Critter Corner: Dealing with the Emotions of Caregiving


Dear Ribbit,

I recently became a caregiver for my mother after she had a stroke. I am completely new at this, being a single woman in my 40’s. Many emotions are beginning to surface, such as anger, anxiety, irritability, frustration, and even disgust. I’m not sure what to do about all these emotions, and how I can feel more at ease in my role. Please help if you can.

Thanks,
Emma Oceans

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Dear Emma,

Many feelings come up when you are caring for someone day in and day out. Many caregivers set out saying, “This won’t happen to me”, but after a while, the “negative” emotions that we pretend we aren’t feeling come up.

Below are some of the often hard to admit feelings that you mentioned you are experiencing, and suggestions for how you might better cope with these feelings:

Anger

Anger and frustration are a normal part of being around someone who needs help on an ongoing basis and who might not be accepting of help. It’s not always possible to be in perfect control of your emotions. Anger “just comes out” sometimes.

Coping: Forgive yourself. Find constructive ways to express yourself, learn to walk away and give yourself a “time out.” Identify supportive people you can talk to who will listen as you vent about the things that happened that day.

Anxiety

Feeling like things are out of control and not knowing how to bring them back into control often produces feelings of anxiousness. Anxiety can emerge as a short fuse, the impulse to run away, not sleeping, heart palpitations, or the urge to cry.

Coping: Pay attention to your anxiety—it is our body’s early warning system that something isn’t right. When you feel anxious, stop and breath, meditate, or pray, or do whatever helps you calm down. Make some tea. Do anything that will give you a break from what is happening in the moment.

Irritablility

When tired and stressed, it is harder to stay in control of the things we say and feel. Feelings can go up and down very rapidly. We can lash out at the littlest thing because we have no reserve.

Coping: If you find yourself feeling cranky and irritable, you probably need a break. You also may need to get some rest, as we are in less control when tired. Keep a journal or talk with a friend or professional to let off steam.

Disgust

Having to help toilet someone can be too intimate an experience for many caregivers. Having to clean the private body parts of someone, such as a parent, can be unnerving and uncomfortable. Watching someone eat sloppily or having to clean up vomit can also cause feelings of disgust.

Coping: The hardest thing about accepting our revulsion to these things is that the care receiver is not in control of these behaviors. Finding ways to minimize your need to do personal care tasks including incontinence care is vital to weathering your caregiver journey, which could stretch on for years. Hire an attendant to do routine care or have someone from the family do these things who might cope better.

Frustration

Sometimes, as a caregiver, you feel that you can’t do anything right or that things just don’t go as planned no matter what you do or how hard you try. Frustration may lead to stress eating, substance abuse, and a higher likelihood of losing your temper.

Coping: Acknowledge how frustrating caregiving can be. Join a support group to learn the tricks other caregivers have learned to make coping easier. Get breaks from caregiving so you have time for YOU and a chance to refresh your energy. Exercise. Sleep.

Hop this is helpful!

Ribbit

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