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Name : Judith Albright
City: Fort Collins
State : Colorado
Country : United States
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The first time I met with Sharon W. it was easy to see that she was in great emotional distress. An attractive woman in her late forties, she was agitated and clearly on the verge of tears. While she made a valiant attempt to maintain a brave facade, in only moments her calmness dissolved and the true situation revealed itself.

Sharon had two active teenage children who were engaged in sports, music and a variety of other activities that demanded driving or other parental involvement. She also had a demanding full time job and a mother with advancing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At that time her mother was living with Sharon’s family until other arrangements could be made. Sharon’s life had become one long marathon of trying to be everywhere at once and being everything to everybody. It wasn’t working and she had become trapped in an emotional quagmire. She had difficulty sleeping. She yelled at her children, even for minor infractions. At work she had become peevish and frequently snapped at co-workers. She felt resentful, and then guilty because she did. Indigestion, headaches and nervousness were her constant companions, and to her horror, she was gaining weight because of constant eating on the run.

Her family was distressed as well. Because of increased strain on the household budget, Sharon’s husband had taken on an additional part time job and was rarely home. Her children felt jealous and abandoned as Sharon became more preoccupied with caregiving. They were often angry and impatient with grandma’s constant demands and her bizarre outbursts of behavior. They no longer wanted to bring their friends home. No one was happy.

This situation is typical of what is happening to thousands of men and women who find themselves trying to juggle the demands of a job, children who are still at home, and elderly family members who need help. Today more than 25% of American families are part of what has become the “sandwich generation.” They are caught in the middle of conflicting demands on their time, resources and energy--an automatic formula for stress. This may be happening to you.

While the signs of stress may be evident in others, it is often difficult to recognize them in yourself. You may even be trying to convince yourself that everything is “fine” and you are coping well. Suppressing your emotions and pretending to be happy to cover your own inner conflict is a guaranteed formula for disaster. We all know that those who are on emotional overload are more susceptible to illness and disease than those who are not. Emotional disturbances cause the autonomic nervous system to respond by going into “fight or flight” mode. The body then produces steroids at higher levels which, in turn, increase the heart rate and blood pressure. While elevated steroids are a normal response to stress, excessive steroid production over a period of time can erode your health. Prolonged anxiety and worry also impacts the immune system, resulting in a major decrease in the body‘s ability to fight infection. Highly stressed individuals are more prone to colds and other minor illnesses and often find that pre-existing health conditions are becoming worse.

When you are torn between conflicting priorities, it is easy to skip meals or grab fast food, skimp on sleep or exercise, or not allow yourself any personal time. It is also easy to ignore what your body is saying. If it is telling you to slow down or that something is not right, pay attention. Too often we do not listen to our bodies no matter how loudly they are speaking. How many of these are you experiencing?

• Stomach pain or digestive problems
• Insomnia or sleep disturbances
• Muscle tension in the neck and back
• Fingernail biting
• Frequent headaches
• Feeling tired most of the time
• Teeth grinding
• Irritation or outbursts of temper
• Frequently interrupting other people’s conversations
• Sweating more than usual, even in calm situations
• Speaking rapidly
• Chronic lateness
• Overeating, cravings, or eating very little
• Chain smoking
• Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
• Withdrawal from family, friends or co-workers
• Feeling lethargic or hopeless about the future

While there may be little you can do to alter your circumstances, you can heed the warning signs and choose to nurture yourself. Where do you start?

• Ask friends and family for their observations. They know you best and are often first to see that you are stressed, irritable or engaging in some kind of self destructive behavior.

• Have a meeting with your spouse and children and encourage everyone to express their feelings. Determine mutual expectations and come up with a workable plan to support you and each other.

• Learn to set boundaries. It you are trying to do everything it is time to stop and take a realistic look at what you can and cannot do. The word “no” is empowering.

• Stop trying to go it alone and seek outside support from area resources such as the local office on aging, your health care provider, your church or spiritual community or other family members who may be in a position to help.

• Learn to identify people or situations that trigger negative responses. Every time you feel the need to light a cigarette, grab a box of cookies or a bottle of liquor, make note of what is going on at the time. Eventually you will be able to identify patterns.

• Take a time out every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. This should be protected time when you can read, listen to music, exercise or do whatever you want without interruption.

• Treat yourself to a facial, massage or aroma therapy session as often as possible.

• Do some kind of exercise regularly, whether it is just a few minutes of walking or a full workout at a health club. Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga are wonderful ways to rejuvenate.

• Learn relaxation or stress management techniques such as meditation, biofeedback or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique).

Whatever you do, it is vitally important to find a healthy way to meet your physical and emotional needs. This will help keep you healthy and functioning efficiently throughout this demanding time in life. It won’t last forever!
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