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The Emotional Roller Coaster of A Caregiver's Life

May 15, 2018 by Larry Morgan

When people hear the word “caregiving,” their mind may immediately jump to the physical duties the job requires: cooking, cleaning, bathing, lifting, so on and so forth.

Many fail to realize that family caregivers and professional caregivers alike also have a large emotional workload to deal with. Caring for someone you love or someone who is relying on your help can be mentally draining and bring out a range of feelings from you.

Here are the emotions, some of which you wouldn’t expect, that you may feel along your caregiving journey:

Sadness

Caring for someone who used to be able to do all of these things they’re needing help with now can be downright depressing. If you’re caring for someone with a progressive condition, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer, these feelings are amplified by their ever-worsening physical and mental states.

Family caregivers may get hit hardest here, especially someone caring for their spouse. Losing someone you love is never easy, and taking care of them through their last stages in life can be traumatic for most people.

Just remember that you are helping them be comfortable and loved as they go through these hard times. It’s okay to be sad, but through the tears, remember that your work is so impactful to someone who really needs and appreciates it.

Anger, Frustration or Irritation

Even the nicest of caregivers feel these emotions at some point or another. There will be times when your client or loved one doesn’t want to listen to you or is making your duties more difficult than you can handle, which can of course be very frustrating. Things like them refusing to take their medication or them being nitpicky about how you clean their kitchen are the last thing you need on top of the other things you need to get done.

Patients with dementia especially throw curveballs at caregivers. What they are saying makes sense in their own head, but to us, they may come across as confused. Dementia can also spark agitation in seniors, making them grumpy clients to deal with.

Realize that arguing with a dementia patient or a senior who thinks they’re right isn’t going to do you any good. You need to adapt to their changing brains and their needs instead of demanding it your way. Taking the path of least resistance will result in a better outcome for all parties involved.

Stress

Caring for someone else, whether it be a child, a senior, or even a pet can be stressful. You’re fulfilling someone else’s needs, which takes a lot of time and effort.

Oftentimes, caregivers prioritize their loved one’s needs over their own, which makes the stress they have from strenuous caregiving duties even worse. Be sure to reach out to friends, family, and the resources available to you as a caregiver for support. The stress will not get any lighter as your caregiving journey continues, so it’s best to deal with it as it comes.

Confliction

If your loved one has a dementia or a certain situation comes up in which the truth hurts, you may feel conflicted. Do you tell them the truth and hurt them, or tell a little lie to appease them and avoid getting them upset?

In these situations, it truly is okay to lie. For example, if your mother passed away and your father with dementia keeps asking where she went, it’s okay to say, “She went to the store, she’ll be back later” and move on to another topic. Why keep reminding him of her passing and hurt his feelings, when he’ll just forget the whole thing soon anyway?

Let’s be clear that it’s not good to lie in the form of making false promises, such as telling your mother you’ll never move her into a nursing home. Never promise things you can't follow through on.

Loneliness

Even being with someone, your loved one, all day doesn’t mean that you won’t feel lonely. In fact, caring for someone else so intensely can strip you of most (or all) of the social life you have. You’ll stop seeing your friends as much, and perhaps you’re missing out on your kids’/grandkids’ major life events.

Make an active effort to keep your social life. It won’t be as busy as it was before, but being able to talk with others and take a break from caregiving now and then is vital to maintaining your mental health. Feelings of loneliness can be quite dangerous, even for you as a caregiver.

Disgust

Caregiving is not pretty. It requires doing some things we may never wish to do, such as cleaning up a mess when your senior is incontinent, pureeing food for their dinner, or putting ointment on their toe fungus.

It’s okay to feel grossed out now and then, because some of this stuff is gross. If you need help, you can hire someone to help with the less appetizing components of your caregiving, such as a CNA to bathe and change your senior or a meal service that makes senior-friendly dinners for you.

Laughter and Happiness

Despite all of the hardships, there will be times of humor and joy.

Relish in them. These moments are a great reminder to focus on the positive. Caregiving is tough and the more negative feelings may predominate sometimes, but you and your senior’s mood and quality of life greatly revolve around your mood and approach to providing care.

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