As a family care provider, you’re the rock of the family: cool, composed, and in control. No matter what the circumstances, you retain the feeling of calm and solace your family member requires, never wavering, always strong and supportive. Right?
If this is the image you’ve created for yourself, it’s time to get real! The truth is, caring for seniors you love is hard work that can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. On any given day, you might find yourself ricocheting from one emotion to another – and this is absolutely natural. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and a good time to extend yourself some kindness, to better understand some of the many emotions you might be experiencing, and to identify strategies to help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caring for Seniors
You might ask yourself how so many negative emotions can develop from assisting an individual you love so much. You may attempt to suppress these feelings and hide them with false positivity. And you might struggle with feelings of guilt for even having some of the thoughts that cross your mind about the senior you love and the tasks required of you.
The first step should be to recognize and validate the feelings you are experiencing. If you do not address them, they will show up in any number of unhealthy ways, including poor eating or sleeping routines, substance abuse, or caregiver burnout, physical illness, and depression.
Finding a baseline of your state of mind is a vital place to begin when you’re having difficulties with the emotions of caring for others. Think about the following questions:
- What would is your primary emotional state? Are you usually a joyful, upbeat person? Or do you have a more negative or cynical perspective? The answer to this question is key in helping you ascertain where you stand as a caregiver. For example, if you consider yourself a generally happy and extroverted person, yet you have not gone out with friends in a while and have been feeling down, this may suggest 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 every so often and that’s healthy and normal. However, if you are finding that Mom’s dementia-related behaviors are triggering you and causing you become short with her, this could be an instance where your emotions are becoming problematic. It is important to recognize any emotional triggers you might have. Make note of any instances in which you’ve felt exceedingly angry, aggressive, sad, etc. to the point of it not being healthy for yourself or others.
- How well can you take control of your emotions? When a loved one with dementia no longer remembers you, it is tragic. Sadness is a common emotion among caregivers, particularly those whose loved ones are in advanced stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s. The manner in which you cope with the sadness (or anger or stress) around caregiving is extremely important. Exercise and talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or clergy member are healthy ways to channel your emotions, while substance abuse and isolating should be signs of concern.
- Which emotions surface when it comes to caregiving? Does caring for Dad trigger feelings of anger due to your past relationship? Does balancing your personal life and your loved one’s care leave you stressed and exhausted each day? Are you feeling guilty that you are not able to do it all? Knowing what you’re feeling is the first step in managing your emotional state.
What Are Some Coping Mechanisms for Family Caregivers?
Once you’ve taken stock of your emotional baseline and which emotions you are struggling with, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage these feelings. Try the coping mechanisms we have outlined below.
- Anger and frustration. These are two of the most common emotions that come up in caregiving, and if you’re not careful, can cause you to lash out at the person you love. Learn to detect these feelings as soon as possible, before they have an opportunity to boil over, and give yourself a break to cool down. This may mean taking a few moments for meditation, writing a few choice words in a private 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 might feel as though you are stuck at home all the time, especially if you’re caring for a senior with health concerns that minimize the ability to go out. No matter how many fun activities you plan together, it is normal to wish for the freedom to go for a jog, window-shop at the mall, or go out to lunch with a friend. It is important to balance your caregiving time with time for self-care. See if you can work out a rotating schedule with other family members and friends to let you take time for yourself, or partner with an in-home care agency like Inspired Home Care, a provider of senior care in Gold Coast Chicago and the surrounding communities, for respite care.
- Impatience and irritability. The older adult might seem to take a very long time to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Or, they may refuse to cooperate with getting dressed and ready for the day in the time frame you need to make it to a medical appointment or other planned outing. If you are feeling irritated and impatient in scenarios such as these, it is time to reevaluate how each day is organized. Schedule doctor appointments for later in the day for a senior who needs extra time in the morning. Begin factoring in additional time between activities to enable the senior to move at their own speed. And again, find a healthy outlet that allows you to unleash these feelings to prevent carrying them over from one day to another.
- Embarrassment and guilt. A senior with Alzheimer’s disease in particular might not speak, act, dress, or even smell according to societal norms. They may scream obscenities, speak without a filter, demand to wear the same (unmatched) outfit for days in a row, decline to bathe on a regular basis, or any number of other upsetting behaviors. Feeling uncomfortable when around others is a normal response, which could then result in feeling guilty. It can be helpful to make small business-card-sized notes that say something like, “My mother has dementia and is not able to control her behaviors.” You can quietly hand them to someone who seems shocked by the behaviors, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, the library, etc.
The simplest way to cope with difficult emotions as a caregiver is by sharing care with a reliable source, like Inspired Home Care’s experts in senior care in Gold Coast Chicago and throughout the surrounding areas. Our caregivers are fully trained and experienced in all aspects of senior care, and can partner with you to allow you to achieve the healthy life balance you need. Call us at 847-787-7572 for more information!