Sometimes deep breathing doesn’t work, mindfulness doesn’t cut it, and meditation isn’t helping.
You’re not alone. Many caregivers feel this way.
Call it frustration, anger, rage—whatever the label, its antecedent is stress. And it boils, burns and bubbles up from your core. You feel like you’re going to explode.
You have to do something; otherwise, you’re positive you’ll combust. Or at minimum, you’ll melt into a puddle in the middle of the grocery store, or in this meeting, or wherever it is you’re about to fall apart.
So, what can you do? Is there a healthy way to vent stress?
The short answer is absolutely. For the sake of your physical, spiritual and mental health, you need to vent the intense stress that caregiving brings on.
In small doses, stress is normal—even healthy. But when stress develops into a long-term or chronic problem, it becomes toxic to all systems of the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems.
Dangerous health conditions that result from chronic stress include diseases like hypertension, heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes and arthritis.
The negative physical impacts of stress can also be reflected in your behavior. For example, stress causes physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue and insomnia, and creates mood disturbances, such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability and anger. Combined these can lead to behavior changes that make you act unlike your usual self, leading to drug or alcohol misuse, angry outbursts or even aggression.
So, if you find you’re just not feeling yourself – or you feel agitated, irritable or downright angry – and can’t quite put your finger on why, you can likely blame the stress you’re under as a caregiver.
Health experts strongly recommend that caregivers take care of themselves first and foremost—the proverbial oxygen mask.
Health experts strongly recommend that caregivers take care of themselves first and foremost—the proverbial oxygen mask. Neda Gould, a clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, explained this importance to U.S. News and World Report: “It’s easy to be on autopilot and completely neglect your own needs,” she said. “That can lead to burnout. You only have so many resources you can give.”
How to vent stress
Mindfulness, yoga, meditation and leading a healthy lifestyle, in general, are the most recommended ways to reduce and prevent stress.
But sometimes these aren’t enough. Sometimes things boil over, and that’s OK!
Try some of the techniques below when you need to add a little “umph” to your stress release practice.
Use your voice
Singing is a proven stress-buster. Sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing anywhere. Just use those vocal cords.
Run, cycle or swim
Science says vigorous exercise is a good way to nix bottled-up stress, or to head it off at the pass. Running, cycling and swimming are all good options. So are medicine ball exercises, kettlebell swings, HIIT circuits or kickboxing classes.
Crying is our body’s natural stress reducer. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the portion of our nervous system that instructs our body to “sit-back-and-chill” (or “rest-and-digest” as medical professionals say). Crying also reduces pain through the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. Sobbing big giant elephant tears is particularly effective, as scientists say that it “cools” the brain, which is an apparent mood booster.
For some, freewriting is an effective way to vent stress. Writing out your emotions with the knowledge that nobody will read and judge your writing or your feelings can be cathartic. Painting your emotions is another good outlet. Or, if you aren’t particularly artistic, other creative options are available that are recommended by art therapists.
Stress prevention and ongoing self-care is the hallmark strategy
It’s important to remember that physical outlets for anger may temporarily extinguish stress, but they don’t get at the root of the problem—nor do they help in the long term.
The best gift you can give yourself is to adopt a self-care routine and learn ways to tackle stress as it arises in the moment so it doesn’t build up.
When to seek help
Sometimes things get to a point where you need to seek professional help. Here are the signs you should look for:
- You are harming yourself.
- You are expressing anger to those you deem weaker or less powerful.
- Your stress is affecting your relationships.
- Your stress is affecting your job performance.
If this is the case, it’s time to surround yourself with the support you need. The American Psychological Association also has an online tool to help you find the right support professional for you.