Stress Management for Caregiver of Children with Mental Ill-health

 

Caleb Ademola Gbiri - Physiotherapists

Stress is the body’s reaction to undue demand placed on it. Every activity performed by an individual results in one or more stress reactions. Excess of these reactions may produce responses that will limit the performance of other systems in the body. Things that induce stress includes situations such as traffic congestion, frequent power failure, work demand, home demand, human congestion, longstanding illnesses etc.

 

Caring for a child with neuro-developmental challenges like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism among others could pose additional stress to the primary caregivers. The combination of the conventional daily stressors with that of caring for a ‘totally dependent child’. If not well managed could result in mental breakdown. It is worth nothing that for an event to be stressful, it has to be perceived as stressful, the nature of the event and the person’s resources, psychological defenses and coping mechanisms. These involve individual ego, a collective abstraction for the process by which a person perceives, thinks, and acts on external drives. A person whose ego is functioning properly is in adaptive balance with both external and internal worlds; if the ego is not functioning properly and resulting imbalance continues long enough, the person develops body reaction resulting into stress with an experience of chronic anxiety and restlessness/panic. When these symptoms are prolonged, they can result into other conditions like, hypertension, depression, heart attack, palpitation, mood disorders severe mental illness and even stroke. The challenges for caring for a neurologically defective child could have impact on the ego of the care-giver (parent). Apart from caring for this child, the care-giver also goes through additional stressors (work and domestic) like any other person does. Therefore, this is a case of double jeopardy.

 

The psychological effect of this stressor, if not well managed may result into mental illness. Whether the imbalance is external, between the pressure of outside world and the person’s ego, or internal, between his or her impulses and conscience, the imbalance produces a conflict. In the case of a person caring for a totally dependent child, the conflict is always the combination of interpersonal and intrapersonal. This often rub on his/her ego and rub his/her self-esteem. A person who has a child with epilepsy for example may be denied of some social engagement because of the condition of the child.

 

This is often more on the mother than the father. Most often, they may not have time to engage in recreation and leisure activity. Hence, making them to accumulate more stress metabolites and making mental illness imminent. A child with cerebral palsy needs care for all activity of daily living and often exhibits bizarre behaviors. However, everybody should understand that giving birth to this kind of child is not bore out of sin or misconduct. This child also is not in any way the architect of his/her fate. Therefore, adequate care should be provided. They can live comparable life any other child if well cared for.

 

Signs and symptoms of stress.

As one goes through his/her daily activities, stress responses are being elicited in one way or the other. Some of the obvious signs and symptoms of stress are:

 

Sleeplessness, palpitation, emotional disturbance, muscular tightness/ache/joint pains, loss of appetite, difficult swallowing, nervous ties, stuttering/shaky/strain voice, frowned/wrinkled forehead, headaches/migraine, grinding/clinching teeth, jaw pain, back ache, gas pain/cramp, acid stomach/heartburn, urinary difficulty, constipation, diarrhea, rigidity/impotence, dry mouth/throat, dizziness, cold hands/feet, panic, anxiety, frustration/irritation, hopelessness/desperate, poor memory, mental confusion/poor mental judgement, trouble concentration/indecisiveness, frequent cold, skin rash, excessive thirst with or without diabetic, sore in the mouth and or throat, indisposition, aggression  or overreaction to situations, decrease libido, restlessness persistent fever/runny nose or cough without any obvious infection, shortness of breath, coarse of slaw speech, body ache, chest pain, severe headache/head pain, undue fatigue or tiredness, pimples in the face, skin reactions, blurred and double vision, lack of concentration, among others.

 

Stress also lowers the body immunity. Stress signs and symptoms involves the combination of at least two or more of the above listed signs and symptoms.

 

Stress management and coping mechanisms

The way an individual manages and develop a coping strategy to stress is an important tool in healthy ego and personality. The ability of an individual to identify his/her stressors and manage it adequately is very mandatory if one is to live a life of good quality. Stress coping mechanism is influenced by age, gender, culture, income, race, and genetic factors. Some situations that will beyond the stressor threshold of a person might be still under for some other people.

 

Therefore, stress management and coping mechanism is an individualized process, depends on the interplay between the external factors and internal factors. The important goal of healthy life style is to increase the number of days in a year that an individual reports a pain free pain day and increasing the life expectancy in good health. Stress has been identified as one of the factors that increase pain reporting day in an individual. It is one of the major factors that contribute to reduction in life expectancy and quality of life. There is enough evidence that well prescribed and meticulously monitored physical exercises by the experts can reduce the incidence and accumulation of stress and stress induced reactions in the body.

 

Relaxation and exercise can be used to address stress and its complications well prescribed exercise regulates the body homeostasis, the nervous and the endocrine system thereby suppressing the negative body systems reaction to stress. People who engage in recreational activities have been shown to have less chance of developing mental illness as a result of stress even with genetic predisposition.

 

Adequate sleep and rest are very important in stress management. An individual who has less than eight hours sleep and faces tedious work situation that overwhelm the body system is likely to experience stress reaction. All work and no play make a jack boy. At least between 30 minutes and 1hour of rest and recess within 8 hours working period is also very important in reducing the incidence of the accumulation of stress induces reaction.

Engagement in recreation and leisure activity during the off working period is very important in stress management. People who engage in physical exercise have reduced chance of developing health condition, are happier and healthier. Religious activity has also been shown to be a good modulator of the mind towards effective performance. People who engage in social activities and relate socially are likely to express less stress than those that does not.

 

Eating habit also goes a long way in management of stress. The dimension health and wellness include the emotional (mental), intellectual, physical, social and spiritual. These dimensions are interdependent with the emotional dimension playing a pivotal role. A person who is able to cope well with stress and also manage adequately his/her stress is likely to live a healthy life style. Stress can be a hindrance to the achievement of goals by an individual. A person who is easily stressed up will have reduced efficiency and proficiency. It is therefore very pertinent for an individual not to allow stress to reduce his/her sense of well-being and quality of life.

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