As a family care provider, it often feels like you have to be the rock of the family: in control, calm, and composed. Regardless of the circumstances, you maintain the sense of peace and warmth your family member requires, always strong, supportive, and never wavering. Right?
If this is the image you’ve created for yourself, it’s time for a reality check! The fact is, caring for an older loved one is hard work which can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. On any given day, you could 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 fully grasp to better understand the numerous emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent, and to learn strategies to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caring for Others
You may wonder how so many negative emotions can come about from helping a person you love so much. You may try to suppress these feelings and mask them with false positivity. And you might grapple with guilt for even thinking some of the thoughts that cross your mind about the individual you love and the tasks required of you.
Step one should be to identify and validate the feelings you’re feeling. If you don’t address them, they will show up in any number of destructive ways, including poor eating or sleeping habits, substance abuse, and in some cases physical illness, depression, or caregiver burnout.
Getting a baseline of your emotional outlook is a vital place to begin when you are having difficulties with the emotions of being a caregiver. Consider the following questions:
- What is your typical emotional state? 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 important in helping you determine where you stand as a caregiver. For example, if you consider yourself a generally happy and extroverted person, yet you’ve not seen friends in a while and have been feeling low, this may suggest an emotional change brought on by new caregiving obligations.
- When are emotions a “problem”? It is vital to remember that no emotion is good or bad. We all feel stressed or angry every so often and that is healthy and normal. However, if you are 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 an issue. It’s important to be aware of any emotional triggers you may have. Make note of any situations in which you’ve felt exceedingly aggressive, sad, angry, etc. to the point of it not being healthy for yourself or others.
- How well are you able to control your emotions? When a loved one with dementia no longer remembers you, it is heartbreaking. Sadness is a common emotion among caregivers, especially those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of conditions like dementia. The method that you use to cope with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is important. Exercise and talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or clergy member are healthy ways to channel your emotions, whereas substance abuse and isolating 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 balancing your personal life along with your loved one’s care leave you stressed and exhausted every day? 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 Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
Once you’ve determined your emotional baseline and which emotions you’re having difficulties with, it’s important to find healthy ways to regulate these feelings. Try the coping mechanisms we have outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are two of the most common emotions that arise in caregiving, and if you’re not careful, may cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to detect these feelings as quickly as possible, before they have a chance to boil over, and give yourself a break to cool down. This may mean taking a few minutes for meditation, scribbling a few choice words in a personal journal, or turning on some soothing music that you like. Have a trusted friend or relative that you can vent to once you have the opportunity to step away from your caregiving tasks, or schedule ongoing sessions with a counselor for additional help.
- Boredom and resentment. You may feel like you are stuck at home day in and day out, especially if you’re taking care of a senior with health issues that reduce the ability to leave the house. No matter how many fun activities you plan together, it is normal to wish for the freedom to go for a walk, window-shop at the mall, or venture out to lunch with a good friend. It’s vital that you balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. Try to work out a rotating schedule with other relatives and friends to allow you to take some time for yourself, or partner with a home care agency like Hearts at Home In-Home Care for respite care.
- Irritability and impatience. The older adult might seem to take a very long time to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Or, they may resist getting dressed and ready for the day in the time you need to make it to a doctor’s appointment or other planned outing. If you are feeling frustrated and impatient in situations such as these, it is time for you to reassess how each day is organized. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a person who requires extra time in the morning. Begin factoring in additional time between activities to allow the senior to go at their own pace. And again, find a healthy outlet that enables you to let go of these feelings to prevent carrying them over from one day to another.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A person with Alzheimer’s disease in particular might not speak, act, dress, or even smell in accordance with social norms. They might yell out obscenities, speak without a filter, demand to wear the same (unmatched) clothes for several days in a row, decline to shower on a regular basis, or numerous other upsetting behaviors. Feeling self-conscious when around others is an understandable reaction, which may then result in feeling guilty. It can be helpful to make small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My loved one has dementia and is not able to control her behaviors.” You can quietly 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 deal with difficult emotions in caregiving is by sharing care with a dependable source, like Hearts at Home In-Home Care, a provider of Overland Park, KS home care and senior care services throughout the nearby areas. Our care providers are fully trained and experienced in all aspects of senior care, and can partner with you to allow you to develop the healthy life balance you deserve. Give us a call at 913-440-4209 to find out more!