It’s called caregiver stress for a reason. The ever-changing demands of being an in-home caregiver, the emotional toil of caring for an aging or ill loved one, and the added burden of a career can take a toil on the most experienced and organized family caregiver. Learning effective coping techniques to handle caregiver emotions associated with caring for a loved one can be as important as practicing basic caregiving skills.
People have no control over what they feel (although they do have control over how they act on or react to those feelings). There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel in a situation; whatever emotions arise does so for a reason, and every person is entitled to have those feelings.
Unfortunately, most people feel uncomfortable with some emotions. People generally accept what are considered the “positive” emotions, such as happiness or love. By the same token, people are generally more reluctant to experience what are considered the “negative” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief, fear, guilt, or worry.
These latter emotions cause discomfort, but they are a part of a person’s life. Often they are telling a person something important, and it behooves in-home caregivers (and all people) to take the time to pay attention to those feelings, see what they may be telling them, and learn how to deal with the emotions.
What is it saying?
Sometimes it’s easy to determine what an emotion is telling a person. The cat darts under a person’s feet, causing him to stumble and almost drop the casserole dish, and so he feels anger (and perhaps a momentary bit of fright). That’s easy to understand.
Sometimes, however, the reasons for an emotion may be a little more complicated. When Dad asks to have his foot stool moved closer to the couch, why does his son feel so angry? It could be any number of reasons, such as:
- The son is in the middle of completing a work project on which he is very far behind and about which he feels pressure, and he’s worried about his job if he doesn’t turn it in today.
- He was up all night tending to Dad’s latest episode and is already feeling tired, resentful, put upon, and unappreciated.
- He is irritated that Father never says please.
- His father’s health is deteriorating rapidly, and his request reinforces how frail he is; the son feels angry that his father is fading away.
- The son and his wife had an argument last night, and he is still sore from the experience.
Try to deal with the emotion
When the emotion (and hopefully its cause) are identified, an in-home caregiver needs to try to find a way to deal with it. The best option is to talk with someone else about the situation. Sometimes this can be a friend who just allows one to “vent” one’s feelings. Other times it may be helpful to speak to a therapist or a spiritual/religious figure who may offer guidance in addressing one’s problems. Many times it is helpful to speak to the person whose actions or words are provoking the emotion and calmly and simply express that one feels angry (or sad or unloved) for specific reasons.
In-home caregivers have a great deal on their plates. Learning to handle emotions that “get in the way” can benefit both them and their loved ones.