The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving

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Nobody would ever choose a smiley face as the perfect symbolic emoticon for a caregiver. Caregiving for an ailing loved one is just too stressful -- often triggering damaging emotions that can not only undermine your good work but harm your health, as well. Here's how to cope:

Caregiver Emotion Trap #1: Guilt

Guilt is virtually unavoidable as you try to "do it all."

What causes guilt: Guilt stems from doing or saying what you believe is the wrong thing, not doing what you perceive to be enough, or otherwise not behaving in the "right" way, whether or not your perceptions are accurate. Caregivers often burden themselves with a long list of self-imposed "oughts," "shoulds," and "musts." A few examples: I must avoid putting Mom in a nursing home. I ought to visit every day. I shouldn't lose my temper with someone who has dementia.

Risks of guilt: Caregiver guilt is an especially corrosive emotion because you're beating yourself up over faults that are imagined, unavoidable -- or simply human. That's counterproductive at a time when you need to be your own best advocate.

What you can do: Lower your standards from ideal to real; aim for a B+ in the many aspects of your life rather than an across-the-board A+. When guilt nags, ask yourself what's triggering it: A rigid "ought"? An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Above all, recognize that guilt is virtually unavoidable. Because your intentions are good but your time, resources, and skills are limited, you're just plain going to feel guilty sometimes -- so try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #2: Resentment

This emotion is still so taboo that many caregivers are loathe to admit it.

What causes resentment: Caregivers often feel put-upon and upset because of imagined slights by others, including siblings and adult children who don't do enough to help. Caregiver resentment is especially felt toward the person being cared for, when the caregiver's life feels hijacked by responsibility and out of his or her own control.

Risks of resentment: Without enough support or noncaregiving outlets, feelings of being ignored, abandoned, or criticized can fester into anger and depression.

What you can do: Simply naming this tricky emotion to a trusted confidante can bring some release. Try venting to a journal or anonymous blog. Know that resentment is a very natural and common response to long-term caregiving, especially if your work life, marriage, health, or outside activities are compromised as a result. Know, too, that you can feel this complicated emotion yet still be a good person and a good caregiver.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #3: Anger

Some people outwardly show their anger more than others, but almost no one is never angry.

What causes anger: We get mad for reasons both direct (a balky loved one, an unfair criticism, one too many mishaps in a day) and indirect (lack of sleep, frustration over lack of control, pent-up disappointment).

Risks of anger: Chronic anger and hostility have been linked to high blood pressure, heart attack and heart disease, digestive-tract disorders, and headaches. Anger that builds up unexpressed can lead to depression or anxiety, while anger that explodes outward can jeopardize relationships and even harm others. Managing caregiver anger not only helps your well-being but makes you less likely to take out your fury on your loved one.

What you can do: Rather than trying to avoid anger, learn to express it in healthy ways. Simple deep-breathing exercises can channel mounting anger into a calmer state, for example. Talk yourself down with soothing chants: It's okay. Let it go. Ask yourself if there's a constructive solution to situations that make you angry: Is a compromise possible? Would being more assertive (which is different from anger) help you feel a sense of control? Laughing at absurdities and idiotic behavior can provide a healthier biological release than snapping.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #4: Worry

A little goes a long way, but sometimes we can't turn off the fretting.

What causes worry: Good intentions, love, and wanting the best for your loved ones are the wellsprings of worry. Focusing intensely on the what-ifs provides a perverse kind of comfort to the brain: If we're worrying, we're engaged. Of course, that ultimately triggers more worry and upset because it's engagement without accomplishing anything.

Risks of worry: Being concerned is harmless. Overworry and obsessing, however, can disrupt sleep, cause headaches and stomach aches, and lead to mindless eating or undereating.

What you can do: If you notice worrying thoughts interfering with getting through the day or sleeping at night, force a break to the cycle. Try setting a timer and resolving to focus on something else when the five minutes is up. Then flip negative thoughts to their productive side: How can you help? Who can you call? Are there possible solutions? And don't be shy about seeking out a trained counselor to help you express and redirect obsessive ruminations more constructively.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #5: Loneliness

Your world can shrink almost before you realize what's happened.

What causes loneliness: Friends may back away out of uncertainty or a belief they aren't wanted. Intense time demands lead you to drop out of outside activities. If you're dealing with dementia, the loss of your loved one's former level of companionship is another keenly felt social loss adding to isolation.

Risks of loneliness: Your very brain is altered: People with large, rich social networks have different brain structures, new research finds. Loneliness seems to curb willpower and the ability to persevere, and it can lead to overeating, smoking, and overuse of alcohol. Lonely people also have more cortisol, the stress hormone. And social isolation is a risk factor for dementia.

What you can do: Expand your social circles, real and virtual. Arrange respite help, so you can add at least one outside activity, such as one you've dropped. Take the initiative to reach out to old friends and invite them over if you can't get out easily. Consider joining a support group related to caregiving or your loved one's illness. In online support groups, you can find kinship with those who know just what you're going through.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #6: Grief

Don't think this one applies yet? Think again.

What causes grief: Although most people link grief with death, anticipatory grief is a similar emotion felt by caregivers who are coping with a loved one's long-term chronic illness, especially when there are clear losses of ability (as in dementia) or when the diagnosis is almost certainly terminal.

Risks of grief: "Long good-byes" can trigger guilt as well as sadness if one mistakenly believes that it's inappropriate to grieve someone still alive. Mourning the loss of a beloved companion is also a risk factor for depression.

What you can do: Know that your feelings are normal and as painful as "real" (postmortem) grief. Allow yourself to feel sadness and express it to your loved one as well as to supportive others; pasting on a happy face belies the truth and can be frustrating to the person who knows he or she is ill or dying. Make time for yourself so that you're living a life outside of caregiving that will support you both now and later.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #7: Defensiveness

Protecting yourself is good -- to a point.

What causes defensiveness: When you're doing so much, it's only natural to bristle at suggestions that there might be different or better approaches. Especially if you're feeling stressed, insecure, or unsure, hearing comments or criticisms by others, or reading information that's contrary to your views, can inspire a knee-jerk response of self-protection: "I'm right; that's wrong!"

Risks of defensiveness: While nobody knows your loved one and your situation as well as you do, being overly defensive can make you closed-minded. You risk losing out on real help. You may be so close to the situation that you can't see the forest for the trees, for example; a social worker or friend may have a perspective that points to what really might be a better way.

What you can do: Try not to take everything you hear personally. Instead of immediately getting cross or discarding others' input, vow to pause long enough to consider it. Remember the big picture. Is there merit in a new idea, or not? What you're hearing as a criticism of you might be a well-intentioned attempt to help your loved one. You may decide things are fine as is, and that's great. But if you start from a point of calm and confidence, the focus becomes (as it should be) your loved one, not you.


8 days ago, said...

To "Lost in Space," you have got to get outside help. Even if there is no money left, you must hook up with a social worker, and my suggestion is that finding "the best one" can be done at a very reputable "homeless" placement agency. You must INSIST on outside help. You canNOT solve your own, grave, emotional, psychological, physiological and medical problems until you do. You must be a squeaky wheel, and get that help you need. Make it your only priority until it is done. Right this minute, you come first, and your son comes after that. That is the only way that will lead to success. One more suggestion -- if you can't find a proper agency or social worker right away, then get yourself to an OPEN meeting (call AA and they will direct you to an "open" meeting, locally) of alcoholics anonymous. Raise your hand at the appropriate "sharing" time, and tell them, "My name is _____. I am here because a friend of mine who is a member of alcoholics anonymous directed me to ask if there is someone in this room who will talk with me after the meeting, because I have urgent needs for my health and saving my life." There are many alcoholics in recovery who want to be of service, and they may have some ideas, because we all share similar stories. You don't have to be a member to become a very good friend of someone in the fellowship.


9 days ago, said...

I totally understand the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I have battled them all over the last 42 yrs. I still battle them at times. it is not a cake walk to take care of love ones and especially when the loved one is less than cooperative. My husband doesn't mean to be mean but he is verbally at times. It is his head injury that causes it most of the time. At one time he was also physically scary. He would go into rages and temper tantrums. Medicine has helped with that and he doesn't do that much anymore. He would never hurt anyone in his right mind but sometimes his paranoia takes over and he thinks things are true that aren't. I have been through a lot of what everyone here talks about. Not all of it but a lot of it. It is a day at a time moment at a time life. We do what we can and when we can't we just stop and do the best we can to survive the moments and days. We are Christians and believe God helps us through all things. If you believe then call on the Heavenly Father to help you through. If you have a different faith or don't have a faith then you need to turn to friends and family if you can. By posting on herr WE ARE YOUR SUPPORT also! You can do anything for one moment of time. When I walk I concentrate on one step at a time. I look just a few inches beyond my feet and that is my goal for that moment. when I reach that spot I look forward just a few inches and choose another spot to use as my goal. When you keep doing this before you know it you have gone a mile and didn't realize you'd gone that far. Life isn't fair it doesn't come with any guarantees. We have to do the best we can. If I can uplift anyone with my words then I hope you take away from this comment with a feeling that someone cares deeply for what you are going through. I've done the crying and the getting angry and the fears and the deep sense of loss of who and what I once was. I feel for my husband for all he has lost and can't ever do again. At the same time I feel sorry for myself that my marriage wasn't what it could have been and what kind of people we might have been if not for the head injury. We both have dealt with depression. We both have had anger issues. My kids and grandkids have grown up knowing the way life has been for my husband and his disability. They have been affected for the better. they understand that life is a struggle. they understand you can't take things for granted. They are more compassionate and more understanding than they might have been. Those around you are watching you and they are learning also by watching you and your family. You are teaching others that life is not fair but we have to keep on keeping on. I want to leave you with this -- You are not alone! You are not the only person who is dealing with what you are dealing with. Whether I have done what you are doing or not there are others who have been in your shoes and made it through the dark days. YOU ARE LOVED!! WE DO CARE ABOUT YOU! HANG ONTO THIS WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH! I hope you can find some help through state help or local organizations that can help. My husband is on a gov. waiver and that allows for some in home respite care. I'd urge you to check into any help available. Search the web for any help you might qualify for. Praying for you and your families May God lift you up and surround you with His Love and Grace and Comfort. May God Bless you and keep you in his Hands!!


9 days ago, said...

Hi RhondaW. I'm done. My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 22. His accident was on November 14.2015. No. I have no support system. My husband is not proactive and has let this accident tear him apart. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 22. He's gained about 70 lbs. Whereas I've lost about 60. I'm all alone in this.DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE. BULGING DISCS.AND ARTHRITIS ON MY SPINE. I'M SORRY. I'm not gonna make it. I'm in excruciating pain all the time. I can barely walk. N I know he's mentally ill.And now paralyzed. I wish I could take it all away..but I can't. He's angry. I get that. But since his schizophrenia diagnosis. .everyone tells me .watch your back. In the last few months I've had a black eye.bout a broken cheekbone n 2 days ago he kicked my ass..from that chair. He's gained about 70 lbs. I've lost about 60 due 2 stress. He had a very long arm span m where I used to be strong. .I am now very much weak. Covered in bruises n can barely move ...I lost. I'm done. Fuck me. Sorry for the language. No hope left for me. Much higher love n many prayers. .for you n yourz. I'm only 47 n between caring for my parents before they passed..n now him..I've yet to have a life..or even one good day. I'm done . Love....


9 days ago, said...

RHONDAW. THANK YOU.


11 days ago, said...

Lost in space thanks for the comment. I feel for you in your situation. I know how hard it can be to deal with an impossible loved one. You need support and they can't or wont' help you. I'm so sorry you are feeling so down and that things are worse. I may have my problems but dealing with your son's issues must be more difficult than anyone else can know. I do understand the depression and the hopelessness. It is hard but please remember you are not alone. We all are here to uplift and keep you going forward when you need help! I hope you have a backup system where someone can give you a break from time to time. God Bless and know I am praying for you!


11 days ago, said...

Hi RhondaW. Hope you n hubs are well. I haven't been on with you or Zak in a long time. I admire you. I'm losing it with my son. My family is destroyed.


11 days ago, said...

Hi Zac n Sandra..I haven't been on in a long time. I hope things are going well for you both n that God is Blessing you n makin things easier EVERYDAY. MUCH LOVE.


11 days ago, said...

I'm with you fellow commentator. .takin care of a loved one. My 25 year old. Fell 30 feet off a roof last November and is paralyzed from the nips down. broke all the bones in his face. traumatic brain injury among other things. This actually happened in Nov of 2015. My husband is NOT proactive. .in any way..shape or form. I also have a 18 year old. My son with the accident also came down with paranoid schizophrenia 3 years before his accident. Between tryin to keep that in check..and the brain injury. .JESUS. .HELP ME. I HAVE. SINGLEHANDEDLY GOT THRU ALL THIS IN THE LAST 5 OR 6 YEARS. .WITH GOD AND DUE TO HIS GRACE AND FAVOR. .BUT I'M EXHAUSTED. .I ALONE CAN'T SLEEP. INTESTINAL ISSUES ..HEART PALPITATIONS. ..ELEVATED BLOOD PRESSURE. I AM SITTING IN A HOTEL ROOM FOR THE SECOND DAY IN A ROW. I FEEL LIKE I'M DYING. LET " DAD" TAKE CARE OF SOMETHING ONCE IN AWHILE. BUT GUESS WHATHAT I DID TODAY? WENT N PUT MONEY IN THE BANK N CAME BACK TO THE ROOM AND PAID BILLS.. FOR A PLACE THAT I'M NOT EVEN AT. BECAUSE "DAD" CAN'T FUNCTION 2 WORK AFTER ACCIDENT. A YEAR N A HALF AGO. I CAME STRONG OUTTA THE GATE ..BUT DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO ...ANYMORE. MY PRAYERS ARE SO WITH YOU. GOD BLESS SWEET DREAMS SAY UR PRAYERS.


about 1 month ago, said...

I had to stop working to take care of my mom. I have no life, cant make any plans. Im sad and mad all the time. It affects my marriage etc. I love my mom but i am so unhappy right now. I hope i can find a way to help all the bad thoughts i have. Im anxious all the time, im having a hard time falling asleep. I wake up in the middle of the night with palpitations. Im tired.


2 months ago, said...

I hope I die soon. I hate caregiving for my mom, done it since I was child. My mom is disabled with CP and got worse, now needs more care. My dad left us when I was almost 18, I feel angry because I feel like my dad should be taking care of her. He was the one who married her. I never had a life/childhood because I was raised in a cult. I still can't have a life now and I will be 30 this year. I know if I'm feeling this bad, I should put her in a home. I would feel guilty because most people abandoned her. I sometimes wish she aborted me so I didn't have to live this life and feel this way. I was an accident anyway. Im so depressed and stressed. My personal hygiene is suffering bad, I eat mostly junk, I need medication to sleep. I have a lot of panic attacks. All my energy is going towards taking care of my mom. I have no one who can help. All I can do is hope I die soon, at least I wont have to feel guilty when she goes into a home.


2 months ago, said...

I have a sibling who fed on everyone's negativity about me living with my parents. They helped me when I needed it the most, so, in turn, I did the same for my parents. I had 4 siblings, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, aged 18-8 years older than I am. My mom had Alzheimer's, dad had diabetes. I also had 2 boys to worry about so I worked a full-time job at night and was a single mom, heading fundraising, team mom, coaching mom and watched my boys go to state every year. I succeeded at my job, fixing inventories, cash rooms and grocery departments at work. I slept 2-4 hours a day, IF I was lucky. Now, because I didn't take care if me, I ended up with stage 4 breast cancer at age 45, 3 years after my parents died. When I told my siblings I had breast cancer, I was told I was lying to get attention. I don't have much to do with my siblings these days. I'm a 6 year survivor.


3 months ago, said...

this doesn't help the feelings at all. I recognize what I am feeling, and still feel immense resentment, pain, depression, hate, anxiety and anger. I am tired. I have not been able to live my life at all. First I took care of my father, now my mother. Do I sound selfish? Indeed I am sure I do. I just want my life back.


3 months ago, said...

I am experiencing grief and guilt in measures that are more than I can handle. My mom passed away after 10 years of my care, of an aortic dissection. She was 89, a diabetic, on blood thinners and she said no to surgery. But I'm not entirely sure she understood what was happening to her. When she lost consciousness after 3 days, I asked them to take all the tubes and wires out, because mom was clear that she didn't want to be on life support. She passed away peacefully. Now I'm wondering if I did the right thing. I've heard several stories of people who survive aortic dissection, and I feel guilty that maybe I should have talked my mom into the surgery, and not have her life support measures removed. I loved my mom very much, but there's this nagging thought in my head that I didn't fight hard enough for her life.


3 months ago, said...

I am obsessed with being sure my mom's needs are taken care of n a very short staffed nursing home. She suffered a terrible fall and is not longer mobile and is in wheelchair with an alarm sitt No across from nurse station all day. She is legally blind, helpless and cannot press a call button to be toilette. She is on Medicaid, and am paying extra help $2000 month additionally for extra care. This is killing me because I am obsessed with her care. How can I let go of this obsession?