We were talking about the Seven Deadly Emotions of Caregiving on the Engaging in Aging Radio Show this past Sunday with Dr. Sean Pritchard. The stress that comes with caring for an ailing loved one can triggers an avalanche of emotions, some of them that can damage the caregiver’s own health if not addressed. Despite being what I consider a professional carer, these emotions overtook me as well when I was caring for my elderly Mom in my own home for the last year of her life. It was a learning experience for me in so many ways as I began to realize that setting boundaries and taking care of myself was something that I still needed a lot of practice in. This was part of the gift I received over those long months.
There is a fabulous website that offers a wealth of information to you if you are finding yourself in a caregiving role at www.caring.com. The author of the article on the Deadly Emotions, Paula Spencer Scott, cites guilt as the number on emotional trap that you can fall into when you are “trying to do it all” for someone you love. If you are someone who is plagued by the perfection syndrome, you have perhaps been a frequent visitor to the pit of guilt hole where you feel burdened by all of the self-imposed “ought-to’s”, “shoulds” and “musts” that rattle around in your brain on a day to day basis. This is an especially corrosive emotion because you beat yourself up in a way that no one else would ever think to do and have trouble accepting your own “humanness”. Mindfulness, staying in the present moment, focusing on the intention to be kind to yourself helps. Unlearning a behavior such of this that has developed over a lifetime takes practice, practice and more practice. Be willing to accept a B+ attitude instead of always aiming for the A. I became totally unrealistic about what I was able to manage on a daily basis as my Mom’s care needs escalated to total dependency. The result was my own health rapidly deteriorating. The answer was to ask for help. Lots of it. Also, finding a kind and gentle ear to listen to me without judgement. These emotions run deep and the expression of them to a good listener allows you to gain some insight into your own makeup if you are willing. Remember that everything happens for a reason and there is always valuable healing and growth available to you from every situation.
Resentment and anger are emotional traps number two and three. One leads to the other if not recognized and embraced. AS a caregiver you may feel put-upon and upset because of imagined slights that you others are bombarding you with without cause. It’s them it’s them you say. You also may begin to resent the care recipient and the burden that you feel because of the extreme life transition you are going through. A pressing sense of responsibility can sometimes feel like a thousand-pound weight on your shoulders, but you “shouldn’t” feel this way should you. Well, of course you will. We are all human and tire of round the clock stress that we feel we have no control over. Let the resentment be accepted, not judged within you. The more you can let it be okay, love it through, is how it is permitted to be released. It is like a cloud that needs to move and then the sun will appear again to lift and strengthen you. If not dealt with, chronic anger and hostility can ensue. Holistically these can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive-tract disorder and headaches. If it is unexpressed over time, depression or anxiety can result. Some people turn it in and others project it strongly on to others, which jeopardizes relationships in a way that may be difficult to repair. Hmm, yes I remember this myself as I began to think that my siblings were all against me and had a few explosions before I realized what was happening to me.
Sounding all too familiar? Try the five quick pick-me-ups for caregiver stress. Another great suggestion by Paula Spencer Scott from caring.com. 1. Read something funny. Laughter is the best medicine. Can’t quite get there? Try forcing a smile which will actually trigger the brain to initiate a relaxation response. 2. Crank the volume. My particular favorite is “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. Get your body moving, shake your arms. It feels good. 3. Take a power nap. Yes, you can take 10 minutes! Do some deep breathing. 4. Pump a little iron. Start with two-or-three pound dumbbells. It tones your arms and strengthens your bones, while at the same time fortifies your will. 5. Write a letter. Let that simmering anger of by writing a letter to your loved one and put down everything you are feeling. Describe what it is your wanting, what it is you miss. It helps your body release the loss. Have a good cry and then remember what you are grateful for.
By Marjorie Horne, founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting Inc./ Host of the Engaging in Aging Radio Show on AM1150 Sundays at 9:00am