As a family care provider, you may feel like you have to be the rock of your family: cool, composed, and in control. Whatever the circumstances, you maintain the sense of peace and comfort your family member needs, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this describes the image you have created for yourself, it is time to get real! The truth is, providing care for an aging parent is hard work that can impact your mental wellness. On any given day, you may find yourself bouncing from one emotion to another – and this is absolutely common. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the perfect time to offer yourself some grace to better understand the many family caregiver emotions you may be facing, and to identify tips to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caregiving
You might ask yourself how so many negative emotions can arise from assisting a person you love so much. You might attempt to suppress these feelings and mask them with false positivity. And you might grapple with guilt for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind related to the person you love and the tasks required of you.
The first step is to acknowledge and validate the emotions you are experiencing. If you do not address them, they’ll show up in any number of destructive ways, including poor sleeping or eating habits, substance abuse, as well as caregiver burnout, physical illness, and depression.
Finding a baseline of your emotional outlook is a vital place to start when you are trying to cope with the emotions of caregiving. Consider the following questions:
- What is your usual emotional state? Are you typically a happy, upbeat 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 example, if you consider yourself to normally be a 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 obligations.
- When are emotions an issue? It is vital to understand that no emotion is good or bad. We all feel mad or stressed out every once in a while, and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are finding that Mom’s Alzheimer’s-related behaviors are triggering you and causing you to lash out at her, this could be a case where your emotions are becoming problematic. It’s important to recognize any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any instances in which you’ve felt excessively angry, aggressive, sad, etc. to the point of it not being healthy for yourself or others.
- How well can you control your emotions? When someone you care about with dementia no longer remembers you, it is tragic. Sorrow is a common feeling among caregivers, particularly those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of a condition like dementia. How you 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, whereas drinking and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which feelings arise when it comes to caregiving? Does providing care for Dad trigger feelings of anger because of your past relationship? Does managing your personal life and your loved one’s care make you feel stressed and exhausted every day? Are you feeling guilty that you cannot do it all? Understanding what you’re feeling is the first step in managing your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
When you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you have been struggling with, it is essential to find healthy ways to manage these feelings. Try the coping strategies we’ve outlined below.
- Frustration and anger. These are two 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 notice these feelings as soon as possible, before they have the opportunity to boil over, and give yourself a time-out to relax. This may mean taking a few moments for deep breathing, scribbling a few choice words in a private journal, or putting on some soothing music that you enjoy. Have a trusted friend or relative that you can vent to once you have the chance to step away from your caregiving tasks, 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, particularly if you’re caring for a senior with health issues that minimize the ability to leave the house. Regardless of how many fun activities you plan together, it’s normal to wish for the freedom to go for a walk, window-shop at the mall, or venture out to lunch with a friend. It’s crucial that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Try to work out a rotating schedule with other loved ones and friends to allow you to devote some time to yourself, or partner with a home health care agency like Grace Home Care, a provider of home care and memory care in Topeka, for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might appear to take forever to complete even the simplest tasks. Or, they may resist 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 agitated and impatient in situations like these, it’s time to reexamine how each day is structured. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a senior who needs more time in the morning. Start factoring in extra time between activities to allow the senior to go at their own pace. And again, find a healthy outlet that allows 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 might not act, speak, dress, or even smell according to social norms. They 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 any number of other uncomfortable behaviors. Feeling embarrassed when around others is an understandable reaction, that may then result in feelings of guilt. It may be helpful to create small business-card-sized note cards that say something like, “My mother has dementia and is struggling to control her behaviors.” You can discreetly hand them to anyone who seems taken aback by the behaviors, such as in a restaurant, the library, doctor’s waiting room, etc.
The easiest way to cope with difficult emotions in caregiving is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Grace Home Care, a trusted provider of home care and memory care in Topeka. 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 785-286-2273 to learn more!