Communities are starting to recognize their fast-growing caregiver populations. If you are a caregiver, explore classes and workshops designed especially for you. In the meantime, please check out Connie Chow’s helpful ways to reduce stress from caregiver emotions.
Caring for seniors is emotional
Caring for an older adult is filled with challenges, to put it mildly. One challenge that doesn’t get enough attention is dealing with the different emotions that naturally come up.
Caregiving is hectic, so it’s natural to push aside the feelings and focus on concrete tasks. Especially when those feelings are ones we don’t want to admit to.
The problem is, if these emotions aren’t dealt with, they can seriously damage your health.
Common caregiver emotions
While taking care of a senior, most people have a lot of strong and conflicting feelings.
Top emotions include:
- Anger at their disease or the aging process itself.
- Anger at your older adult’s frustrating behavior.
- Guilt over thoughts and feelings (like wishing they would pass away sooner to prevent more suffering).
- Anxiety because you don’t know what will happen next.
- Frustration that you can’t stop what’s happening.
- Despair that there aren’t any treatments that can restore them to the way they used to be.
- Sadness for all that you’ve both already lost.
- Anticipatory grief, which means that you’re dealing with losing your senior before they actually pass away.
4 ways to deal with strong caregiver emotions
- Don’t ignore your feelings
Ignoring anger, sadness, and other caregiver emotions only makes things worse.Forcing away your feelings can cause high stress, sudden angry outbursts (and guilt after them), hopelessness, unhealthy life choices, sleep problems, or depression.Acknowledging and identifying your feelings may be uncomfortable at first. But the more you accept what you’re feeling, the less likely you’ll be plagued by those negative health “side effects.”
- Don’t be “strong and silent”
You’re in the middle of a serious, sometimes scary, and literally life-changing situation. You don’t need to pretend that everything is fine.Not allowing yourself to cry, show anger, or say that you’re frustrated and need help adds an incredible amount of stress to an already stressful situation.Instead, give yourself permission to share what’s really happening, how you’re feeling about it, and what kind of help you need with supportive family and friends.You’ll get rid of the extra stress from pretending, get more understanding from others, and be more open to support.
- Don’t feel guilty about your feelings
Whatever you’re feeling is probably being felt by caregivers all over the world.Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations (like finding joy in every part of caregiving) or beat yourself up over negative feelings. That just adds extra stress and negativity.For example, you might get really mad because your older adult has made a huge mess at the end of a tough day, meaning extra hours of exhausting clean-up for you.Feeling angry is a normal response to this situation and doesn’t mean you’re a heartless monster.
- Find an outlet for intense feelings
You don’t want to bottle up strong or negative feelings, but you also don’t want to take things out on your senior — that won’t improve anything.Be as calm and kind as possible, even if that means just keeping your mouth shut in their presence.As soon as you can get away, use a safe outlet for your anger, frustration, sadness, or other emotions. Giving yourself an outlet helps reduce stress and decrease the intensity of your feelings.Some suggestions:
- Scream into a pillow.
- Punch, kick, or throw a pillow.
- Call or text message supportive family, friends, or fellow caregivers.
- Have a good cry.
- Do something that requires a lot of scrubbing and effort (like cleaning the tub).
- Write in a journal.
- Vent in a supportive online community.
- Go to a caregiver support group.
To improve your health and well-being, it’s important to acknowledge and accept the mixed emotions that caregiving brings. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel, share your reality, and let things out in safe ways.
Dealing with these strong emotions rather than ignoring them significantly reduces stress, improves your ability to care for yourself, and helps you be realistic and get the help you need.