Managing Those Big Emotions That Come With Caregiving

For many, the stages of grief have long been considered the way that anyone encounters the loss of a loved one.  There is often an unexpected crash in caregiving, specifically in how the caregiver views self and the world. By allowing themselves to grieve, the caregiver can rebuild and restore their identity; their meaning (personal, spiritual, relational and societal); family relationships; a sense of control and empowerment; dreams for the future and reinvestment of emotional energy in new directions.   

Carrying the unacknowledged grief along with the stress of managing time, finances, and decision making has a significant effect for loved ones who are involved with care. When the caregiver understands and acknowledges their own emotional journey as part of their caregiving plan, there is the highest hope for patient and caregiver to live each day as the best possible. 

Caregivers rarely consider that their own self care needs to be a priority.  If a caregiver has a healthy mindset and strategies around taking care of themselves, they can be much more effective caring for their loved one.  The process of self-care includes gathering good information tied to diagnosis and care to make the most choiceful decisions; accessing reliable support; connecting with others; taking care of their own medical and mental health needs; and taking breaks for relaxation on a consistent basis. Mindfulness practices help when situations feel overwhelming to aim for good enough rather than perfection.  Such practices give both the caregiver and the patient permission to enjoy life on life’s terms rather than relying on an outcome that may or may not happen in the future. 

Shifting roles can be daunting when lives and circumstances have changed dramatically.  Complicating this shift is the innate human tendency to compare self to others along with the fact that caregiver roles and attitudes toward the patient whether good or bad significantly cloud the caregiving relationship. When the caregiver pauses to remind themselves of who they are and steps back to take a non-judgmental look at what is happening and how their fear and overwhelm are impacting their perspective on what is happening, they have the best chance to adjust the impact of the diagnosis and to adjust how they view themselves along with how they see and communicate with others. 

From the very early moments of diagnosis, it is essential that the caregiver surrounds themselves with supportive providers and community and to be prepared to ask for and receive the help that is needed from friends and family Many resources provide the caregiver with the support and knowledge they need to prevent slips into emotions that negatively impact the caregiver’s ability to care for themselves and their loved one. Important considerations are who to confide in and what are reasonable expectations for this person to help.  Is this person a solution to a problem or a person to lend emotional support without judgment or advice-giving? 

Each day for the caregiver and patient presents as opportunities for order or chaos.  Some days, the best laid plans for how resources, time and energy will be allocated are upended by the unexpected.  Flexibility and the ability to remain calm often win the day when priorities change quickly.   For many families, the caregiving role is spread over multiple family members.  When there is good communication and processes, this can help to lighten the burden and reduce pressure on the individuals who are in the various caregiving roles.

For more information about caregiving resources and support in the Hampton Roads area, check out Senior Advocate.

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