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Managing Tension in 76 Seconds? Is it Possible?

As care providers, would you agree that there can be days filled with tension? Much of the tension is derived from the circumstances such as being a caregiver for a family member with schizophrenia who is refusing to take medication or for a spouse with dementia at risk of becoming aggressive, or for a family member who has MS with extremely high care demands. Professional care providers feel the tension working under difficult conditions when there is a staff shortage and care repients with high care needs. Some professionals performing double duty also providing care for family members at home.

There are many ways that the tension can play out. Emotionally, there is sadness, frustration, anger, irritability, etc. that can bring people to tears. Behavior may include social withdrawal, overeating, verbal or physical aggression.

The tension we are reactive to creates changes in our bodies. In his article How to Manage Stress in 76 Seconds, Dr. Joel Khan shares an instantly calming 4-7-8 breathing sequence. The technique shifts the autonomic nervous system away from the sympathetic predominance (displayed under stress when hearts race and palms are sweaty) allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over thus managing stress.

Like Dr. Joel Khan, medical doctors are most likely to acknowledge and assess caregivers presenting with the above symptoms of distress as stress or depression. Often what gets overlooked is acknowledging and assessing the link between the presenting symptoms and the losses that family members experience stemming from the chronic illness.. There are many losses that caregivers experience with the grief reactions presenting similarly to depression and stress. Consequently, not only does the grief get overlooked but so do the losses.

Regardless of whether it is called grief, stress or depression - it is important to alleviate the emotional turmoil so it is worth trying out different techniques to find what fits for you. The directions for the 4-7-8 breathing sequence as outlined in the article goes as follows:

  • Sit up straight in a chair.

  • Place the tip of your tongue up against the roof of your mouth. Keep it there through the entire breathing process.

  • Breathe in silently through your nose to the slow count of 4.

  • Hold your breath to the count of 7.

  • Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making a slight audible sound.

  • Repeat the 4-7-8 cycle another three times, for a total of four breathing exercises.

More information on caregiver selfcare, the benefits and means of acknowledging the losses, assessing the impact and assisting in moving forward with strength can be found in my book Caregiving with Strength.

For a book preview and access to other services

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