Handling the Emotional Side of Caregiving
Most caregivers step up to the plate because they love their caree. Sometimes, the process of becoming a caregiver is slow as a parent begins the aging process and other times it happens quickly due to a fall or illness. One thing that many caregivers don’t anticipate is the many emotions they will experience as a caregiver.
While love enables us to do many hard things, sometimes, love isn’t enough – particularly if you are a caregiver for an extended period. While you love your caree, being a caregiver takes a lot out of you and putting your needs on the backburner for a long time doesn’t come without consequence.
It is important to acknowledge and accept that some of the feelings that come with caregiving can be negative. Many caregivers are embarrassed to express feelings of anger or frustration so they pretend they don’t exist or become angry with themselves for having those feelings.
Feelings of anger, sadness or frustration are just as acceptable as feelings of love and happiness. And while those feelings are common and nothing to be embarrassed about, it is important to find support and explore ways to work through those feelings. The longer you stew on your feelings, the worse they can become.
Handling Challenging Caregiver Emotions
If you are struggling with the emotional side of caregiving, there are things you can do for yourself to work through your emotions.
Free and Low Time Investment for Caregiver Emotional Support
If you are just starting out on your caregiving journey or are at the early stages of caregiver stress, investing a little bit of time in your emotional well-being now can save you from stress or depression later. Here are a few things you can do to support your emotional health.
- Carve out time for yourself to practice self-care. Take time to care for your needs to reduce frustration and stress. Some self-care tactics you may want to consider include taking time for fitness or maintaining a healthy diet.
- Spend time with friends or loved ones other than your caree. If you’ve been so busy that you haven’t had time to see your friends, schedule some time with your friends or other family members. Make plans for a breakfast, lunch or dinner where you can spend some time replenishing your soul.
- Focus on gratitude. Sometimes, when we’re going through a tough time, we forget to focus on the positives in our life. Start a gratitude journal to remind yourself of the things you have to be thankful for. Even on your worst day, you can be grateful that everyone woke up alive and has a roof over their head.
- Join a support group. Being surrounded by others in the same boat can help you feel less isolated. It is also helpful to know that your feelings are common and nothing to be ashamed of. If you don’t have time to go to actual meetings (or you can’t find meetings near you), consider reaching out through social media. There are caregiver groups on Facebook and you can participate in Tweet chats with caregivers.
- Learn a new skill, explore a new hobby or find something that brings you joy. Taking a little time to focus on something just for you can help make you feel like life is more “normal” again. It also helps you prepare for life after caregiving.
Serious Support for Caregiver Emotional Challenge
If you are experiencing significant emotional challenges, you may need to make a bigger time or financial investment. While you may feel that you don’t have time or money to “waste” on your emotional well-being, your emotional health is important. You should treat your emotional health as you treat your (or your caree’s) physical health. If you don’t address it now, you could be looking at more serious emotional challenges that can result in physical illness as well.
Long-term stress and depression can impact your physical health so they are not to be ignored. Sometimes, we need a bit more than a small pick me up to re-set our emotional well-being. If you’re in that boat, here are some things you can do to re-set.
- Speak with your physician. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety resulting from caregiving, speak with your physician about your situation. He or she may suggest medication, talk therapy or a change to your diet or exercise routine.
- Speak with therapist. Many times, the hardest part about getting help is admitting you need help, closely followed by actually starting the process. There is no shame in seeing a therapist to discuss your caregiving challenges. A therapist can help you find healthy coping methods so that you are better prepared for the challenges of your role. If you are a caregiver for a difficult person, it is even more important to seek help to adapt to your situation.
- Hire help. Even if you have a tight budget, it may be necessary to your emotional well-being to outsource tasks or caregiving. Freeing up time can help you incorporate self-care into your routine, which can improve your overall well-being. You can also bring in a paid caregiver to assist with personal care or some activities of daily living that you don’t enjoy or your parent prefer you don’t perform. If you are on a limited budget, there may be resources available to your family.
- Find a support group. I know I offer this as a solution above, but this is even more important if you are truly struggling. If you don’t know where to look for a support group, ask your loved one’s doctor, check your local hospital or medical center or do a Google search. If your loved one has a particular illness, reach out to their local association’s organization (think American Cancer Association, Diabetes Association, etc.) to find a local group.
Investing time in your emotional health is as important as investing in your (or your loved one’s) physical health. On average, caregivers spend between 5 – 10 years in their role. That’s a long time to put off caring for your needs.