As a family caregiver, you’re the rock of your family: coolheaded, unshakable, and calm. No matter the situation, you preserve the sense of peace and solace your family member needs, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this is the image you have created for yourself, it is time to get real! The truth is, looking after someone you love is hard work that can take a toll on your mental health. On any given day, you may find yourself tossed from one emotion to the next – and this is absolutely common. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a great time to extend yourself some grace to fully grasp the emotional side of caregiving, and to discover ideas to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caring for Others
You might ask yourself how so many negative emotions can emerge from assisting someone you love so much. It’s possible you’ll try to suppress these feelings and hide them with false positivity. And you might grapple with guilt for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind related the person you love and the tasks required of you.
A good place to start is to recognize and validate the emotions you’re experiencing. If you do not address them, they’ll manifest in any number of harmful ways, like poor eating or sleeping habits, substance abuse, as well as caregiver burnout, physical illness, and depression.
Finding a baseline of your emotional outlook is a vital place to begin whenever you are having difficulties with the emotions of caregiving. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your typical emotional state? Are you generally a joyful, upbeat person? Or would you say you’ve got a more negative or cynical outlook on life? The answer to this question is key in helping you establish where you are as a caregiver. For instance, if you consider yourself a generally happy and outgoing person, yet you have been out lately with friends and have been feeling depressed, this could indicate an emotional change resulting from new caregiving obligations.
- When are emotions an issue? It is vital to understand that no emotion is good or bad. We all feel stressed or angry every once in a while, and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are finding that Mom’s Alzheimer’s-related behaviors are triggering you and causing you to become irritated with her, this might be an instance where your emotions are becoming an issue. It is important to recognize any emotional triggers you may have. Make note of any instances where you’ve felt exceedingly angry, aggressive, sad, etc. to the point of it being unhealthy for yourself or those around you.
- How well are you able to take control of your emotions? When a loved one with dementia no longer remembers you, it is devastating. Sorrow is a common emotion among caregivers, particularly those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of diseases like dementia. How you cope with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is important. Exercise and talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or clergy member are healthy outlets, whereas substance abuse and distancing yourself from others should be signs of concern.
- Which emotions surface when it comes to caregiving? Does caring for Dad trigger feelings of anger because of your past relationship? Does managing your personal life along with your loved one’s care make you feel stressed and exhausted every day? Have you been feeling guilty that you are not able to do it all? Understanding what you are feeling is the first step in managing your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
After you’ve taken stock of your emotional baseline and which emotions you’re having difficulties with, it’s important to find healthy strategies to manage these feelings. Try the coping strategies we’ve outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are some of the most common emotions that arise in caregiving, and if you are not mindful, can cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to catch these feelings as soon as possible, before they have the opportunity to get out of hand, and give yourself time to cool down. This may mean taking a few minutes for deep breathing, scribbling a few choice words in a private journal, or turning on some calming music that you enjoy. Have a trusted friend or member of the family that you can vent to when you have the chance to step away from your caregiving responsibilities, or schedule ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Resentment and boredom. You might feel as if you’re stuck at home all the time, particularly if you are taking care of a person with health issues that limit the ability to go out. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it’s natural to wish for the independence to go for a run, window-shop at the mall, or head out to lunch with a good friend. It’s important to balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Try to work out a rotating schedule with other members of the family and friends to let you take time for yourself, or partner with a home health care agency like Compassionate Nursing Services, a trusted Town and Country care agency, for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might seem to take a very long time to complete even the simplest tasks. Or, they may refuse to cooperate with getting dressed and ready for the day in the timeframe you need to make it to a medical appointment or other planned outing. If you are feeling frustrated and impatient in scenarios like these, it is time for you to reassess how each day is structured. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a person who requires more time in the morning. Begin factoring in added time between activities to enable the individual to go at their own speed. And again, find a healthy outlet that enables you to let go of these feelings to prevent carrying them over from one day to another.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A person with Alzheimer’s disease in particular might not act, speak, dress, or even smell in accordance with social norms. They might scream obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for several days in a row, refuse to bathe on a regular basis, or numerous other upsetting behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is a normal response, which could then result in feelings of guilt. It could be helpful to create small business-card-sized note cards that say something like, “My mother has dementia and is unable to control her behaviors.” You can quietly give them to an individual who seems taken aback by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The simplest way to deal with difficult emotions as a caregiver is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Compassionate Nursing Services, a dedicated Town and Country care agency with services throughout the surrounding area. Our in-home care professionals are fully trained and experienced in all areas of home care, and can help you achieve the healthy life balance you need. Contact us at 314-432-4312 to learn more!