How Caregivers Can Respond to Negative Life Events
The Caring Generation® – Episode 143 June 22, 2022. How Caregivers Respond to Negative Life Events. Pamela D Wilson, Caregiving Expert offers tips for responding to unexpected or ongoing experiences that can be mentally and physically draining.
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How Caregivers Can Respond to Negative Life Events
Retraining worrisome thought patterns and habits is one path for how caregivers can respond to negative life events. If you are a family caregiver, you probably experience a lot of stress, worry, health problems, and occasional sleepless nights.
Chronic stress results from caring for aging parents or a spouse and everything else going on in life. In a perfect world, things would go smoothly in personal lives and work lives. Making this happen isn’t always possible.
Caregiver Tips for Responding to Difficult People and Situations
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The Link Between Personal Preferences and Stress
When one or the other—work or personal life IS off-balance—emotional struggles or problems can weigh heavily on the mind. Let’s talk about why caregivers struggle to work through steps to respond more positively to negative life events.
In straightforward terms, difficulties with ongoing experiences result from something we do, something another person does that affects us, or something external to our lives. These three catalysts can result in feelings like being on an up-and-down rollercoaster that never levels out.
Day-to-day life running smoothly depends on personal preferences. Stability or simplicity might be preferable, while others enjoy complexity, constant change, or movement. Personal preferences establish habits and behaviors.
For example, people enjoy family members and friends who are most similar and have common beliefs and habits. Being with others in work situations when similar qualities, interests, and behaviors exist can make life enjoyable.
Do you prefer friends and colleagues who are continually striving to improve or who enjoy change? Or you may be past this stage in life where stability and enjoying simple things are important to you.
Is it easy for you to adjust your interactions with others based on their interests, preferences and personalities, or do you resist because others are different from you? Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable can help identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors.
Reasons Caregivers Struggle
The challenge for family caregivers is the complexity of navigating care with a variety of people. Because of the large number of tasks to be done, caregivers rarely choose who they spend time with.
Constantly doing can mean responding to stressful and negative life events. There are separate environments for parts of life. For example, the workplace, your family, the person you care for, and beyond this, friends and social groups.
Then add the health care system. Navigating the healthcare system represents a very broad set of interactions—hospitals, doctors, specialists, treatment centers, nursing homes, assisted care communities, health insurance providers, pharmacies, home health, in-home caregivers, and so on.
Juggling tasks and relationships with so many people who may not have similar interests or common goals can raise stress levels. When caregivers have little to no downtime, being hypervigilant quickly becomes exhausting.
Dreams of Alone Time
A lack of alone time or time to participate in enjoyable activities can result in mental and physical strain. Caregivers crave time alone, time to sleep, take an interrupted shower, read and do so many other things.
Pulling weeds, while dreadful for others may be the activity that takes a caregiver’s mind off everything else happening in life. Finding alone time is a way that caregivers can respond to negative life events.
Being alone can have a bright and a dark side depending on the situation. Some caregivers may feel isolated, lonely or lose interest in life. Instead of enjoying alone time, they become more depressed and discouraged about the care situation.
People respond to negative life events based on personal habits and experiences. In looking at how to respond to ongoing or new challenges—whether caused by us, others, or outside events—relying on similar past experiences is a well-used habit.
The mind takes these past experiences, relates them to a current issue or experience, and then offers ideas about what to do next. What happens next is the step for how caregivers can respond to negative life events.
Responding to Problems
Thinking and doing can be great. However, it’s important to think, evaluate, and then do in order to arrive at positive solutions to problems to avoid negative experiences.
Let’s use a caregiving experience to look at how to solve problems. Your mom or dad went to the doctor and was told that they have lung cancer. Your parent’s first thoughts may be self-blame, worries about what happens next, how to accept the diagnosis, identify options, problem-solve, and then decide what to do next.
Better than average communication and interpersonal skills are critical in caring for aging parents or loved ones, especially because much of what you do is problem-solving. When you think about people you enjoy being with based on personal preferences, the person you care for may not be one of these people.
The reason elderly loved ones need assistance is not that they are healthy and independent. Daily or ongoing care is necessary because of health problems and a need for more significant amounts of day-to-day assistance.
Caregiving Responsibilities Affect Work and Career
Let’s translate care issues to the workplace. Caregivers will be faced with increased time to help an elderly parent based on decisions about the cancer diagnosis.
Caregivers may worry about having to take time off work. How will your parents get the care that they need? Will time off from work affect your job performance and your relationship with your co-workers?
Do you fear telling your boss because you feel that you will seem less committed to your job? That promotion you wanted—well now it looks like that’s off the table because of being distracted by having to pay more attention to the care needs of an elderly parent.
As you can see, a lot is involved in how caregivers respond to negative life events. Your first response may be that all of this will be a disaster that it’s going to derail the life you had planned for yourself.
What if you can’t meet your personal or career expectations? So, what do you do when the world seems like it’s falling apart or routines are about to be drastically changed?
Instead of assuming that it has to work out this way or that way or not at all, pause and take some time to think. This pausing may be a different habit for you especially if you are prefer to be decisive. quick to decide or if you base decisions solely on your past experience without realizing that you have the power to create a different experience.
How to Identify Thought Processes and Habits
Habits and responses to events can be automatic. This means we really don’t give them much thought.
Allowing thoughts and emotions to take over instead of using logic and facts can lead to faulty decision-making. So, to manage responses to the sky is falling or a situation seeming hopeless, think about your automatic habits and behaviors.
Ask yourself these questions. Know that it’s okay if the answers don’t come right to mind, and you have to give these some thought.
- In the past, when a similar situation happened where you felt ambushed, surprised, or lacked control over an event—what did you do?
- What was the result of the consequences of your actions? Did you get a better outcome, was the result about the same or did something worse happen?
- Most of all, would you respond the same way or differently if this event happened again today?
How you answer these questions indicates interest and motivation in learning to change an intention to reach a different or better outcome. If you are feeling down or hopeless, know that your mind is the greatest source of power you have.
Finding The Way Toward Hope
Each person experiences losses—that sense of being in the dark and unable to see the light, being on your knees praying when all hope and possibilities seem dim. It is at these times, more than ever, that recognizing that mental power exists to pull oneself up out of the darkness into the light.
Only with a positive mindset can solutions be created for how caregivers can respond to negative life events. Creating new intentions and looking at situations differently can override past habits and behaviors that result in disappointment and missed expectations.
The key to success is to realize that the mind is powerful and to put it to work for you—not against you. Exhaustion, burnout, and hopelessness can happen, especially when trying and trying and trying results in nothing positive. There are times when trying becomes a process we have to go through to get from A to Z.
If you’re not getting results, or the results are not what you want then closely examine the actions you take every day. Ask yourself what to do differently to get a different result. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything. It’s not possible to be an expert on all subjects.
Being stuck requires different thinking and actions. Many people stay stuck in barely tolerable situations out of fear that taking any action will result in an even worse situation.
Think about creating an action plan that increases the likelihood of success instead of failure? To do this, consulting someone, an expert, or another person who has succeeded may be the way to find the path to get you where you want to go.
Taking Caregiving One Day at A Time
Being a family caregiver is part of being persistent and not giving up even when the going seems impossible. Persistence is necessary for all situations where consistent and ongoing effort is required to create long-term change or long-term improvement.
For this reason alone, consistently pushing to be a little better at something or doing a little more each day can propel you forward. Why get stuck in a rut and look back with regret or disappointment about something that could have been done differently?
It can be easy to focus on a single issue to exclude everything else in life. Or to avoid working on yourself when it may be easier to focus on the problems of others.
Having tunnel vision means not seeing the big picture of where actions lead. This narrow focus is common when caring for aging parents but leads to stress, exhaustion, and other problems for caregivers.
An example of not seeing where actions lead is being so focused on things you want today that you buy them and delay putting money away for retirement. When it’s time to retire, your health fails, and you need to pay for your own care you are at a disadvantage because of not considering the long-term implications of caring for aging loved ones.
Similarly, managing expectations are a significant component of caregiving relationships that cause major problems for caregivers and care receivers if ignored and not discussed early in the relationship.
Never assume that as a caregiver, you know what an elderly parent or spouse expects from you without asking or confirming.
The same applies to family caregivers. The person you care for must understand what you expect, specific to their participation. For example, suppose you take a parent to a doctor’s appointment.
In that case, you might expect that mom or dad will follow the doctor’s recommendations to take medications and follow other health advice. When mom or dad refuses to take medications and do what the doctor recommends, they become sick.
Having a sick parent means that you have to take more time out of your life to care for them. These situations can be frustrating. Now that we understand why experiences can be draining, let’s turn to solutions and steps anyone can take to more positively respond to negative life events.
Three Considerations for How Caregivers Can Respond to Negative Life Events
If you are a family caregiver facing any challenge, these three considerations can help you move from being stuck to being right where you want to be.
- Look at the severity, time-sensitivity of the situation, short- and long-term impact
- Identify all the options—even those you may not be open to considering
- Evaluate the pros and cons of the options and choose the next steps
Severity, Timeliness, and Impact
Begin by looking at the severity or time sensitivity of the situation, the impact, and the future consequences. Is this event or issue something that will blow over in 24 hours? Or like the example of the elderly parent in the first part of the program diagnosed with cancer, it is a long-term problem?
Let’s continue to consider a cancer diagnosis. There are immediate implications to health with any serious health diagnosis. The questions to investigate include:
- Is the diagnosis curable or only treatable? If curable, what does that mean?
- If treatable, what does that involve? If treatment is the goal, what happens, and in what time frame?
- Are the treatments short or long-term, or painful? What are the side effects? What happens if or when the treatment no longer works?
- If nothing is done, what happens?
The decision to treat cancer or any severe diagnosis is personal. Knowing the outcome is vital to making the best decision.
Managing Emotions and Mindset to Remain Positive
There are other indirect considerations. The emotional and intellectual aspects of working to remain positive can be challenging if you are the person diagnosed or the caregiver.
- Can you remain positive and hopeful throughout the treatment?
- What will you do on days when you are feeling down or hopeless? It is essential be realistic about the experience of ups and downs.
- On down days, what will you do? On positive days what’s the plan?
Cancer can be a chronic issue that carries on for years and is relatively stable with treatment. Or, if treatment is not the choice, you may be planning for end-of-life issues you’ve not had to face before. The best outcome is to create a game plan or action plan for good and bad days to avoid feeling stuck or hopeless.
Either situation benefits from joining a caregiver support group or finding a counselor or an expert to guide you so that you know what to expect, and you can plan ahead to avoid more of the unexpected. Depending on whether you are the person with the diagnosis or the caregiver, there are more aspects to consider.
Plans for Serious Health Issues
If you are the person diagnosed with a chronic disease or severe illness how will the diagnosis affect you each day?
What type of assistance will you need? Who will assist? Are you able to pay for related costs of care? If not, what will you do?
Care for persons with advancing chronic diseases can be supported by looking at everything that can happen, identifying options, and having the sick person make their wishes clear. Over time, the person who needs care will lose more and more control over day-to-day activities as health fails.
Care receivers will rely more and more on other people to provide care. If you are alone and don’t have a family, this is a very serious situation where you want to plan ahead and make sure that there are people and services in place to care for you when you are mentally and physically unwell.
A serious health diagnosis isn’t something to leave to chance or the hope that someone will show up out of the blue to care for you.
Caregiving Can Negatively Impact Life
How caregivers can respond to negative events is similar. You must be the person to face reality and investigate options.
If you want to avoid significant physical and mental stress, you have to be willing to do things that you may not want to do. This means confronting the seriousness of a parent or a spouse’s health problems.
In most care situations, the impacts go beyond the person needing care and the caregiver. There may be other family members involved like siblings, children, and the spouse of the caregiver.
The effects of family caregiving are far-reaching often extending to the health and career of the caregiver who continues to work and financially provide for themselves and their families. All of these aspects must be considered for how caregivers can respond to negative life events.
While caregivers want to be helpful and support family, the role of being a caregiver can have a negative impact on life. Becoming seriously ill in older age has a significant negative impact on life.
Caregivers who don’t care for themselves while caring for a spouse or aging parent often become the person who needs care.
Decision-Making about Extraordinary Care Measures
Chronic disease diagnosis and the amount of assistance needed are considerations when deciding whether to pursue curative or life-extending treatments. There are situations where family members choose to go to extraordinary measures to provide all of the care possible for a loved one.
When this happens, consider evaluating the personal costs to the care receiver and the caregiver resulting from performing extraordinary measures? Are both individuals giving up the quality of life in some way?
- Does the sick person, by having their life extended but with less ability to be independent able to still enjoy life?
- Is the caregiving giving up income and career opportunities to place the stability and well-being of themselves or their family at risk?
These are the negative life events that few families discuss. Caregivers often ask why their responsibilities continue year after year.
Might the lives of elderly parents be extended because of the extraordinary care measures taken by caregivers? While choosing palliative care or hospice may seem like giving up or losing hope, it may be the most compassionate and kind option for the sick and suffering person.
How to Make Better Choices
Sometimes the answer and the path forward will be apparent from the direction or wishes expressed by the person who needs care. In other situations, the caregiver may have to be honest and realistic about their life situation and a reasonable commitment of time for caregiving activities.
Regardless of the situation, when you plan far enough in advance, more options are available. This includes Medicaid or low-income support when or if elderly parents are unable to pay for care.
Discuss concerns within the family. Be honest and transparent about expectations and abilities to minimize unrealistic expectations. There is no one right answer for how caregivers can respond to negative life events of any type, including serious health diagnoses, and personal or career issues.
Having more information available and reviewing choices based on facts can give you peace of mind. Seek the information you need. Consult experts where necessary.
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