Nearly 42 million Americans are caring for someone over 50 (up 8 million from just 5 years ago!), with that number expected to climb in the next decade. If you’re one of those family caregivers, you know that caring for your aging parent or loved one can be an incredibly rewarding experience – but it’s not without its challenges.
Stress and burnout are common. In fact, in a recent AARP report almost two-thirds of family caregivers reported moderate to high levels of stress. But there are often more complicated emotions that come along with caregiving. “Parenting” your parent, putting your life on hold, and sacrificing other relationships in your life are just a few of the situations that create these feelings, which all contribute to stress and burnout. It’s important to know that these emotions are common and valid, and identifying them is the first step toward creating a plan to address them.
In this article, we’ll list 7 common family caregiver emotions and some tips for dealing with them so you can provide great care for your parent without burning yourself out.
- Anger/Irritability – There are many reasons you may get angry, from having to put your own life on hold, to your parent treating you poorly as you to try to care for them. On top of the direct causes, caregivers often struggle to take care of themselves, which can make you much quicker to anger.
- Anxiety/Fear/Worry – As things change with your parent, it’s likely unchartered territory for you. Fear or anxiety of making the wrong decisions or of what may happen to your parent or loved one is completely normal.
- Loneliness – If you’re the sole caregiver for your loved one, it can feel as if no one understands what you are going through. Spending a good deal of your time caregiving one-on-one can feel isolating, especially if your parent has a condition like dementia.
- Grief/Sadness – When your parent starts to need help caring for themselves, it often triggers a change in the relationship. It can be difficult to realize that they are not the strong, self-sufficient person they once were, and there is often a sadness that comes with that. It can be even more difficult if you’re parent is dealing with a terminal or deteriorating condition. It’s common to go into a “pre grief” stage when that’s the case.
- Resentment – Being responsible for your parent and the burden you shoulder as a result commonly causes resentment among family caregivers. This can be heightened when the situation occurs suddenly. Thinking “why me?” or feeling jealousy towards those who are able to live normal lives are not uncommon.
- Frustration – Your parent or loved one is going through big changes of their own, and they can be resistant to the necessary steps to keep themselves safe and healthy. It’s common for seniors who are struggling to neglect their personal care or refuse help, and those are just a few of the things that may frustrate you as the family caregiver.
- Guilt – Nearly every caregiver feels guilt at some point in their journey. It’s easy to feel as if you aren’t doing enough. Guilt can also occur when you experience any of the other emotions above, like finding yourself getting angry or frustrated with your parent.
Hopefully it’s a relief to know that you are not alone in whatever emotions you’re feeling. The next step is working toward managing these emotions. Here are some strategies to try:
- Form a care team – When you’re caregiving on your own, it’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. That’s why organizing a team of friends, family, and professionals can be a great way to prevent burnout and manage emotions. From cooking meals to running errands, or just being another voice in the room, members of a care team can serve a variety of purposes. A care team looks different for everyone, but it typically consists of your parent or loved one’s doctor(s), neighbors, other family members, friends from church or the community, and professionals such as a geriatric care manager.
One crucial part of your care team can be a professional caregiver. A caregiver can take over your duties either on a part-time or respite basis, and it can be temporary or longer-term. Most in-home care agencies can provide an experienced caregiver within a few days, so relief is just around the corner!
- Join a support group – It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating – you are not alone! And just experiencing that firsthand by talking with others in your position can be a huge relief and a way to help you manage your situation. Millions of people are caring for their parent or loved ones, and there are tons of support groups you can join either locally or virtually. There are even groups you can join that focus on the specific condition your parent or loved one is suffering from, such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
- Take care of yourself – It may sound simple, but even ensuring you are getting enough sleep can help you better manage your emotions. Being tired can make anyone irritable, let alone those in stressful situations! Eating right and exercising are other ways you can take care of yourself to better handle stress and difficult emotions. In that same AARP study, nearly one-quarter of family caregivers said that they feel their caregiving has made their own health worse and that it’s made it more difficult to stay healthy. And when we’re not taking care of ourselves and our physical health suffers, every emotion can feel heightened. Remember – if you aren’t taking care of yourself it’s going to be much more difficult to take care of others without paying a price.
Family caregiving can be difficult, and it’s okay if you don’t feel great about it all the time. Whatever you are experiencing is not unusual, and there are ways you can cope. If forming a care team is the strategy you choose, we’d love to talk more with you about respite care. Beyond providing you a break and an opportunity for self-care, respite care can be beneficial in a variety of other ways. You can learn more about our respite care services here, or reach out to book a complimentary discovery call.