4 Ways to Reduce Stress from Caregiver Emotions

4 ways to manage stressful caregiving emotions and improve your health

Caring for seniors is an emotional job

One caregiving challenge that doesn’t get enough attention is dealing with the strong emotions that unavoidably come up.

Caregiving is hectic and exhausting, so it’s natural to push aside the feelings and focus on concrete tasks – especially when those feelings are ones we don’t want to admit to.

The problem is, if these emotions aren’t dealt with, they can seriously damage your health.

Dealing with these strong emotions rather than ignoring them significantly reduces stress, improves your ability to care for yourself, and helps you be realistic and get the help you need.

We describe top caregiving emotions and share 4 ways to help you manage difficult feelings to reduce stress and improve your health.

 

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Common caregiver emotions

While caring for an older adult, many caregivers have strong and conflicting feelings.

Top emotions include:

  • Anger at your older adult’s frustrating behavior
  • Anger at their disease or the aging process itself
  • Anger that you’ve been forced to take on so much responsibility
  • Guilt over thoughts and feelings (like wishing they would pass away sooner to prevent more suffering, being angry, wanting to quit, etc.)
  • Anxiety because you don’t know what will happen next
  • Frustration that you can’t stop what’s happening
  • Despair that there aren’t any treatments that can restore them to the way they used to be
  • Sadness for all that you’ve both already lost
  • Anticipatory grief, which means that you’re dealing with losing your older adult before they actually pass away

 

4 ways to manage strong caregiver emotions

1. Don’t ignore your feelings
Ignoring anger, sadness, and other caregiver emotions only makes things worse.

Forcing away your feelings can cause high stress, sudden angry outbursts (and guilt afterwards), hopelessness, unhealthy life choices, sleep problems, or depression.

Acknowledging and identifying your feelings may be uncomfortable at first.

But the more you accept what you’re feeling, the less likely you’ll be plagued by those negative health “side effects.”

2. Don’t be “strong and silent”
You don’t need to pretend that everything is fine. You’re in the middle of a serious, sometimes scary, and literally life-changing situation.

Not allowing yourself to cry, show anger, or say that you’re frustrated and need help adds an incredible amount of stress to an already stressful situation.

Instead, give yourself permission to share with supportive family and friends. Talk about what’s really happening, how you’re feeling about it, and what kind of help you need.

You’ll get rid of the extra stress from pretending, get more understanding from others, and be more open to support.

 

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3. Don’t feel guilty about your feelings
Whatever you’re feeling is being felt by caregivers all over the world.

Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations (like finding joy in every part of caregiving) or beat yourself up over negative feelings. That just adds extra stress and negativity.

For example, you might get really mad because your older adult has made a huge mess at the end of a tough day, meaning extra hours of exhausting clean-up for you.

Feeling angry is a normal response to this situation and doesn’t mean you’re a heartless monster.

4. Find an outlet for intense feelings
You don’t want to bottle up strong or negative feelings, but you also don’t want to take things out on your older adult – that won’t improve the situation.

In moments of stress or frustration, be as calm and kind as possible, even if that means just keeping your mouth shut in front of your older adult.

As soon as you can get away, use a safe outlet for your anger, frustration, sadness, or other emotions.

Giving yourself an outlet helps reduce stress and decrease the intensity of your feelings.

Some suggestions:

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


11 Comments

  • Reply April 29, 2021

    R. Lynn Barnett

    As someone who took care of my Alzheimer’s-ridden mom for 5 yrs., I could be the poster child for someone dealing with stress, but I dealt with it by writing about our travails called, “My Mother Has Alzheimer’s and My Dog Has Tapeworms: A Caregiver’s Tale.” I wrote it with humor and heart, because you need both when dealing with Alzheimer’s. I learned that if I had to curse, to curse the disease, and not the person.

    • Reply April 29, 2021

      DailyCaring

      It’s wonderful that you found a positive outlet for caregiving stress!

  • Reply March 23, 2021

    Teri L Taylor

    My mom is 84,increasing short term memory loss. She has always been negative and hurtful to me and after my eldest brother passed in a plane crash,she lashed out at my younger brother and told him she wished it was he who had died instead. My younger brother has washed his hands of her as has my elder sister. I am the only one left . It has been relegated to me to take care of her. After my husband passed 4 years ago,it was very difficult to take care of her . I have taken care of her through two bouts of cancer(sole care provider),..also four major surgeries since. When my husband passed, she saw the opportunity to attack me through that. She has always been an extreme narcissist. She used my pain to lash out even more.. Now she has intermittent memory loss,I think. I cant tell if its real ,just from her past escapades.She repeats question over and over to me as if she cant recall what we are talking about,yet when my sister in law and niece visited her I asked how the conversation went , suspecting them to say it was hard to talk to her because of this problem. They both looked at me with suprise and stated that she had been clear and concise and there was no sign of memory problems. Most of our visits end with her being or saying something hurtful and nasty,and my leaving feeling hurt,resentful and not ever wanting to see her again. Just 2 days ago,when I went down to clean and visit with her,she started in ,and would not let up. I told her that I was sorry I came down . Wrong thing to say. She jumped at the fact that she had gotten to me . I just left instead of feeding into her narcissistic behavior. I dont let her see that she has caused this ,because that would only feed her narcissism. Im at my breaking point. It’s been 25 years since my dad passed and I made the promise to him to take care of her because he knew the others wouldnt. My eldest brother did as much as he could while he was here,but he has been gone 14 years now and its just been me. Ive hired help to clean and help with chores ,only to have her lie to me about them and she would fire them. She would actually lie to their employers and almost get them fired. …I am having horrible thoughts ,wishing she would just go and I could finally get some peace,but that just makes me feel guilty . She is my mother after all. She doesnt have money,neither do I. She lives in the house my brother bought for her. She is house bound,having sold her car. She refuses to bathe. I had her tub modified so she would be safe. She wont even entertain the idea of a bath. I cant even get close to her . She smells. She says she takes sponge bathes,but I know that to not be true and quite frankly its not worth fighting over. There is no common sense recommendation to be said. She just wont do it. Its been a year and a half. She wont even try to help herself anymore even though she could if she wanted. I’m at my wits end. Suggestions would be appreciated.. I have had experience taking care of elderly people, having been a CNA in my younger days at 3 different nursing facilities. But this is ……….

  • Reply June 14, 2019

    Sandra

    Hi Deborah. I’m right there with you in this situation. My 89 year old mother behaves the same way. The sad thing is we brought her back to her home in the Caribbean and most times she doesn’t recognize it. She’s at home and is still wanting to ‘go home.’ We find that allowing her to pack helps her to feel as though she’s in control of her life. It also helps to keep her calm as we are not correcting her; something that she finds very annoying. Sometimes we pretend to receive a phone call from ‘home’ with a message saying to leave her packed bags at the door and wait to be collected by a family member. After 15 minutes of waiting she’s usually forgotten why she’s sitting there and is ready for another activity. So maybe you could try that. Are you in contact with any family in Brazil who wouldn’t mind you calling when you’re mum gets very agitated? Maybe talking to them and hearing them tell her that ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’ would be a better time to come might be acceptable to her and avoid disappointment for your mum. Initially we were against using these little deceptions but as the condition worsens and behaviors become more aggressie we find that this is one of the few ways to lessen my mum’s distress.

    I wish you all the best.

  • Reply January 25, 2019

    Deborah

    My mom 81 has dementia. It sad, frustrating to see that your old mom is not here anymore. She lives w me and between my other 2 siblings we care for her. She insists 24/7 that she needs to go back to Brazil to live in her apartment and I don’t know hoe to respond to that anymore. We ignore it, we change the subject. I know it doesn’t make sense to her, that she’s saying without thinking, but she makes her luggages and is ready to go. How do we deal with that???

    • Reply February 1, 2019

      DailyCaring

      It’s great that you and your siblings are able to care for your mom at home. Asking to go home is common in people with dementia. We’ve got a couple of articles that might be helpful.

      One explains why they might be saying it and the other has suggestions for how to respond in kind ways that help them let go of the idea:
      — 3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home https://dailycaring.com/3-ways-to-respond-when-someone-with-alzheimers-says-i-want-to-go-home/
      — Why Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home https://dailycaring.com/when-someone-with-alzheimers-says-i-want-to-go-home/

      If she likes to pack up her things, it’s not a harmful activity. It may create some extra work for you or your siblings to secretly unpack when she’s not looking. But if it’s something she enjoys and brings her comfort, you may consider allowing her to do it. It’s similar to situations where people are going through their drawers and moving things around. This article has suggestions for how to manage that behavior and may also help with your mom’s need to pack her things — https://dailycaring.com/9-ways-to-manage-dementia-rummaging-behavior/

      • Reply May 3, 2021

        Anonymous

        It’s sad and frustrating to care for a parent or a spouse my husband has dementia and he still thinks he can do things like cutting the grass or washing the dishes we have to hide the lawn mower keys he’ll run over rocks gets close to trees and my heart is pounding because he won’t listen he gives our dog our food constantly and I tell him he already ate his dog food the vet says the dog is overweight l am very stressed out l take stress pills the doctor gave me it helps

  • Reply April 26, 2018

    v gray

    concern if doing right for hin

    • Reply April 26, 2018

      DailyCaring

      That’s definitely something top of mind for many caregivers. I hope the tips and resources available on our website are helpful! It can make a big difference in confidence to learn more about their health conditions, caregiving techniques, and useful resources.

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