The Emotional Side of Caregiving

Last Updated : 12/03/20194 min read

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with emotions when you are caregiving for a seriously ill or injured family member. In fact, the Office on Women’s Health at the Department of Health and Human Services warns that women caregivers are at increased risk for health problems due to caregiver stress, in part because they don’t always get regular medical screenings, adequate sleep, or enough physical exercise.

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What are some feelings you may have as a caregiver?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it’s normal to experience conflicting emotions when you are caregiving. Many caregivers have one or more of the following feelings during their time caring for a loved one:

  • Loneliness. Caregivingcan lead to isolation and lack of time to enjoy the company of family and friends the way you used to. Sometimes, you may even feel lonely when surrounded by other people, feeling that no one else understands your situation.
  • Grief. It’s OK to mourn the loss of your loved one’s health and even the loss of your “old” life, before caregivingtook so much of your time. It’s important to acknowledge your grief and loss and allow yourself to mourn.
  • Sadness. This is a common emotion as you adjust to the changes in your life and that of your loved one, but if the feeling lasts longer than two weeks, or interferes with your ability to manage your daily obligations, you may be depressed. Talk to a doctor if you have overwhelming sadness.
  • Anger. This might be directed at family members, yourself, or even the person you are caring for. The NCI says that anger many times comes from stress, panic, or fear, so try to identify the underlying cause for your anger.
  • Guilt. You may feel that you aren’t doing enough as a caregiver, or even guilty that you’re still in good health while a loved one is suffering.

The NCI notes that many caregivers regret not asking for help sooner, or doing too much on their own. Often, reaching out to get the help you need early on can prevent the onset of caregiver stress, give you more physical energy, and stave off health problems related to overwhelming caregiver emotions and stress.

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What are the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress?

According to the Office on Women’s Health, symptoms of caregiver stress can include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, isolated, or deserted by friends and family members
  • Changes in sleep habits; feeling constantly tired
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Feeling anxious or sad
  • Frequent headaches or body pains
  • Apathy (loss of interest in things you once loved)
  • Getting easily frustrated or angry

What are some ways to take care of yourself and feel better?

The American Cancer Society suggests the following checklist to help you safeguard your own health:

  • If your Dad or Mom (or spouse) yells at you or insults you, try not to take it personally. It may be his fear, anxiety, or even dementia that’s at the root of his outbursts.
  • Seek support from family and friends.
  • Make time for your hobbies or projects with church or community organizations you enjoy.
  • Schedule at least one social outing for yourself each month – and do one small thing just for yourself every day.
  • Learn (and practice) relaxation methods such as yoga or meditation.
  • Try to get enough exercise each week. Consult with your doctor about how much and what type is good for you.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Join a support group to talk with other caregivers in similar situations.

What are some resources for caregivers?

The Family Caregiver Alliance has resources, including the Family Care Navigator, to help you find help and support in your community. The Department of Health and Human Services also maintains an Eldercare Locator to connect you to local resources.

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