As someone who provides care to a loved one, you are the rock of your family: cool, composed, and in control. No matter what the circumstances, you uphold the feeling of peace and warmth your family member requires, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this describes the image you’ve created for yourself, it’s time to get real! The truth is, caring for someone you love is hard work which can take a toll on your mental wellness. On any given day, you might find yourself bouncing from one emotion to another – and this is absolutely normal. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a good time to extend yourself some grace, to fully grasp the many emotions you may be dealing with, and to learn tips to help.
The Emotional Journey of Caregiving
Perhaps you’re wondering how so many negative emotions can crop up from serving an individual you love so much. It’s possible you’ll try to bottle up these feelings and mask them with false positivity. And you might suffer from shame for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind about the senior you love and the duties 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 materialize in any number of unhealthy ways, including poor eating or sleeping routines, substance abuse, physical illness, depression, or caregiver burnout.
Getting a baseline of your frame of mind is an important starting point when you’re struggling with the emotions of being a caregiver. Consider the following questions:
- What is your usual emotional state? Are you typically a happy, positive person? Or would you say you’ve got a more negative or cynical mindset? The answer to this question is important in helping you determine where you stand as a caregiver. For instance, if you consider yourself a generally happy and extroverted person, yet you’ve not gotten together with friends lately and have been feeling down, this could suggest an emotional change resulting from new caregiving duties.
- When are emotions an issue? It’s important to understand that no emotion is good or bad. All of us feel mad or stressed out every once in a while, and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are discovering that Mom’s dementia-related behaviors are triggering you and making you lash out at her, this could be a case where your emotions have become a problem. It is important to recognize any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any circumstances in which you’ve felt exceedingly angry, aggressive, sad, etc. to the point of it not being healthy 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 heartbreaking. Sorrow is a common emotion among caregivers, particularly 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, whereas substance abuse and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which emotions surface when it comes to caregiving? Does taking care of 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 each 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 dealing with your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers?
When you’ve taken stock of your emotional baseline and which emotions you are having difficulties with, it’s important to find healthy strategies to regulate these feelings. Try the coping mechanisms we’ve outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are some of the most common emotions that arise in caregiving, and if you’re not careful, may cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to detect these feelings quickly, before they have a chance to boil over, and give yourself a moment to calm down. This may mean taking a few moments for deep breathing, scribbling a few choice words in a private journal, or putting on some soothing music that you like. Have a trusted friend or relative that you can vent to once you have the chance to step away from your caregiving tasks, or set up ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Boredom and resentment. You might feel like you’re stuck at home all the time, particularly if you are looking after a senior with health issues that minimize the ability to leave the house. No matter how many fun activities you plan together, it’s natural to wish for the flexibility to go for a walk, window-shop at the mall, or head out to lunch with a good friend. It is vital that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Try to work out a rotating schedule with other loved ones and friends to allow you to take some time for yourself, or partner with a home health care agency like Absolute Companion Care, a provider of home health care in Towson, MD and the surrounding areas, for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might appear to take a very long time to accomplish even the most basic 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 doctor’s appointment or other scheduled outing. If you are feeling agitated and impatient in scenarios such as these, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate how each day is organized. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a senior who requires additional time in the morning. Start factoring in added time between activities to enable the senior to go at their own pace. And again, find a healthy outlet that enables you to let go of these feelings in order to avoid carrying them over from one day to the next.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A senior with Alzheimer’s disease in particular may not act, speak, dress, or even smell in line with social norms. Some may scream obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) clothes for days in a row, refuse to shower on a regular basis, or any number of other upsetting behaviors. Feeling uncomfortable when around others is an understandable reaction, which may then lead to feeling guilty. It could be helpful to create small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My parent has dementia and is unable to manage her behaviors.” You can discreetly hand them to anyone who seems shocked by the behaviors, such as in a restaurant, the library, doctor’s waiting room, etc.
The best way to deal with difficult emotions in caregiving is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Absolute Companion Care, a trusted provider of home health care in Towson, MD and the nearby areas. Our caregivers are fully trained and experienced in all facets of senior care, and can partner with you to allow you to obtain the healthy life balance you need. Call us at 410-357-9640 to learn more!