You may be familiar with the five stages of grief, which most people go through when a loved one dies. But did you know that caregivers experience emotional phases as well? Some of these feelings may happen right away, while others will surface over time. As a caregiver, it’s important that you pay attention to your feelings and recognize that you need to take care of yourself too.
Whether you have taken on a caregiving role gradually, or it happened suddenly due to illness, or you choose to be a caregiver by profession, you may experience many emotions on the journey. It’s vital to realize that your emotions are signposts telling you that something needs to be dealt with. Ignore these feelings and you risk suffering health consequences such as high blood pressure or depression. Emotions tend to keep nagging at you until you take the time to acknowledge and address them. Here are some common emotions that caregivers may face:
As you try to be everything to everyone, guilt is bound to creep in. You may wonder if you are doing a good job of balancing caregiving with the other parts of your life. You feel that you should visit your mother more often, but when you have to cancel plans with your wife, she’s disappointed. Perhaps you want to keep your loved one at home, but hate feeling that it’s a burden. Or you may be frustrated with yourself because you have negative feelings about the situation. Maybe you don’t have enough time to spend with family and friends. Guilt tends to present itself when our ideas of who we want to be aren’t matching up with our reality. Here are some tips for managing caregiver guilt.
It’s not unreasonable to feel resentful when you bear most of the responsibility for caring for a loved one. Perhaps you have siblings that are not sharing in your parent’s care. Or maybe you are an only child and have little or no support from others. Uncomfortable family dynamics may leave feeling like the only person who understands your loved one’s needs. Situations like these can leave you feeling like a one-person team. Resentment can be one of the most uncomfortable emotions to discuss, because others may feel attacked and become defensive. To deal with resentment, you might try talking to a friend unconnected with the situation who will just listen.
Anger can rear its ugly head for a plethora of reasons. Maybe there were too many mishaps in the day with your loved one, or perhaps someone suggested you should do things differently. Anger can arise from unmet physical needs, like a lack of sleep. Fear, guilt, and resentment also can bring about anger. When it is suppressed, anger can take a toll on your health. To keep anger in check, be sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and do little things to care for yourself.
Worry begets worry. When caring for someone who cannot care for themselves, it’s natural to wonder about the “what-if” situations that could happen. Once you start the cycle of worry, it can be difficult to get out of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t accomplish anything, except for disrupting your sleep, giving you headaches and an upset stomach.
As a caregiver, your world can shrink rapidly, often times before you even realize what has happened. The time it takes to care for your loved one may not leave any additional time for you to have the social life you once enjoyed. If your loved one has dementia, you may feel a social loss of the relationship you once had.
Grief is expected and accepted after a loved one dies. As a caregiver, though, you may experience grief as well. As your loved one declines physically and mentally, you may find yourself grieving the loss of the person you once knew and loved. The relationship that once existed is changed forever, and it’s normal to grieve that loss.
To be the best caregiver you can be, you must take care of yourself. Realize that these emotions are normal and don’t make you a bad person. Feelings come and go, but negative feelings are a signal that something needs to change. You may not be able to change the overall situation but look for little things you can control.
It may help to seek some outside assistance for your loved one, even for just a few hours per week. If you aren’t quite sure, download this checklist. To speak with someone about your specific needs, please contact our office.