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It’s Emotional – Coping With The Emotions Of Caregiving

For many family caregivers like Patricia Michaoud, whose husband, Joe, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease seven years ago, the emotions that come with watching a loved one suffer a chronic illness or debilitating illness can often be the toughest caregiving task to handle.

I’ve gone through feeling alone, scared, anxious, angry, hateful and being in denial and holding my own pity party. I’ve gone through it all,” Patricia said.

Unfamiliar, difficult caregiving issues and decisions are often the norm and inherently full of tough emotions, according to Kathy Shannon, Caregiver Services Administrator of Legacy Health Systems.

“So many caregivers face frustration, fear of the unknown, financial problems and instability, plans for the future, social isolation, and/or a change in their relationship with the person they are caring for and other people in their lives,” she explained.

And according to Dr. Vicki Schmall, gerontologist and caregiving expert, anger, guilt and depression are three of the most common and strongest emotions. She offers the following tips:

  • Anger: This is a completely normal emotion to feel, but it’s important to deal with it in constructive ways, Dr. Schmall says. Writing in a journal, meditating, exercising, and talking with someone you trust are some ways of handling the anger. If the anger persists, it’s important to seek counseling.
  • Guilt: Caregiver’s often feel guilt over making certain decisions. If you had promised your 92-year-old mother that you would never put her in a nursing home, but taking care of her on your own is becoming more difficult, you may feel guilty about breaking that promise. “When a loved one’s ability declines, both of you experience a loss, which can trigger a storm of emotions,” said Dr. Schmall. “It’s important to recognize, grieve and honor those losses. You have to make the best decision for the current situation you are in regardless of what may have been promised or happened previously.”
  • Depression: Caregiver’s are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than the average American. And caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are three times at risk. It’s vital to seek help right away if feelings of depression continue after a few weeks.

It’s important for caregivers to know that they are not alone and that reaching out for help is encouraged, Schmall and Shannon both say.

“Often we see caregivers waiting until they are so stressed that they are heading toward complete burnout, they are completely overwhelmed and have no support,” said Shannon. “Start to get as much information and resources that can help as early as possible.”

One example of an available resource is the Powerful Tools for Caregivers course.

“It’s a six-week education course co-led by trained class leaders that help caregivers for adults with chronic conditions take better care of themselves,” said Shannon, who helped create the course. “It deals with a range of issues that caregivers face in terms of their emotions, their own health, communication issues with friends and family, and in making tough caregiving decisions.”

For Michaoud, she can’t say enough how much the course helped her and the value and comfort she found in support groups.

“People who truly don’t live it, don’t and can’t grasp it,” said Michaoud. “To have support groups and caregiving classes like this has made a world of difference to me.”

Find more information and tips directly from Dr. Schmall, Kathy Shannon and others.

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