As a family caregiver, you’re the rock of your family: cool, composed, and in control. Regardless of the situation, you maintain the feeling of peace and solace your family member needs, always strong, supportive, and never wavering. Right?
If this is the impression you’ve created for yourself, it is time to get real! The reality is, caring for an aging parent is hard work that can impact your mental health. On any given day, you might find yourself ricocheting from one emotion to another – and this is completely normal. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a great time to extend yourself some grace, to fully grasp the numerous emotions you may be dealing with, and to learn tips to help with managing emotions.
The Emotional Journey of Caregiving
You may ask yourself how so many negative emotions can crop up from serving a person you love so much. You may attempt to suppress these feelings and hide them with false positivity. And you might suffer from shame for even entertaining some of the thoughts that cross your mind related to the person you love and the duties required of you.
A good place to start would be to recognize and validate the emotions you’re experiencing. If you don’t address them, they can manifest in any number of harmful ways, including poor sleeping or eating habits, substance abuse, and in some cases depression, caregiver burnout, and physical illness.
Obtaining a baseline of your state of mind is a vital starting point whenever you are trying to cope with the emotions of being a caregiver. Consider the following questions:
- What is your usual emotional state? Are you, generally speaking, a joyful, positive person? Or do you have a more negative or cynical outlook on life? The answer to this question is important in helping you ascertain where you are as a caregiver. For example, 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 low, this may suggest an emotional change brought on by new caregiving duties.
- When are emotions a “problem”? It is important to remember that no emotion is good or bad. We all feel mad or stressed out now and again and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are discovering that Mom’s Alzheimer’s-related behaviors are triggering you and making you become irritated with her, this could be a case where your emotions have become problematic. It’s important to recognize any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any occasions where you’ve felt exceedingly angry, aggressive, sad, etc. to the point of it not being healthy for yourself or others.
- How well are you able to control your emotions? When a family member with dementia no longer remembers you, it is heartbreaking. Sadness is a common feeling 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 trusted friend, counselor, or clergy member are healthy outlets, while substance abuse and distancing yourself from others should be signs of concern.
- Which feelings surface when it comes to caregiving? Does caring for Dad trigger feelings of anger because of your past relationship? Does managing your personal life along with your loved one’s care make you feel stressed and exhausted every 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 dealing with your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers?
When you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you are struggling with, it is important to find healthy ways to manage these feelings. Try the coping strategies we’ve outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are some 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 an opportunity to get out of hand, and give yourself a break to relax. This may mean taking a few minutes for deep breathing, scribbling a few choice words in a personal journal, or putting on some calming music that you like. Have a trusted friend or family member that you can vent to when you have the opportunity to step away from your caregiving responsibilities, or schedule ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Resentment and boredom. You might feel like you are stuck at home all the time, particularly when you’re taking care of a senior with health issues that reduce the ability to go out. 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 head out to lunch with a good friend. It is crucial that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Attempt to work out a rotating schedule with other family members and friends to allow you to take time for yourself, or partner with a senior care agency like Live Free Home Health Care for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might seem to take a very long time to accomplish even the most straight-forward tasks. Or, they may resist getting dressed and ready for the day in the time frame you need to make it to a medical appointment or other planned outing. If you are feeling agitated and impatient in situations like these, it is time for you to reassess how each day is organized. Schedule medical appointments for later in the day for a person who needs extra time in the morning. Begin factoring in additional 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 the next.
- Guilt and embarrassment. A senior with dementia in particular may not act, speak, dress, or even smell according to social norms. Some may scream obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for several days in a row, decline to bathe on a regular basis, or a variety of other upsetting behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is a normal reaction, that may then result in feelings of guilt. It could be helpful to make small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My father has dementia and is struggling to control his behaviors.” You can discreetly give them to a person who seems surprised 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 Live Free Home Health Care’s experts in Bristol home health services. Our senior care professionals 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 deserve. Reach out to us at 603-217-0149 to find out more! Visit our Service Area  page for a full list of the communities we serve.