Acknowledging and Dealing with Negative Emotions as a Caregiver
Being a caregiver can be a very rewarding role, but it’s also one of the most taxing. Sometimes caregivers find themselves with negative emotions that can stem from the toll of caregiving, among other factors. It’s not uncommon for them to think something along the lines of “It’s fine, they’re my spouse/parent/sibling/grandparent, so I should be okay with this. I shouldn’t be feeling so anxious/angry/frustrated/sad”. However, this is so much easier said than done.
Whether you’ve become a caregiver in times of crisis or by your own choice, you may be dealing with emotions that are hard to justify. Instead of making it hard on yourself, the first step in the right direction of overcoming these emotions is to acknowledge that you have them in the first place. Read on for tips on overriding negative or troublesome emotions that may stem from taking on the multifaceted role of being a caregiver.
#1 If You’re Feeling Anxious…
As a caregiver, you may constantly feel like things are getting out of control and that the whole world is sitting on your shoulders. This hopelessness can cause feelings of anxiety. Anxiety can show up in many ways, such as having a shorter temper than usual, feeling the urge to cry, or having difficulty sleeping. However, sometimes it shows up as heart palpitations, which is more concerning. Therefore it is essential to pay attention to this anxiety, so you can adequately cope.
When you suddenly have a wave of anxiety, just stop and breathe. Do a counting exercise as you inhale and exhale. If possible, make yourself a cup of tea or remove yourself from wherever you are so you can get a small break from whatever is happening. It’s the little things that make the most significant difference in the world.
#2 If You’re Feeling Angry
Have you ever been struck by an overwhelming amount of anger or frustration? It may feel unfair to you that you’re feeling this, but feelings of anger are perfectly normal in caregivers. In fact, caregivers had a 23 percent higher level of stress hormones and a 15 percent lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers.
Sometimes it’s just overwhelming to be around someone who needs help on an ongoing basis. In addition, there are times when people may stubbornly refuse help, which can make caregiving even more frustrating to do. This is especially true when giving care to someone who suffers from certain ailments, such as dementia, that may make them irrational or lash out at you.
The thing about the emotion of anger is that it can come out in a flash, and you may find yourself reacting impulsively because of it. This is why, when overcome with a sudden rush of anger, you must give yourself grace and separate yourself from the situation. Take a breather, call someone that you know will listen if you need to vent and give yourself that needed time.
#3 If You’re Feeling Sad…
If you are taking care of a loved one, you may feel sudden bursts of sadness. This is normal for caregivers, especially when it comes to someone in your family. One study found that 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. One likely reason for sadness and depression is from seeing their loved one in a situation of needing care. It may seem like a loss of the individual you once knew, which can be incredibly hard to deal with. In such situations, it’s important to embrace these emotions and give yourself the chance to grieve what once was.
Consider talking to a therapist to help you navigate these changes. Also, try exercising or make a point to meet up with people you love. Though this won’t outright fix the sadness, it will give you a break and boost your mood, especially when it comes to social connection.
Dealing with Negative Emotions as a Caregiver
You may go into being a caregiver with the belief that you will never feel the negative emotions of frustration, loss, and so on. Therefore, when you inevitably do, it’ll likely feel very overwhelming. Your care receiver, especially if they’re family, is now in a position where they may need many things done for them, which can take a toll on you as a caregiver.
However, it is important to acknowledge and deal with any negative emotions that arise, as bottling it up and ignoring these emotions could prove to be even worse. Tending to your feelings is not a selfish act, and as a caregiver, it is a necessity in order to maintain the most attentive care for the care receiver.
Therefore, here are a few other ways to manage any negative emotions that come along with caregiving:
Accepting the Experience
All the emotions you adopt while being a caregiver are valid and uncontrollable. Validating them and identifying the triggers for these emotions may make it easier to find a solution for them.
If you can, schedule some time for yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask another reliable family member or maybe even a friend, to look in on your care receiver. If that’s not an option, look into respite care. There are in-home respite services, adult care centers, and short-term nursing homes that can provide professional assistance to your loved one.
Being able to have a short block of time for you to break apart and be by yourself is perfect for managing any emotions of stress or being overwhelmed.
Have a Social Life
Being a caregiver should not overtake your entire life. Keep up with social activities in your life, whether it’s hobbies, a support group, or other activities that make you happy. Schedule lunch or coffee with a friend at some point during the week, or have a phone call with a close family member when your care receiver is asleep. Talking to someone may also give you the chance to vent and release the emotions contained in your life.
Take Care of Yourself
Not just in the mental aspect but also physical. Many caregivers report neglecting their health, simply because it’s challenging to care for others and also ensure your needs are met. Studies show that caregivers reporting fair or poor health increased from 14% within their first year of caregiving to 20% after five years or more of providing care. Therefore, try to eat healthily, do some form of exercise to release endorphins, and get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep could do wonders for your mental/emotional state as well.
Focus on the Positive
Being a caregiver has many upsides. One is that when you’re providing the care, you can be reassured and satisfied in knowing your loved one is getting excellent care. You may also develop a greater sense of purpose. Lastly, it gives you the opportunity to get closer and interact with someone you love, which is always a good thing.
Every Day won’t be Sunshine and Rainbows
Being a caregiver is rewarding and equally tiring. Caring for someone you love can take a toll on your emotional health, and it is not selfish to embrace the appearance of these emotions and want to take care of them. By managing any negative emotions, you are guaranteeing more attentive care for your care receiver. Taking care of yourself goes hand in hand with taking care of your loved one. Never be afraid to take a step back and have a short time out to refresh and go back to being the most optimal caregiver you can be.