As a family caregiver, it often feels like you have to be the rock of the family: cool, composed, and in control. No matter what the situation, you maintain the sense of peace and warmth your family member requires, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this is the image you have created for yourself, it is time for a reality check! The truth is, taking care of someone you love is hard work that may take a toll on your mental wellbeing. On any given day, you might find yourself ricocheting from one emotion to the next – and this is completely normal. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the perfect time to show yourself some grace to better understand the numerous emotions you might be dealing with, and to identify strategies to help.
The Emotional Journey of Caring for Others
Perhaps you wonder how so many negative emotions can come about from helping someone you love so much. You may attempt to suppress these feelings and hide them with fake positivity. And you might grapple with shame for even entertaining some of the thoughts that cross your mind related to the senior you love and the tasks required of you.
A good place to start is to identify and validate the feelings you’re having. If you don’t address them, they’ll show up in any number of unhealthy ways, like poor eating or sleeping routines, substance abuse, and in some cases depression, caregiver burnout, and physical illness.
Getting a baseline of your frame of mind is an important place to start when you’re struggling with the emotions of caregiving. Think about the following questions:
- What is your usual emotional state? Are you generally a happy, positive person? Or do you have a more negative or cynical outlook on life? The answer to this question is important in helping you determine where you stand as a caregiver. For example, if you consider yourself a typically happy and outgoing person, yet you have not seen friends in a while and have been feeling depressed, this could indicate an emotional change resulting from new caregiving responsibilities.
- When are emotions a “problem”? It’s important to understand that no emotion is good or bad. All of us feel mad or stressed out from time to time and that is healthy and normal. However, if you’re discovering that Mom’s Alzheimer’s-related behaviors are triggering you and causing you to lash out at her, this could be a case where your emotions have become a problem. It’s important to recognize any emotional triggers you have. Make note of any instances in which you’ve felt exceedingly aggressive, sad, angry, etc. to the point of it not being healthy for yourself or those around you.
- How well can you control your emotions? When a loved one with dementia no longer remembers you, it is devastating. Sorrow is a common emotion among caregivers, especially those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The method that you use to deal with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is important. Exercise and talking to a dependable counselor, clergy member, or friend are healthy outlets, while substance abuse and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which feelings arise when it comes to caregiving? Does caring for Dad trigger feelings of anger because of your past relationship? Does managing your personal life as well as your loved one’s care make you feel stressed and exhausted on a daily basis? Have you been feeling guilty that you cannot do it all? Understanding what you’re feeling is the first step in managing your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers?
When you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you have been struggling with, it is important to find healthy strategies to regulate these feelings. Try the coping strategies we have outlined below.
- Frustration and anger. These are two of the most common emotions that manifest in caregiving, and if you are not mindful, may cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to notice these feelings as quickly as possible, before they have a chance to get out of hand, and give yourself a break to cool off. This may mean taking a few moments 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 opportunity to step away from your caregiving tasks, or schedule ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Boredom and resentment. You might feel as though you are stuck at home day in and day out, particularly when you’re taking care of a senior with health issues that restrict the ability to leave the house. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it’s natural to wish for the freedom to go for a run, window-shop at the mall, or go out to lunch with a good friend. It is vital that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Attempt to work out a rotating schedule with other members of the family and friends to allow you to devote some time to yourself, or partner with a home health care agency like At-Home Care Company, a trusted provider of independent living home care in Ames, IA and the nearby areas, for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might appear to take a very long time to complete even the most basic tasks. Or, they might resist getting dressed and ready for the day in the timeframe you need to make it to a medical appointment or other scheduled outing. If you’re feeling frustrated and impatient in situations like these, it is an opportunity to reassess how each day is structured. Schedule medical appointments for later in the day for a senior who needs additional time in the morning. Start factoring in extra time between activities to allow the senior to move at their own pace. And again, find a healthy outlet that enables you to unleash these feelings in order to avoid carrying them over from one day to another.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A person with dementia in particular might not act, speak, dress, or even smell in accordance with social norms. Some may scream obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) clothes for days in a row, decline to shower on a regular basis, or any number of other upsetting behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is a normal response, which could then result in feelings of guilt. It may be helpful to make small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My parent has dementia and is unable to control her behaviors.” You can quietly hand them to an individual who seems surprised by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The easiest way to overcome difficult emotions as a caregiver is by sharing care with a dependable source, like At-Home Care Company, a provider of independent living home care in Ames, IA and the surrounding communities. Our senior care professionals are fully trained and experienced in all aspects of older adult care, and can partner with you to allow you to obtain the healthy life balance you deserve. Reach out to us at 515-292-2650 to learn more!