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Caregiving Emotions

Part of adapting to caregiving involves being prepared for the unexpected such as falls. Planning ahead for what to do when a fall occurs and you're alone to deal with the crisis helps to keep the panic down when it happens for real.
Part of adapting to caregiving involves being prepared for the unexpected such as falls. Planning ahead for what to do when a fall occurs and you're alone to deal with the crisis helps to keep the panic down when it happens for real.

Caregiving Emotions are Challenging

Caregivers Start on Shakey Ground

     Have you seen sandcastles swept out to sea? Houses built on sand have no anchor in the ground to help them stand against waves. They can crumble without that foundation.  Adapting to caregiving may feel the same way without possessing the background or skills needed to know what to do. Learning by trial-and-error works, but it’s a painful, difficult way to learn.

     Most caregivers fear making a mistake and causing harm; therefore, they prefer a cautious approach to performing medical tasks or making decisions. Many spin their wheels in frustration, repeating tasks, wasting expensive supplies, and “holding” in limbo trying to figure out a caregiving problem. The loss in time and money, not to mention the pressure they feel to hurry up because they have so much to do, pushes many toward depression and burnout.  

Caregiving Requires a Foundation

     What do caregivers say would help them feel less overwhelmed and burdened? According to a survey conducted by AARP (American Association of Retired People), Caregivers say that knowledge, resources, and access to information would help make a caregiver’s life easier.

     With a sturdy foundation, caregivers gain personal strength and self-confidence to survive life’s storms. Without that preparation, they become overwhelmed and feel unprepared when an emergency arises. Their unsteady tower of strength comes crashing down around them, washing their confidence out to sea like waves pulling sand out from under their feet. 

Emotions and Caregiving

     Caregivers often acquire the role of caregiver without warning.  They have little or no time to prepare for their new responsibilities mentally, financially, or emotionally.  Often, they have no option but to accept the role.  Hundreds of emotions survive as a result.

     While in a state of emotional shock, caregivers must pull themselves together and make life-changing decisions. Sometimes, the person affected helps make choices; other times, the caregiver faces them alone. Decision-making must occur within minutes or hours under highly stressful conditions with almost no time to prepare or acquire background understanding.

     Everyone affected reacts almost without thinking based on what they know or feel in that moment and then must live with those decisions later, good or bad. So is there any wonder that caregivers are overwhelmed with emotions? Whether the role comes after an emergency or months of anticipation, taking on the responsibility for someone else’s healthcare and life is huge.

Situations Are Unique

     Each person’s situation, of course, is different. Plus, each situation changes a lot over time. The issues Lynn and I faced in the early years aren’t close to what we face now but are nonetheless just as difficult. Keep in mind, each person’s problem is a crisis for them.  It might seem small to you because you have dealt with so many crises you thought were worse, but for them, it’s huge. Never forget that and show them that empathy and respect always. No personal pain is small.

   (caregiving.org/Caregivers in the US 2020

Dealing with Caregiving Emotions

Emotional Loss

     All caregivers feel the emotional impact that accompanies changes in circumstances. Full-time caregivers have difficulty dealing with caregiving emotions because they typically experience the greatest change and loss of personal freedom. Feelings of guilt surface when trying to cope with grieving the loss of personal freedom. 

     However, loss is an honest emotion.  Caregivers should experience a feeling of loss and need to allow themselves to deal with it. Running away from the feeling will only lead to resentment, depression, or anger.

Why are there negative emotions?

     When a family member becomes ill or injured, everyone focuses on their condition and recovery. Family and friends aim all attention, empathy, and support toward that individual’s needs and how they can help reduce the negative impact of events on their life. The affected family member’s personal view is like looking into a camera lens.  When they look through the viewfinder, they zoom in on themselves, and the background is a blur.

     While the affected family member’s viewfinder zoom’s-in for a focused shot, the caregiver’s viewfinder enlarges to a panoramic view. The caregiver must consider the needs of the affected family member and incorporate their therapy/recovery requirements into the household’s landscape.

     The caregiver must adjust their life to incorporate the care plus responsibilities of the affected family member. Often, the caregiver coordinates communications with the injured family member’s job, updates others on recovery status, monitors insurance claims, orders medical supplies, becomes a nurse, physical therapist, respiratory therapist, and psychiatrist, and supports other family members emotionally impacted by the condition of the affected family member. The tasks quickly become unmanageable.

Grief Hits Home

     The unpredictable nature of managing someone else’s world and medical condition feels beyond the caregiver’s control. However, controlling the situation remains their responsibility. Regular battles with fear, anxiety, anger, and frustration occur. Then, one day, whether from exhaustion or a song heard over the radio, the weight of their unstable block tower shifts, and all the blocks they so carefully constructed come tumbling down. At that moment, the grief for the life they’ve left behind hits them in the gut. “This” is not going away anytime soon.

Adapting to caregiving can feel overwhelming.
Adapting to caregiving can feel overwhelming.
Strength doesn't come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming things you once thought you couldn't
Strength doesn't come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming things you once thought you couldn't

Managing Anxiety by Living in the Moment

“Right Now “

     As a caregiver adapts to caregiving, a change occurs in how they look at their world. The caregiver thinks in terms of “right now” rather than “tomorrow.”  No longer do they trust that plans made today will be relevant tomorrow or even possible.  Too often, over the years, medical events required canceled or altered plans. Living with a chronic illness means life is unpredictable and best lived in the moment.

    Live in the Moment    

     Caregivers learn to always prepare for the unexpected. Consequently, many caregivers “live in the moment” while “storing up” for the future.  After experiencing multiple changes in plans, they realize guarantees do not exist. Therefore, it is important to enjoy each moment with their family members and never assume they will have more time. They learn to adapt quickly and not hold on to “things.” Realizing what is important, they set priorities accordingly and live in the moment. 

Defense Against Murphy’s Law 

     Don’t misunderstand, however. Living in the moment does not mean failing to plan. Some might accuse caregivers of acting like hoarders. Those accusers would be mistaken.

     Murphy’s law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible moment) haunts caregivers as a personal enemy. When a caregiver goes out, they fear and therefore, prepare, for the worst. They pack a suitcase of “just in case” supplies because you never know when an “accident” might happen.  Snacks, drinks, medicines, special equipment, entertainment, batteries (for said entertainment), blankets for cold offices, arm/leg warmers, hand sanitizers, wet wipes, etc., are necessities to have on-hand for caregivers.

Store Up for Tomorrow

     For mail-order “special” need items that take weeks to receive or often go on back-order, well, those items have a place in the caregiver’s home designated just for them. It’s not surprising to find a warehouse and inventory control system right in the caregiver’s home to help them maintain a constant supply stream. Panic ensues if supplies drop below the critical inventory level for fear the precious item will run out before UPS or Fed-ex pulls up with the necessary item on their truck.  No kidding, courier drivers know the caregivers in the neighborhoods based on frequent “storing up” deliveries.