Critter Corner: Managing Stress and Anger as a Caregiver

Dear Angel,

I’ve been a caregiver for my mother for a few years, and I experience feelings of anger inside sometimes. I feel guilty for having these emotions, but sometimes I just want to bury my head in a pillow and scream. What are some good ways to vent and manage my stress and inner turmoil?

Phil N. Strest

Dear Phil,

There are currently 53 million Americans who are caregivers for a family member or friend with a health issue or disability, and about a third of these caregivers spend twenty or more hours a week in that role. The Centers for Disease Control has warned that caregivers face many risks, including anxiety and depression, chronic health conditions, and financial strain, among other things. Yet experts said many caregivers feel they cannot speak openly about their frustration and anger.

Allison Lindauer, an associate professor of neurology with the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, and other experts believe that anger and frustration are inevitable parts of the caregiver experience, and that it is important to normalize those feelings. In fact, among the 4,000 or more caregivers she has worked with, Lindauer has yet to meet one who has not expressed some form of anger.

Finding support through connection

Long-term caregiver stress has been tied to many health issues, including diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Given that, doctors advise caregivers to address the physical effects of anger, whether through breathing exercises, a hot shower, or exercise — whatever helps. Sometimes, caregivers need a private place where they can just scream. The power of peer support can also be helpful.

However, many caregivers are afraid to express their anger, because they feel guilty about feeling angry. The following are tips for managing the anxiety and stress of caregiving, and things you can do to deal with feelings of anger:

Forgive yourself: Don’t expect yourself to always maintain a patient attitude. This is unrealistic. As human beings, none of us are perfect. So, if you experience an episode of impatience or anger, forgive yourself. Try to give yourself credit for the thousands of times you have exhibited great patience — and for the hours and hours of loving care you provide.

Punch a pillow: Sometimes, physically ventilating your rage can be therapeutic. If you’re having a moment, feel free to excuse yourself, and go scream into a pillow. Or punch the pillow if it makes you feel better.

Exercise: For a long-term strategy, consider increasing the amount of exercise you get. Physical activity is a mood booster, helping to reduce overall stress levels and possibly anger, too.

Take time off: Often, impatience and anger stem from exhaustion. Caregiving can sap your strength mentally, and it can have negative effects on your physical health if it disrupts your sleep or eating habits. So, make time for yourself, and get some respite, if that helps!

Hire a professional to help: If family members cannot take over caregiving duties for a day or more, consider hiring a care professional. Taking time away from caregiving can benefit both you and your senior loved one.

Don’t feel guilty if you experience anger, impatience, disgust, or any of the other negative emotions throughout your caregiving journey. Sometimes, just acknowledging these feelings can help dissipate them.

Enlist a trusted confidant who is willing to hear your frustration and anger without judging you or trying to fix the problem.

Hope this helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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