Caring Currents

Secret Cure for Deadly Stress: Taking the Team Approach

Last updated: May 27, 2010

Image by Finsec used under the creative commons attribution license.

Recently I went to a workshop on stress and health, and it was scary. Doctors have begun to take stress seriously as the trigger for many serious health concerns. In fact, the medical profession now considers stress a primary contributor to:

"¢ Back Pain
"¢ Headaches
Heart Disease
"¢ Stroke

Research also documents a strong connection between stress and cancer. Even more convincing, stress can make the difference between surviving cancer -- and not. Studies have found, for example, that women who suffer from stress are more likely to develop a recurrence of breast cancer.

But there's a problem. When doctors tell us we need to reduce the stress in our lives, we roll our eyes. We're doing too much, thanks for telling us, but what's to be done? We have family members who need us, money to be earned, a house to keep, so much work to be done.

Turns out, though, that there's a fairly simple step we can take to relieve stress. It has to do with how we perceive ourselves: Are we alone in this situation, condemned to rely solely on ourselves? Or are there people behind us, supporting us, people we can call on?

Taking the Team Approach to Stress Relief

The secret to stress relief, these stress experts say, is learning to think of ourselves as part of a team. That means learning to ask for help. But even more than that, it's changing our mindset; we need to learn to expect help, to accept help as our due. As a corollary, we need to learn not to expect ourselves to do it all.

Back to the team metaphor. If you play forward on a basketball team, you wouldn't expect yourself to be all over the court, right? It's your job to stay near the basket. And you wouldn't hesitate to ask the point guard to do her job, would you? It's not a favor she's doing you, she's simply fulfilling her role.

Learning to think this way is really important for combating stress, experts say, because it's a way to define and control your expectations. Establish what you can expect from yourself and what you can expect from others, the thinking goes, and you can let go of the responsibilities that aren't yours.

Use the team mindset as much as possible in your work, at home, and in your role as a caregiver, and you take away the power of that voice we all have in our heads that makes us feel like we're supposed to do it all. Best of all, it takes away the power of guilt, that sabotaging emotion. How can we feel guilty when they're simply fulfilling their roles on the team, and we're fulfilling ours?

This team approach can be very empowering. Think of yourself as the coach: Which players are you going to choose for your team? This goes for the medical team; you call the shots in terms of choosing medical professionals to work with and adding new team members when you need them. It also applies to families. Everyone on the family team should have a role, based on what they can best contribute -- even those who are helping long-distance. And hey -- if someone's not doing their part, it pulls everyone else down. So bench them -- or throw them off the team altogether.

The caregivers I hear from talk a lot about family members not pulling their weight. That's not okay. It's time for some straight talk - are they on or off the team? If they're on the team, what are they going to contribute?

And no feeling guilty when you ask. Remember, they're on the team; it's perfectly reasonable to expect them to play their position.