As a family member caring for a loved one, you’re the rock of your family: cool, composed, and in control. No matter what the circumstances, you retain the feeling of peace and comfort your family member requires– supportive, never wavering, and always strong. Right?
If this describes the image you’ve created for yourself, it is time to get real! The truth is, caring for an aging parent or loved one is hard work that can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. On any given day, you might find yourself bouncing from one emotion to the next – and this is completely natural. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a good time to extend yourself some grace to better understand the numerous emotions you might be dealing with, and to learn tips to help.
The Emotional Journey of Caregiving
You may ask yourself how so many negative emotions can crop up from helping a person you love so much. You may attempt to bottle up these feelings and cover them with fake positivity. And you might grapple with guilt for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind related to the individual you love and the tasks required of you.
A good place to start is to acknowledge and validate the feelings you are having. If you don’t address them, they can show up in any number of harmful ways, like poor sleeping or eating routines, substance abuse, and in some cases physical illness, depression, or caregiver burnout.
Getting a baseline of your state of mind is a vital starting place when you are having difficulties with the emotions of being a caregiver. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your primary emotional state? Are you, generally speaking, a happy, positive person? Or would you say you’ve got a more negative or cynical outlook on life? The answer to this question is essential in helping you ascertain where you are as a family caregiver. For instance, if you consider yourself a usually happy and extroverted person, yet you have not seen friends in a while and have been feeling depressed, this may suggest an emotional change due to new caregiving obligations.
- When are emotions an issue? It is important to remember that no emotion is good or bad. We all feel mad or stressed out every once in a while, and that is healthy and normal. However, if you’re finding that Mom’s dementia-related behaviors are triggering you and causing you to become irritated with her, this might be a case where your emotions have become problematic. It is important to be aware of any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any occasions where you’ve felt exceedingly aggressive, sad, angry, etc. to the point of it being unhealthy for yourself or others.
- How well are you able to take control of your emotions? When someone you care about with dementia no longer remembers you, it is heartbreaking. Sorrow is a common emotion among caregivers, especially those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of conditions like dementia. The method that you use to deal with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is important. Exercise and talking to a reliable counselor, clergy member, or friend are healthy outlets, while substance abuse and distancing yourself from others should be signs of concern.
- Which emotions surface when it comes to caregiving? Does looking after Dad trigger feelings of anger because of your past relationship? Does managing your personal life and your loved one’s care leave you stressed and exhausted each day? Have you been feeling guilty that you are not able to do it all? Understanding what you’re feeling is the first step in coping with your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
After you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you are having difficulties with, it’s important to find healthy methods to manage these feelings. Try the coping strategies we’ve outlined below.
- Frustration and anger. These are two of the most common emotions that arise in caregiving, and if you’re not mindful, could cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to catch these feelings quickly, before they have a chance to get out of hand, and give yourself a time-out to relax. This may mean taking a few minutes for meditation, writing a few choice words in a personal journal, or putting on some calming music that you like. Have a trusted friend or member of the family that you can vent to once you have the opportunity to step away from your caregiving responsibilities, or set up ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Boredom and resentment. You may feel as if you are stuck at home all the time, especially if you are caring for an aging parent with health concerns that reduce the ability to leave the house. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it is normal to wish for the freedom to go for a run, window-shop at the mall, or head out to lunch with a good friend. It’s vital that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Attempt 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 care agency like Abby Senior Care, a dedicated provider of home care in Greenwood Village, CO and the nearby areas, for respite care.
- Impatience and irritability. The older adult might appear to take forever to perform even the most basic tasks. Or, they may refuse to cooperate with getting dressed and ready for the day in the time you need to make it to a medical appointment or other planned outing. If you’re feeling irritated and impatient in situations such as these, it is time to reassess how each day is organized. Schedule medical appointments for later in the day for a person who requires extra time in the morning. Start factoring in extra time between activities to enable the senior to move at their own pace. And again, find a healthy outlet that allows you to release these feelings in order to avoid carrying them over from one day to the next.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A person with dementia in particular may not act, speak, dress, or even smell in accordance with societal norms. They might yell out obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for several days in a row, refuse to shower on a regular basis, or a variety of other uncomfortable behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is an understandable reaction, which can then result in feelings of guilt. It can be helpful to create small business-card-sized note cards that say something like, “My father has dementia and is not able to manage his behaviors.” You can quietly hand them to somebody who seems shocked by the behaviors, such as in a restaurant, the library, doctor’s waiting room, etc.
The easiest way to deal with difficult emotions as a caregiver is by sharing care with a trusted source, like Abby Senior Care, a provider of home care in Greenwood Village, CO and the surrounding communities. Our caregivers are fully trained and experienced in all areas of senior care, and can partner with you to help you to obtain the healthy life balance you need. Reach out to us at 303-699-8840 for more information!