Why is Caregiving a Struggle? Five Secrets to Reducing Loneliness and Negative Attitudes
By Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA
Why is caregiving a struggle when caregivers put their best efforts forth to care for an aging parent or spouse? The roles and responsibilities of caregiving are overwhelming even though we love aging parents, spouses, and family members.
Caregivers feel lonely, worry, and can easily dwell on the negative when managing day-to-day caregiving tasks. Whether you are new to caregiving or if you are a long-time caregiver, these five secrets will help reduce caregiving struggle, lessen feelings of loneliness, and help you become more positive about being a caregiver.
Caregiving struggle is how caregivers feel when physical and mental health are harmed by negative thoughts and behaviors. In the midst of all-encompassing caregiving tasks, it can be a struggle to maintain a positive attitude. After repeated stressful caregiving situations, moving from feelings of caregiving struggle to positive thoughts and actions may feel impossible. There are times when caregivers doubt their ability to survive the next hour, day, or week. Sometimes caregiving is just too much.
By acknowledging caregiving struggles, balancing the day-to-day caregiving challenges becomes possible. Two areas, loneliness, and negative attitudes are significant contributors to caregiving struggle and contribute to dependent relationships between the caregiver and care recipient.
Risks of Loneliness and Negative Attitudes
Caregivers and care receivers who have few social contacts report that they feel lonely. Social contacts, inside and outside of the family, fulfill the emotional need for connection, communication, and confidence-building. Without social support and connection, caregiving is a struggle.
Dwelling on negative thoughts and attitudes—believing that the caregiving situation will not improve—damages the health and well-being of the caregiver. When negative beliefs exist about care situations, changing negative belief patterns and habits can take substantial effort.
In the thick of stressful caregiving situations, many caregivers become unaware of the negative behaviors, thoughts, and statements that may be mentioned by family and friends. Caregivers, even though they may deny observations by family and friends, benefit from these honest conversations with friends and family. The all-encompassing aspect of caregiving makes it difficult to see the forest through the trees. As caregivers, we become stuck on the small details and worries and are unable to relate these to the bigger picture of care.
Negative Effects of Caregiver Loneliness
Caregiving struggle, loneliness, and negativity represent a downward spiral of emotion that contributes to poor health. According to Ayalon (1), the negative health effects of loneliness are well documented. These include:
- Impaired sleep
- A compromised immune system resulting in a greater likelihood of illness
- Increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease
- Greater likelihood of negative health behaviors: obesity, alcoholism, smoking, and inactivity
The body’s immune system regulates health. Caregivers and care receivers who have multiple chronic health diagnoses feel good and bad on alternating days. Individuals who are lonely and who lack social support have an increased risk of early death because of the risks documented above. Social support and activity support health and long life.
5 Secrets to Reducing Caregiving Struggle
Caregiving struggle is a common worry by caregivers. Because caregiving can last for years and is a daily responsibility, stress, and struggle are constant. Caregivers are rarely able to take a break from the roles and responsibilities of caregiving.
Aging parents, spouses, and loved ones who rely on caregivers experience similar feelings. Rather than struggle, identifying steps to relieve feelings of loneliness and negative beliefs help move care situations toward the positive.
Caregivers and care receivers who feel supported, those who have access to social and emotional support are more confident in their abilities. Struggles related to caregiving become more manageable rather than feeling like monumental struggles filled with self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Emotions become more balanced and level with fewer experiences of “flying off the handle”.
These five secrets will help transform feelings of caregiving struggle to feelings of confidence and positive self-esteem.
1 Acknowledge Struggle
Denial by caregivers about the extent of caregiving roles and responsibilities is common. No one plans to become a caregiver. Caregivers do not want to appear angry or frustrated about caring for an aging parent, spouse, or another family member. Time involvement increases as the health of the care receiver worsen. The number of tasks increases in proportion to the amount of physical care needed and the number of medical concerns and related complications.
Caregivers feel that there is little control over caregiving situations. Avoiding conflict in the caregiving situation by focusing on work or other activities will not improve the caregiving situation. Refusing to believe that challenges exist will not make the day-to-day difficulties disappear.
When caregiving struggle is acknowledged, caregivers are able to focus efforts and thoughts to improve the situation rather than to ignore the situation. We are unable to help ourselves until we admit we need help and cannot do it all alone.
2 Avoid Self Blame
Caregivers are Olympic medal winners at self-blame, feeling guilty, and neglecting needs. These qualities that are negative, result in good care for aging parents, spouses, and other family members, place the health and well-being of the caregiver at risk.
While taking responsibility for disagreements, negative results, and relationship glitches are admirable, there are two sides to every interaction. If an action was wrong or errors were made, apologize and take steps to resolve the issue. Look for repeated patterns in behaviors and interactions to find ways to respond differently and positively.
If, on the other hand, one individual feels wronged, discuss the issue to avoid a future blow-up. Negative feelings fester into greater issues. Being open to listening to an opposite opinion or concern is a positive coping skill. Taking on the emotions of another person—who may not be coping well with a situation—is the caregiver’s responsibility.
Above all, take responsibility for situations that are self-created. Call on others to take responsibility for the situations they created. Balance caregiving struggle by balancing the conflict in care situations.
3 Seek Emotional Support
Caregivers often “give up” trying to deal with situations because the steps for resolution are unclear. Thinking that “learning to live” with situations, rather than express feelings or concerns is a way of life. In some situations, the caregiver may have expressed concerns that fell on deaf ears. This results in a hesitancy to bring up the subject another time. This deaf ears response presents a learning gap or an opportunity to find another way to approach the subject of why is caregiving such a struggle so that the discussion is received in a better manner.
Giving up or learning to live with situations is unhealthy and results in physical and emotional stress for the caregiver. Feeling ignored, overlooked, or insecure makes it difficult to advocate for the needs of aging parents, a spouse, or family members difficult, if not impossible. Poor or substandard care, as the result of being silent or lacking the confidence to ask the right questions, results in new caregiving struggles and worries.
A lack of emotional support correlates to feelings of loneliness. When there is no one to call on for support to help with the caregiving struggle this is when self-esteem and self-confidence plummets.
When caregivers are having a bad day, what are positive actions to take? Is there a family member, friend, or support group that might provide help? Is there a routine activity, like meditating or exercising, that provides stress relief? We cope and responds to stress and negativity in different ways.
Feelings of caregiving struggle decrease with increased emotional and social support. Support groups are beneficial. Sharing with other caregivers who understand is comforting. Seek out in person or online support groups to openly discuss concerns and feelings about why caregiving feels like a struggle.
Support groups offer social support, camaraderie, solutions, and suggestions for managing care situations. Many caregivers in groups share similar feelings. Some caregivers are hesitant to share experiences. Know that by sharing, you are helping other caregivers who may not feel comfortable asking questions or expressing opinions.
4 Do Something About the Situation
Uncertainty about making a wrong decision halts caregivers from taking action. Caregivers not wanting to be blamed for making a bad decision fail to act. In addition to decision-making that has long-standing effects, the ability to organize and coordinate daily activities can feel like too much. At different points in the care situation, caregivers become frozen in their ability to move forward.
This feeling frozen is not the caregiver’s fault. Being placed in situations without the experience to respond with confidence is uncomfortable. Indecision that results in a lack of action is both a caregiving trap and a caregiving struggle. Gathering information, asking questions, and seeking support help caregivers to move forward and make decisions. One success will support another success and confidence grows.
“Not continuing to dwell” on a situation improves negative feelings about the situation. Feeling that something is being done, that decisions are being made, represents progress instead of the caregiver continuing to wonder why is caregiving a struggle.
Being a caregiver presents the opportunity to learn from care situations about managing health and self-care. Taking care of an aging parent or spouse gives the caregiver insight into the ability to make different choices about the caregiver’s health and well-being. Seeing the future in the health and care needs of an aging parent allows adult children who are caregivers a choice about their health and care future.
After a health diagnosis is made and care concerns have occurred for an aging parent or spouse, improving the course of daily care may require a significant effort. Know that anything is possible with the right recipe for care.
Looking back, many older adults admit that preventative actions to manage the risks associated with the current situation may have been a wiser choice. Unfortunately, the clock cannot be turned back. Life today is a result of past habits and efforts.
5 Gain a New Perspective
Feeling lonely or having a negative attitude about a care situation is a combination that results in more negatives. Self-criticism or being criticized by an aging parent or spouse reduces self-esteem and confidence. Continuing to believe that there is no hope results in stalled decision-making and inaction.
Caregiving struggle may feel like one day running into another with no way out. One solution is to attempt to view caregiving struggles in a different light—in a positive light. Changing to this perspective may require support from an individual who is not so close to the situation. Being immersed in a challenging situation as a caregiver may make it feel like one is drowning and is unable to see the positive in anything.
The concept of positive and negative thinking is shown by thinking of a glass being half full or the glass being half empty. Every positive has a negative. Every negative has a positive. Each person must decide to choose to be positive or negative.
Our thoughts create our results. Positive thinking results in positive experiences. Caregivers, aging parents, and spouses have a choice in actions, words, and beliefs. Changing behaviors and beliefs from negative to positive is possible with the right plan and concentrated effort.
Putting One Foot in Front of Another
The lyrics from the song, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from the holiday cartoon Santa Claus is Coming to Town (2) are good advice for caregivers:
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
While “walking out the door” is probably not an option for any caregiver, the lyrics focus on moving forward to address why is caregiving a struggle. Taking action reduces feelings of loneliness and thoughts of negativity.
Helping Aging Parents, Spouses, and Other Family
As a caregiver, realize that your aging parent or spouse may also experience similar feelings of loneliness and negativity. The secrets in this article also relate to care receivers but may require slight adjustments if the individual is home-bound or has a diagnosis that makes the actions difficult to implement.
As a caregiver, it may be difficult for you to be a counselor for an aging parent or spouse because you are too close to the situation. Family history may also make being in a counseling role difficult. Investigate if there are others who might act in this role.
Is there a spiritual counselor like a priest, rabbi, deacon, or another individual who can visit the home to provide support? If your loved one is physically able, encouraging ongoing appointments with a professional counselor is a recommendation.
Avoiding Dependent Relationships
The relationships between caregivers, aging parents, spouses, and other family members can be co-dependent. As the result of spending significant time together, co-dependent relationships happen.
Caregiving struggle results from the caregiver making extreme sacrifices to make another person happy. Since the goal of most caregivers is to please, gaining approval through self-sacrifice is negative. Caregivers have extreme difficulty saying “no” to requests for their time. Feeling trapped in the caregiving relationship and remaining silent are signs of being in a co-dependent relationship.
For the caregiver, the way out of co-dependent relationships and why is caregiving a struggle is to increase communication to eliminate negative feelings and to build relationships of social support. The care receiver has the same opportunity but may need a different support system to accomplish the goal. Support systems can be found in many ways. Caregiving or health support groups, activity centers, and hobby or interest groups.
Positive Behaviors Support Positive Change
Positive changes in behavior and response by the caregiver will affect a change in the behaviors and responses by the aging parent or spouse even if the aging parent or spouse is unable to implement the five secrets in this article. Caregivers whose actions are positive, calmer, more reflective instead of being reactive will generate a change in response.
An example of this change in behavior and interaction is the ability of a positive customer service representative to diffuse angry patrons in a long line waiting for service. How many times have you been in a situation where a novel approach made all the difference? Where an individual who was positive and interested in helping you changed your mood and perception of the situation? The old saying, you get more flies with honey applies in this situation.
None of us wants to interact with a frustrated, angry, or anxious person. These may be the behaviors that caregivers in struggle exhibit—even though the caregiver does not perceive their actions to be frustrated, angry, or anxious. In long-term caregiving situations, these behaviors can become ingrained as normal. It is not until one is finished with caregiving is there the ability to look back and reflect on the experience.
As a caregiver, it is difficult to realistically assess a situation when in the thick of the action and caregiving struggle. The question of why is caregiving a struggle, reinforces the five secrets in this article: acknowledge the struggle, avoid self-blame, seek emotional support, do something about it, and gain a new perspective.
Increasing awareness of caregiving actions supports positive change in a situation of caregiving struggle. With focus and consistent effort, anything is possible. My twenty years of experience in the caregiving and aging industry have given me this knowledge and this belief. I solve caregiving problems and support caregivers to manage care, relieve stress, and gain confidence in caregiving situations.
(1) Ayalon, Liat, Ph.D., Profiles of Loneliness in the Caregiving Unit. Gerontologist, 2016, Vol. 56, No. 2, 201-214 doi:10.1093/geront/gnu046
(2) Santa Claus is Coming To Town, Lyrics, https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/1337724/Mickey+Rooney/Put+One+Foot+in+Front+of+the+Other+%5BFrom+Santa+Claus+Is+Coming+to+Town%5D
© 2019, 2021 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.