As a provide of care to a loved one, you’re the rock of your family: cool, composed, and in control. No matter what the circumstances, you exude the sense of peace and solace your family member requires – supportive, never wavering, and always strong. Right?
If this is the image you have created for yourself, it is time to get real! The fact is, caring for an older adult you love is hard work that may take a toll on your mental health. On any given day, you could find yourself tossed from one emotion to another – and this is completely natural. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a great time to show yourself some grace to fully grasp the many caregiver feelings you may well be dealing with, and to learn tips to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caregiving
You may ask yourself how so many negative emotions can come from assisting an individual you love so much. You may try to bottle up these feelings and mask them with false positivity. And you may struggle with shame for even entertaining some of the thoughts that cross your mind regarding the individual you love and the responsibilities required of you.
A good place to start is to recognize and validate the emotions you’re experiencing. If you refuse to address them, they’ll show up in any number of harmful ways, including poor eating or sleeping routines, substance abuse, and even physical illness, depression, or caregiver burnout.
Obtaining a baseline of your frame of mind is a vital place to begin when you are having difficulties with the emotions of caring for others. Consider the following questions:
- What is your primary emotional state? Are you generally a happy, upbeat person? Or would you say you’ve got a more negative or cynical perspective? The answer to this question is key in helping you figure out where you stand as a caregiver. For instance, if you consider yourself a typically happy and extroverted person, yet you’ve not gotten together with friends in a while and have been feeling depressed, this could suggest an emotional change due to new caregiving duties.
- When are emotions an issue? It is important to keep in mind that no emotion is good or bad. All of us feel stressed or angry from time to time and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are finding that Mom’s Alzheimer’s-related behaviors are triggering you and leading you to lash out at her, this might be a case where your emotions have become problematic. It’s important to understand any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any circumstances where you’ve felt overly 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 a family member 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 dementia. How you deal with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is extremely important. Exercise and talking to a dependable counselor, clergy member, or friend are healthy ways to channel your emotions, whereas drinking and isolating 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 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? Knowing what you are feeling is the first step in coping with your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
When you’ve taken stock of your emotional baseline and which emotions you have been struggling with, it is important to find healthy ways to manage these feelings. Try the coping mechanisms we’ve outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are two of the most common emotions that manifest in caregiving, and if you are not mindful, can cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to notice these feelings as quickly as possible, before they have an opportunity to boil over, and give yourself time to relax. This may mean taking a few minutes for meditation, writing a few choice words in a personal journal, or turning 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 chance to step away from your caregiving responsibilities, or schedule ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Boredom and resentment. You might feel like you are stuck at home day in and day out, particularly if you are providing care for a senior with health issues that reduce the ability to leave the house. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it’s normal to wish for the independence to go for a walk, window-shop at the mall, or venture out to lunch with a friend. It is 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 let you devote some time to yourself, or partner with a senior care agency like Home With You Senior Care, a provider of Hampstead home health care and senior care services throughout the surrounding areas, for respite care.
- Impatience and irritability. The older adult might appear to take forever to perform even the most straight-forward tasks. Or, they might resist getting dressed and ready for the day in the time frame you need to make it to a doctor’s appointment or other planned outing. If you’re feeling frustrated and impatient in situations such as these, it’s time to reassess how each day is organized. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a person who needs additional time in the morning. Begin factoring in extra time between activities to allow the senior to move at their own speed. 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 another.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A person with dementia in particular may not speak, act, dress, or even smell in accordance with social norms. They may yell out obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for several days in a row, decline to shower on a regular basis, or a variety of other uncomfortable behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is a natural reaction, which can then result in feeling guilty. It may be helpful to make small business-card-sized note cards that say something like, “My loved one has dementia and is unable to manage her behaviors.” You can quietly give them to anyone who seems shocked by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The easiest way to cope with difficult emotions in caregiving is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Home With You Senior Care’s experts in Hampstead home health care. Our caregivers are fully trained and experienced in all aspects of senior care, and can partner with you to help you to obtain the healthy life balance you need. Reach out to us at 410-756-0959 to find out more! Visit our Locations Served page to view a full list of the communities where we provide care.