Caregivers provide nurturing to their loved ones at a time when they are needed. No one asks us to stop everything and care for them. Caring for others comes from the kindness deep within us and we evolve into the role.
Unless a catastrophic event occurs thrusting us into becoming a family caregiver, we often ease into things naturally. We would eventually be a caregiver given time even to those whose needs become emergent.
What is true pretty much across the board for all family caregivers is experiencing and often repressing emotions. We don’t have time to deal with our feelings when we are so busy doing the tasks that help our loved ones.
When you are caring for your senior loved ones in addition to your own children, the time available to examine your inner self is non-existent.
Emotions and Their Impacts
The emotions with which we all struggle need to be recognized and then, in some way, we need to find an outlet for expressing these emotions. We will quickly burn out of caregiving, whether for our seniors or our families, if we don’t cope with our emotions. Feelings are generally sensed in your body, for example a knot in your stomach, sweating, insomnia or a headache.
The consequences of unexpressed emotions can be damaging to those you love and to yourself. You may strike out in rage verbally or physically or both at the one you love; you may cry at the drop of a hat; you may stop feeling and become numb; you may begin to curse; wear an angry expression on your face, or always have an angry tone in your voice no matter what you are saying or to whom you speak.
Repressing your feelings can cause physical illness over time. Expressing emotions benefits your physical and mental health. Some people have spent their entire lives denying their emotions, hiding them from others or choosing not to upset others by showing their emotions or by becoming non-confrontational. It may take you some time to learn how best to release your emotions in a way that is positive and healthy and will resolve these feelings. Practice and patience will be needed, as well as time to deal openly with your emotions.
The key to expressing your emotions is communication. Caregivers experience a gamut of emotions including: resentfulness, sadness, frustration, pride, anger, happiness, hope, hopelessness, denial, guilt, fear, joy, anxiety and excitement. We can feel more than one at a time. When we repress our emotions we stop communicating with others. By the way, we all tend to squash our feelings, not just men, so remember you are not alone.
A beginning step, before you start to recognize the emotions you feel, is to accept that it is okay to feel. It is okay to have certain emotions about a particular situation.
You are not a bad person because you feel something.
We don’t have to be happy all the time. Life is not always easy and the situations we encounter especially as caregivers elicit an emotional response.
Once you begin to accept emotions, identify them and begin to express them, you will begin the process of resolution.
You will feel better, more capable of handling situations that invariably come your way and know how to communicate your feelings. This will only strengthen you as a caregiver.
Effectively Communicating and Releasing Your Emotions
You can choose a variety of different ways to help you express your emotions and deal with them in a more productive way. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Write them down, either in a note form or journal. You may want to reflect on the source of the emotion. Was there a specific event or interaction that triggered your feelings? Also include your physical symptoms when the particular emotion occurred. For example, “today I got very angry when the supplies weren’t delivered on time, it made me so angry that my face felt flushed and my blood pressure skyrocketed so that by the afternoon I had a splitting headache; by the time the poor delivery guy showed up I screamed at the man and he was just dropping it off.”
- Once you identify your primary sources of emotions, especially negative ones, you should be able to create an action plan for recognizing the trigger and avoiding the physical reaction that can impact your health and well-being.
- You can also strategize how you will handle the triggers, such as contacting the supply company and tracking the supplies, so that the situation doesn’t escalate into screaming at the delivery boy. You might also have a backup plan in case the supplies don’t come as scheduled so it won’t create a problem.
- Try meditation and relaxation when you feel emotions are getting the better of your physical health. Deep breathing and calming exercises can help you recover.
- Releasing your emotions is in your hands. How you resolve your feelings can only happen when you pursue it. Talk to the person who is triggering your feelings and let them know how you feel. Do this in a calm manner at a time when the situation is appropriate. In our above example, calling the supply dealer and saying that when you don’t receive the supplies you are concerned that your parent will not be able to control their diabetes because they will not have the supplies they require. This is not acceptable to you, as your parent’s health is potentially in danger. The tone of voice, the words you choose and the agreement you feel comfortable making is in your control. Use specific words when expressing your emotions such as “I feel” this way when this happens or another person says or does something. Don’t blame others or put them on the defensive as this will not help you resolve your emotions. Don’t forget, coming to resolution will also mean that you will need to actively listen to the other person as you expect them to listen to you.
- Use your body to help process your emotions in activities such as stress balls, punching bags, exercising or exerting yourself. This is especially helpful with anger resolution which we all feel at times.
Expressing your emotions instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping they will go away can improve your personal relationships, especially within your family unit.
Caregiving is a road that has many challenges. Getting sick because of our feelings should not be another challenge to face. Everyone is entitled to their feelings but we need to deal appropriately with them so that we can continue to give our best in the care of our loved ones.