think outside the norm, the societal box, and seek the alternative solutions to address the stress you face everyday. It will not be eliminated quickly and has life-altering implications on your present and future well-being. Look for your own solutions, or be open to new ways of managing your stress. Your life depends on it and make the decision that you will not be the next one diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease. Defy the data and love yourself enough to SWEAT OUT the small and big stuff.
“We learn more by looking for the answer and not finding it, then we do from learning the answer itself.” -Lloyd Alexander