10 Tips to Working Through Emotionally Challenging Caregiving Situations

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA

family relationships and conflictEmotionally challenging caregiving situations are common. Many family members tell me that they are embarrassed about their family caregiving situation. Know that you are not alone. Challenges are common with family caregiving situations because of the high level of unplanned events and emergencies that occur. Some days it is nearly impossible to have a peaceful moment. Other days you would just like to escape. Rather than being pulled here and there by priorities, it is time to choose differently. Rather than following the herd, it’s time to make thoughtful decisions and plans. 

I’ve been a professional care advocate for over twenty years and was also a family caregiver. My sister, mother, father, and brother died before I was 40 years of age. I understand the stresses and uncertainty experienced by family caregivers. In the role of guardian and medical power of attorney for my clients, I had to make emotionally challenging care decisions  My experience benefits family caregivers with real answers to real solutions. .

You or a loved one has mixed emotions about caregiving or needing care. Changes in life result in conflicting feelings about what one should do versus what one may want to do in life. The emotional challenges of caregiving are becoming too much to manage in a positive manner.

How many times do you ask, “Why can’t I ever get what I want?” “Will this ever be easier?” “When will this end?” “Why can’t everyone get along?” “Why don’t I ever get any respect or appreciation?”

Until you choose to change the day to day situation, your life today will be the same in one week, one month, and one year. The emotionally challenging caregiving situations will repeat and repeat. Crises will occur. That out of control feeling won’t go away. The tips below and the 6 FREE informational options may motivate you to make a change.

Caregiving, when provided from of a sense of duty versus a sense of love, may place emotions in a continual tug of war.  You may have not been close to a parent or sibling and by virtue of your existence you are called to become the responsible caregiver. The level of responsibility may feel emotionally distressing.

You may feel angry, guilty, frustrated, or trapped. It is important to identify an outlet for the anger and frustration that results from feeling like a caged animal with no escape route. Going to the gym or taking a walk are positive outlets. Drugs and other substances are not positive outlets.

Determine your level of participation and the type of care required by your aging parent or loved one. Are other family members available who can provide care or money? Create a list of all of the options for review. Discuss the options as a family. If money exists to pay for care this results in a greater number of options. If funds are low, support through the government program of Medicaid may be an option.

Mixed emotions are common in caregiving situations.  The following are 10 tips to working through emotionally challenging care situations.

1)  Agree on a strategy and a plan before you act

If you are reading this article, you may be in a situation where this recommendation provides 20:20 hindsight.  Most caregivers jump head first into roles without considering what might be involved short or long term. Take time to develop a plan to frame the caregiving activity and to set boundaries.

Be wise not to place yourself in an impossible situation where the expectations of your loved one or other family members are greater than the support you are able to provide. Have honest and up front discussions with an aging parent or the individual for whom you provide care. No surprises is a good policy.

2)  Monitor your feelings

In highly emotional situations we rarely understand the basis for our emotions. We recognize feelings of anger, impatience and frustration but fail to understand the foundation of these feelings.There are times when the way you feel may relate to an event or an interaction from your childhood.  Take a moment to analyze the basis for your feelings.

Are you experiencing stress about the actual situation or frustration because of something that occurred in a past relationship that was never resolved? Craving chocolate? Indulge but realize that stress results in cravings. Talk a walk instead to clear your head.

3)  Recognize that your loved one feel trapped by needing care

Few people are like resolving situations of conflict.  Attempts to express feelings turn disastrous due to a lack of skill in expressing feelings that will be positively interpreted by the receiver.  If you are a caregiver it is likely your loved one is having similar feelings and may only be able to express these through actions that appear to be angry or resistant.

Find a way to express your feelings so that your loved may reciprocate.  Sharing feelings of loss, frustration and anger may support a more positive daily relationship. The title of my book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions to Life’s Unexpected Changes was born from this idea. Caregivers feel trapped by responsibilities. Aging parents and others feel trapped by illness and needing the care of others. Aging parents have told me that they do not wish to be a burden to their children.

4) Acknowledge negative feelings

Controversy and disagreement exist in many care situations. Listen and acknowledge the feelings of others but refuse to allow their feelings to become yours. Negativity has a way of making situations worse. Being realistic and identifying options balances situations that appear to be spinning out of control. Acknowledge your role in situations. Accept responsibility and encourage others to do the same. Retain the services of a professional caregiving advocate if you or others are unable to gain a larger perspective regarding available options.

5)  Understand that there are no perfect families

If you experienced a difficult past relationship with your loved one, accepting the role of primary caregiver may not be an option. In this situation your time and effort may be better invested in working to mend the relationship than in performing the physical tasks of caregiving. Investigate options determine the care that is needed and alternatives to provide the care.

6)  Hire paid caregivers or a caregiving advocate

There will be a point where the level or amount of care needed by a loved one exceeds what a caregiver is able to provide. Lack of sleep, no time for yourself, declining health, or dreading the caregiving situation are all indicators that support is needed. Research and interview companies who provide a variety of support to understand what services are available. Then then make the decision on what type of care you will utilize and in what frequency.

7) Counseling may be a beneficial option

If feelings of anger, frustration, guilt and anxiety persist seek professional counseling to help you work through this challenging time. There is no shame in admitting that your ongoing attempts to change your feelings or a situation have not worked out the way you hoped or expected. Sometimes we need an outside perspective to help us work through emotional concerns. When caregivers are in the emotional throes of a situation it is impossible to believe that other options may exist. Counseling professionals provide support for needed change.

8)  Set boundaries with family members

Refuse to allow family members to become a complaint factory. If or when this occurs suggest a meeting with a local care manager who will be able to provide insight and recommendations into a care situation. My webinar on this topic offers information about how care managers can be of significant help. It is often family members who complain the most who refuse to take action to change the situation.Call their bluff. Remind them that complaining offers no solutions. Actions offers solution.

9)  Recognize that all caregivers are human

Caregiving is one of the most personally difficult, challenging, and emotional roles in life.  Accept the reality that it is common to feel conflicted when caring for your loved one. Take time to acknowledge your feelings and find ways to manage frustration and emotional overwhelm by taking time away from the responsibilities of caregiving. We all become impatient and then feel guilty. We become anxious when too many issues are coming our way. Caregiving is a complicated role. We all make mistakes.

10) Accept help and seek caregiver support groups

Seek support from other caregivers. Join Pamela’s private Facebook group for family caregivers or subscribe to the monthly newsletter. Read books, magazines, and articles; access video, podcast and webinar education.  The more educated you become the more confident you will become in your ability to successfully navigate unexpected situations.

Realize that walking away may be the best option.  Caregivers often feel a responsibility or duty to remain in impossible situations.  There are situations, that due to health diagnoses or chronic conditions, the care of a loved one becomes impossible to manage or navigate.  In these situations walking away from the daily responsibilities of caregiving may be the wisest action to take.  Professional advocates exist to serve in these situations to ensure care will be provided.  Retaining an advocate offers peace of mind that needed care is provided while allowing you to preserve your health and well-being.

Take action today to reduce caregiving stress and anxiety. Help exists but if only you make the choice to act. Where will you be one week, one month, or one year from now if you continue doing the same things?

Choose one or all of the below supports to relieve caregiving overwhelm and to feel more confident about your abilities and choices.

© 2012, 2013, 2018 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.


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