Right on the edge? Close to losing control?

by Tricia Hendry

Steps to take when stress is extreme and you’re struggling to cope.

The journey of family, whanau and aiga carers can be extraordinarily demanding. At times, strong emotions can build up and up and become hard to manage. We all have different stress thresholds and ways of coping. We all have limits. In those moments when we feel we might lose control, and do or say something harmful, what can we choose to do? The following suggestions come from family carers who have ‘been there’.

“Some days can suddenly get just too hard, too frustrating, too much.
I’ve learned from experience that that’s the moment that I have choices to make,

before I react badly in ways I later regret.” Peter

Look out for the warning signs. Notice the choices you’re making, words you’re using, the thoughts and emotions you’re having, and how your body is reacting. Notice if…
▫ You snap at others more often – more things irritate you
▫ Your body feels tight and tense, or shaky, or deeply fatigued
▫ It’s harder to unwind and relax at all – you’re constantly on edge
▫ Your sense of humour is hard to find – your mood is getting more negative
▫ Relationships are becoming more strained – there’s more arguing
▫ You’re using more alcohol or drugs
▫ You can’t think straight – you are struggling with even the smallest decisions.

Recognise your triggers – those things that wind you up fast. When they happen, you’ll be more ready to say to yourself something like, “Okay, I recognise this feeling, and know I might lose control soon. It’s time to stop and take some time to calm myself down.” Then do that.

“When I realised what really wound me up the fastest, I could see what was happening to me
and take action to stop myself exploding. I felt more in control again.” Ana

Slowly count to 10 or more. This shifts your focus onto something else, helps you calm down, and avoids you doing or saying something you’ll regret. Or try counting backwards or in another language.
Take some slow, deep breaths – in through your nose, and slowly out through your mouth. Don’t rush it. Breathe deeply until you feel yourself calming down. Breathe out your tension or anger.
Talk to yourself to calm yourself down. “It’s okay. Let it go. Take a breath. You can do this. There is no hurry.”
Leave the situation. Ensure the person you care for is in a safe place and deliberately walk away for a time, until you can steady yourself. Go to another room or get outside. Take a break.
Express your frustrations to others, calmly and directly. Sometimes it helps to honestly get things off your chest. For example, “You know, I’m so stressed that I can’t do this with you right now, so I’m going to take some time out for a few minutes until I calm down” or “I’m so tired and frustrated, I need to stop and rest”.
Talk to someone you trust – or message them for immediate support or to distract you until you can calm down.
Release your tensions physically. Take a walk, throw or kick a ball, punch a pillow or a cushion, dance, stretch, do some exercises, clench and open your fists, stamp on the spot. Keep yourself and anyone else near you safe.

If you’re battling with something, just stop. Go back a few steps. Slow everything down. Breathe. Leave it or come back to it later when you feel more in control.
Refocus. Give your attention to something else something that can distract and calm you.
Make a positive decision that immediately encourages you – like switching to doing something completely different, or easier, or more enjoyable. Or decide to find some help to get some respite as soon as possible.
Keep cool. Splash some cold water on your face, have a cool glass of water, breathe in some fresh air, walk outside, or have a quick cool shower. Colder temperatures can help reset how we’re feeling and thinking.
Use your sense of humour to see if there’s a funny side to the situation, even if others can’t see it.
Find a quiet space. Close your eyes. Tense your body, then gradually relax it, bit by bit, from top to toe.
Use good music to calm you, distract you, or lift your mood.
Write it out. Put thoughts and feelings into words. You don’t have to share it with anyone. Just get them out.
Visualise. To calm down, imagine yourself in a favourite place or somewhere you’d like to be right now.
Forgive yourself. No one is perfect. If you get overwhelmed or lose your temper, remember you’re only human.
Don’t beat yourself up for having understandable, normal reactions to extreme stress. Find some positive and safe ways to deal with such moments in the future. Focus on what you can control, such as your perspective, attitude, and actions. Apologise if you need to. Hit the restart button. Let go of the guilt.
Do you need help for your own behaviour? Are your actions or words harming the person your provide care for?
▫ Contact the supportive team at Family Violence Information Line on 0800 456 450 (9am – 11pm every day)
for self-help information and services in your area who could help you make positive changes.
▫ Arrange to see a counsellor – see here
Take your self-care VERY seriously.
For self-care strategies that can work for you, see our helpful article We Are Not Machines at www.carers.net.nz, or contact Carers NZ on 0800 777 797.
If you are concerned for your mental or physical health, prioritise getting the help and support you deserve and need. Read about preventing carer burnout here
If you feel increasingly desperate…
▫ Reach out to a friend or family whānau member for support – be honest with them
▫ Contact the support team at Carers NZ on 0800 777 797 in normal business hours
▫ Use the 1737 helpline (24/7) for support or other helplines. See here.
▫ Contact your doctor
▫ See a counsellor
If you need to find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist, go to Mental Health Services
If you are having ongoing suicidal thoughts and feel at immediate risk of harm – call 111 or go to your nearest health emergency centre for care and support.

For tips and useful links on dealing with Covid-related stress, you may find this resource helpful.

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash