Coping with stress as a caregiver, parent or partner

Taking care of yourself may seem like a selfish activity for a caregiver, but if you’re not feeling at your best, your mood can affect everyone around you, including your child.

Caring for someone with IBD isn’t easy and there may be times when you feel as if you’re struggling to help your child manage their condition, stay healthy, and become more independent. For any parent or carer, it’s normal to have times when you feel tired, worried or alone, and managing a long term condition like IBD can sometimes feel overwhelming. But the good news is that there’s help available and other people to share your experiences with via support groups.

We’re all different. Some people can handle setbacks and challenges without feeling overwhelmed, while others find it harder to deal everyday worries and frustrations. Recognising your symptoms of stress is the first step in reducing its harmful long term effects and improving your quality of life. However, if you ignore the signs and allow stress to take hold, it can affect your physical and mental health, as well as your ability to care for others.

So what are the signs that you may be overdoing it?

Stress, or feeling under pressure, can be a good thing when it’s properly managed, helping you to stay energised and focused. But if it begins to feel overwhelming, it can affect you physically, as well as how you think, feel, and behave. If stress is left unmanaged it can also make any existing health conditions worse. 

Signs that stress is not being well managed include:

  • Feeling tired/lethargic, but not sleeping very well
  • Night time sweating
  • Being unusually temperamental, impatient or irritable with others
  • More tearful
  • Lacking in focus/ability to concentrate
  • Forgetfulness
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Drug abuse, smoking (more)
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Recurring headaches, pain or dizzy spells
  • Finding it harder to relax

Taking action

Taking action to reduce your feelings of stress is important for your wellbeing. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), reducing stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your long term health.18 Unmanaged stress can lead to more serious health problems including heart disease, obesity and diabetes, cancer and ulcers. 

The APA quotes from a study that examined the link between feelings like happiness, joy, contentment and enthusiasm and the development of coronary heart disease. Researchers found that for every one-point increase in ‘feeling positive’ on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22%.

Enjoyable activities every day 

Not surprisingly, the researchers recommended boosting this positive effect by ‘making a little time for enjoyable activities every day’.  And, while researchers are still trying to conclusively prove that laughter lowers levels of stress, there’s no evidence that suggest it’s psychologically harmful. So there’s no harm in trying it…

Strategies advised by the American Psychological Association for reducing stress include:

  • Building strong relationships and maintaining personal ones
  • Resting your mind
  • Accepting help

Other suggestions that might give you a lift include:

  • Investing time in activities that mean something to you 
  • Focusing more time reflecting on the positive reasons you are a carer; the great values you are communicating to others through your choices; and the many benefits you are bringing to the child you are caring for
  • Stop worrying about the things you can’t control and work on those things you can, including how you could respond when you feel down
  • Celebrating your own efforts as a carer
  • Taking credit for things you have played a part in – including the health and wellbeing of others

Resting your mind

According to APA's 2012 Stress in America survey, stress keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night. A good night’s sleep is important, so if you’re lying awake at night worrying you could try some of these tactics:

  • Cutting back on the caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, especially in the evenings
  • Removing televisions, computers and mobile devices from your bedroom
  • Going to bed at the same time each night
  • Making sure your surroundings are comfortable, cool, dark and quiet
  • Spending some time relaxing before you go to bed – reading a book can be a good way to wind down
  • Taking regular exercise, preferably outside (but not just before bed)
  • Clearing your mind of any worries before you go to bed and resolving any lingering issues
  • Getting up at the same time each morning>
  • If you can’t sleep, try getting up and having a milky drink, reading, or listening to something relaxing for a while 
  • Keeping a sleep diary to record how much you slept/were awake and what disturbed your sleep

Accepting help

Asking for and/or accepting help from others can sometimes be difficult. You might worry that accepting help is a sign of weakness, that it will affect your self-confidence and make you feel incompetent or more dependent on other people. But it’s surprising how asking for help now and then, delegating some tasks to spread the load a bit more, and starting to accept help when it’s offered can make a big difference to how you feel.

Where to get help – support groups

Here you’ll find some useful links to IBD patient organisations.

There are also support organisations around the world dedicated to serving the needs of carers. These include:

Here you can find ideas about how best to help a child or young person with IBD.

18: American Psychological Association – How stress affects your health. Available at: Accessed 14 November 2016.

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