As a family caregiver, it often feels like you have to be the rock of the family: calm, composed, and in control. Whatever the situation, you retain the sense of peace and warmth your family member needs, always strong, supportive, and never wavering. Right?
If this describes the image you have created for yourself, it is time for a reality check! The truth is, taking care of elderly parents is hard work that may impact your mental wellbeing. On any given day, you might find yourself tossed from one emotion to another – and this is absolutely normal. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the perfect time to extend yourself some grace, to better understand some of the many emotions you may well be facing, and to learn tips to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caring for Others
You may wonder how so many negative emotions can develop from serving a person you love so much. Perhaps you may try to bottle up these feelings and hide them with fake positivity. And you might grapple with guilt for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind about the senior you love and the responsibilities required of you.
Step one is to acknowledge and validate the feelings you’re experiencing. If you refuse to address them, they can materialize in any number of unhealthy ways, such as poor sleeping or eating routines, substance abuse, and even caregiver burnout, physical illness, and depression.
Obtaining a baseline of your state of mind is an important place to begin whenever you are trying to cope with the emotions of being a caregiver. Think about the following questions:
- What is your typical emotional state is? Are you usually a joyful, positive person? Or would you say you’ve got a more negative or cynical mindset? 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 typically happy and outgoing person, yet you’ve not gotten together with friends lately and have been feeling low, this might indicate an emotional change brought on by new caregiving obligations.
- When are emotions an issue? It’s important to remember that no emotion is good or bad. All of us feel stressed or angry from time to time and that is healthy and normal. However, if you’re finding that Mom’s dementia-related behaviors are triggering you and leading you to become irritated with 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 occasions where you’ve felt exceedingly aggressive, sad, angry, etc. to the point of it being unhealthy for yourself or those around you.
- How well are you able to control your emotions? When a family member with dementia no longer remembers you, it is devastating. Sadness is a common feeling among caregivers, particularly those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The manner in which you cope with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is extremely important. Exercise and talking to a reliable counselor, clergy member, or friend are healthy outlets, while drinking and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which emotions surface when it comes to caregiving? Does taking care of Dad trigger feelings of anger due to your past relationship? Does managing your personal life and your loved one’s care leave you stressed and exhausted on a daily basis? Are you feeling guilty that you can’t do it all? Knowing what you are feeling is the first step in managing your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers?
Once you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you’re struggling with, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage these feelings. Try the coping strategies we have outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are two of the most common emotions that manifest in caregiving, and if you’re not careful, could cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to detect these feelings quickly, before they have a chance to get out of hand, and give yourself time to relax. This may mean taking a few minutes for deep breathing, writing a few choice words in a private journal, or turning on some soothing music that you enjoy. 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 tasks, or set up ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Resentment and boredom. You might feel as if you are stuck at home day in and day out, especially if you’re looking after a senior with health issues that restrict the ability to leave the house. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it’s natural to wish for the independence to go for a jog, window-shop at the mall, or venture out to lunch with a friend. It’s important to balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Make an effort 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 Anthem Home Care, a provider of Portland senior care and home care services in the surrounding areas, for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might seem to take a very long time to complete even the simplest tasks. Or, they might resist getting dressed and ready for the day in the time you need to make it to a doctor’s appointment or other scheduled outing. If you’re feeling irritated and impatient in scenarios like these, it’s an opportunity to reevaluate how each day is organized. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a person who needs extra time in the morning. Start factoring in extra time between activities to enable the senior to go 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.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A senior with Alzheimer’s disease in particular may not speak, act, dress, or even smell in line with social norms. They may yell out obscenities, speak without a filter, insist upon wearing the same (unmatched) outfit for days in a row, decline to bathe on a regular basis, or a variety of other uncomfortable behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is a natural reaction, which can then lead to feeling guilty. It may be helpful to make small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My loved one has dementia and is struggling to control her behaviors.” You can discreetly give them to an individual who seems taken aback by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The simplest way to overcome difficult emotions in caregiving is by sharing care with a trusted source, like Anthem Home Care’s Portland senior care experts. Our senior care professionals are fully trained and experienced in all areas of senior care, and can partner with you to allow you to obtain the healthy life balance you deserve. Reach out to us at 361-643-2323 for more information and to learn about all of the communities where we provide care!