It doesn’t matter if you are new to caregiving or have been doing it for several years. It doesn’t matter how close you are or how much you love the person you are caring for. And it doesn’t matter if you made the choice to be their caregiver or you fell into the role by default. We ALL experience a vast array of emotions that can vary from day to day or even hour to hour.
These emotions are real whether we want to admit to them or not, and if you hide or deny your emotions it will not only lead to more harmful emotions but it will affect your physical and psychological health. Acknowledge how you are feeling and know that you are not the first or last caregiver to experience these emotions. Developing negative emotions doesn’t make you a bad person or even a bad caregiver, these feelings are normal reactions to the ever stressful conditions in your life.
Here’s some of the most common negative emotions that caregivers may experience:
Anger , Anxiety, Aggravation, Bitterness, Boredom, Crankiness, Defeated, Defensive, Depressed, Detached, Disgust, Embarrassment, Fear, Frustration, Grief, Guilt, Hatred, Hopeless, Impatience, Indifferent, Irritability, Jealousy, Loneliness, Loss, Resentment, and Worry.
Sometimes these emotions develop slowly over a period of time and you may not even realize that they are affecting you. Because of this, it’s a good idea to take an emotional inventory once in awhile. This can be as simple as taking a piece of paper and giving yourself permission to write a list of all of the emotions you have felt in the past week. These emotions are normal responses and you do not need to justify or feel guilty about them. The first step is just acknowledging your emotions.
Once you have identified and acknowledged a negative emotion or response, be kind and gracious with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over it, instead look for ways to either express it or move on from it. Here’s some tips on how to handle your harmful emotions:
1. Walk away, take 5 minutes to calm yourself, breathe deeply, or meditate – A short time out during a stressful situation can help you release the negative emotion.
2. Talk to someone who is supportive – This can be a friend, relative, someone from a support group, or even an online forum or chat for caregivers. Having someone to vent to helps you let go of the negativity and reminds you that it’s okay to have these feelings.
3. Write in a journal – if you can’t call someone, write it down. Writing about our experiences helps us process our emotions. Don’t edit or judge while you are writing, just let whatever comes to mind to flow onto the paper.
4. Respite can help. Getting a break from caregiving and having some time for yourself will not only increase your patience and resilience but it will give you a chance to do something that is meaningful to you, whether it is socializing, going for a walk, or reading a good book.
5. Get medical support for depression – if you suspect that your depression is more than just feeling a bit sad then talk to your physician for treatment and consider joining a support group.
6. Hire an attendant or support worker to perform routine care – If you are developing a negative response to providing personal hygiene including incontinence care, then its time to find help from either a professional service or another family member who may be able to handle it better or at least share the load of work.
7. Sleep, sleep, sleep – none of us can function well when we are deprived of consistent restorative sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping due to anxiety, worrying, or not being able to shut off your mind, then seek help from your doctor. If you are losing sleep due to the person you are caring for being awake at night, then speak to their doctor. There are medications that can help in both situations. If possible have a family member or attendant take a night or two each week so that you can get a good night’s rest.
8. Do what feeds your soul – Did you have a hobby, sport, or creative outlet that you’ve given up since becoming a caregiver? Schedule some time for you and make it a top priority! It may sound like a cliché, but we can’t care for others unless we care for ourselves. Have someone come and sit with the person you are caring for so that you can spend an hour in your garden, at a yoga class, or just reading a book. Whatever helps you refill your reserves must be a top priority!
Remember that you are only human and you will experience some of these emotions at some point during your caregiving journey. Know in your heart and soul that the efforts you are making have an impact on your loved one’s quality of life. And always remember that this too shall pass.