As a someone who provides care to others, you’re the rock of the family: in control, cool, and composed. Whatever the situation, you maintain the feeling of calm and warmth your family member requires, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this describes the impression you’ve created for yourself, it is time for a reality check! The truth is, providing care for an older loved one is hard work that may impact your mental health. On any given day, you may find yourself tossed from one emotion to the next – and this is perfectly normal. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a good time to extend yourself some grace, to better understand the many emotions you may be experiencing, and to discover emotional management strategies to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caregiving
You may contemplate how so many negative emotions can arise from helping an individual you love so much. You may attempt to suppress these feelings and mask them with false positivity. And you may grapple with shame for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind related to the person 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 materialize in any number of destructive ways, such as 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 begin when you are struggling with the emotions of caring for others. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your primary emotional state? Are you generally a joyful, positive person? Or do you have a more negative or cynical outlook on life? The answer to this question is key in helping you figure out where you are as a caregiver. For instance, if you consider yourself a generally happy and outgoing person, yet you have not seen friends lately and have been feeling depressed, this might indicate an emotional change resulting from new caregiving responsibilities.
- When are emotions a “problem”? 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 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 an instance where your emotions have become an issue. It’s important to be aware of any emotional triggers you have. Make note of any situations where you’ve felt excessively aggressive, sad, angry, etc. to the point of it being unhealthy for yourself or others.
- How well can you control your emotions? When someone you care about with dementia no longer remembers you, it is devastating. Sorrow is a common feeling among caregivers, particularly those whose loved ones are in the advanced stages of conditions like dementia. The manner in which 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 outlets, while drinking and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which feelings surface when it comes to caregiving? Does caring for Dad trigger feelings of anger due to your past relationship? Does balancing your personal life and your loved one’s care leave you stressed and exhausted each day? Are you feeling guilty that you cannot do it all? Knowing what you’re feeling is the first step in coping with your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers?
Once you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you are struggling with, it’s important to find healthy ways to regulate these feelings. Try the coping strategies we have outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are some of the most common emotions that manifest in caregiving, and if you’re not mindful, can cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to catch these feelings quickly, before they have the chance to boil over, and give yourself a break to cool down. This may mean taking a few moments for deep breathing, scribbling a few choice words in a personal journal, or putting on some calming music that you enjoy. Have a trusted friend or relative that you can vent to once you have the opportunity to step away from your caregiving tasks, or set up ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Resentment and boredom. You might feel as though you’re stuck at home day in and day out, especially if you are taking care of a senior with health concerns that limit the ability to go out. No matter 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 head out to lunch with a good friend. It’s important to 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 time for yourself, or partner with a senior care agency like Morning Glory Home Care for respite care.
- Impatience and irritability. The older adult might appear to take forever to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Or, they might refuse to cooperate with getting dressed and ready for the day within the time you need to make it to a medical appointment or other planned outing. If you’re feeling frustrated and impatient in scenarios like these, it’s time to reevaluate how each day is organized. Schedule medical appointments for later in the day for a senior who requires more time to get ready in the morning. Begin factoring in additional 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 another.
- Guilt and embarrassment. A person with Alzheimer’s disease in particular might not speak, act, dress, or even smell according to societal norms. Some may yell out obscenities, speak without a filter, insist on wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for several days in a row, decline to bathe on a regular basis, or any number of other upsetting behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is an understandable reaction, which may then result in feelings of guilt. It can be helpful to create small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My parent has dementia and is struggling to control her behaviors.” You can quietly give them to a person who seems shocked by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The best way to deal with difficult emotions as a caregiver is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Morning Glory Home Care, a trusted provider of Highland home care. Our care providers are fully trained and experienced in all areas of senior care, and can partner with you to help you to achieve the healthy life balance you need. Contact us at 618-667-8400 to learn more! To view a full list of the communities we serve, visit our Service Area page.