You are the primary caregiver and you are having a bad day. Nothing seems to be going right. There have been other bad days and you know there will be more on the way.
How do you cope with this situation when there seems to be no end in sight?
1. Take a Time Out
The first thing you need to do is to stop and take stock of the situation. Sit down, lie in the tub, go out in the yard, take a walk . . . do whatever feels the most comfortable, and take a good hard look at what is happening. The reality is that you not a superhuman. You ARE a loving, caring human being with many strengths, as well as limitations. It is time for you to take a time out. To continue pushing is dangerous, not just for yourself but for everyone around you. It is time for you to step back. When you feel the beginnings of desperation, find a way to get some time to yourself. It does not have to be long, but you need to stop before you actually reach the point of desperation.
2. Accept Yourself
Secondly, you need to accept yourself. No one is perfect. All humans have flaws, weaknesses, and limitations, as well as strengths and good qualities. All humans have many different emotions. Although these emotions can often be controlled to some degree, controlling an emotion and not having it in the first place are quite different. For example, there is nothing wrong with experiencing anger, frustration, jealousy, sadness or any other "negative emotion." Experiencing such emotions is a natural part of being human. However, the real problem comes when these emotions are pushed down deep inside or if a person feels guilty about having them in the first place. You need to accept that you are human and that you will experience these emotions sometimes. If you do that then you can accept the flaws in other people more easily, as well.
3. Write it Down
Next, take a few minutes to write down the feelings you’ve experienced in the last 48 hours. Name every one of them, the "good" and the "bad." Now make complete sentences about each feeling.
I am furious at ______ because _____.
I am sad because ______.
I feel good because _____.
This is a time when you can be completely honest with yourself because, when you’re finished writing all this, you can just destroy it. The point of this exercise is for you to gain a clearer understanding of what and why you are feeling the way you are feeling.
As you write, remember that feelings are just feelings. They are not always logical. In order to deal with them, you must first find out what those feelings are and how they are affecting you. Writing them down on paper can help you to do that. Writing can also help you to discover what is causing the emotion(s).
You need to be aware of your feelings and their source. Once you understand the source of your emotion, the trick of expressing and releasing it is to do it in a constructive, or at least not harmful, manner. But how?
4. Coping with your Negative Emotions
On a "bad" day, you may feel anger at the situation, anger at your family for not being more supportive, and anger at yourself for not handling the situation the way that you think that you should. Anger may come from frustration or from loneliness.
It is important to understand that anger is a natural part of the situation and a natural part of being human. Then you need to find a way to deal with it. This may mean punching a pillow or perhaps burning off the energy by planting a garden. Finding a constructive way of getting out your anger has the benefit of replacing a negative emotion with something positive.
You might have thoughts about striking out at your family or your loved one for whom you are caring. Having that urge is not something to feel guilty about. The desire to strike out is normal -- but it is extremely important to recognize it and stop before you actually act on it! Recognize that the urge is a warning that the emotion is getting out of control. You may need to seek professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, clergy. Joining a caregiver support group might be beneficial in coping with this emotion. Discussing your feelings will help you to gain some perspective and come up with a plan to cope effectively.
Very often, the underlying cause of anger is jealousy. Your family and friends were very supportive in the beginning, but now that you are settling into a routine, they may have gotten on with their own lives. You may feel jealous of everyone else’s freedom and the attention that your loved one is receiving.It may seem that everyone else is living the "good life" while you are struggling along.
It may help to ask for help from family and/or friends at this time. This is also the time to take some time for yourself. One of the main causes of jealousy is having no time for yourself and nothing that brings you joy in your own life.
Your lifestyle changes dramatically when you are a caregiver. You have given up many things to do this. Taking time for yourself is necessary. If depression lingers, your effectiveness as a caregiver will diminish, your relationship with your loved one will deteriorate, and your life will become increasingly difficult. Again, seeking the help of a professional counselor would be appropriate at this time.
There is an endless variety of situations that can frustrate a caregiver. Joining a caregiver support group can offer you an opportunity to safely vent your anger and frustration without being judged. In addition, the other members of the support group may offer suggestions and techniques to help solve some of the problems you are facing.
5. Quality Time
It’s important to remember that you are not in this alone. Others are involved. Beyond this, you have a life of your own and relationships with others. The important thing is the quality of time you spend with others. Ten minutes laughing with your spouse or child is far more therapeutic than an hour of arguing. More than this, just as you need time to rest and recover, you need time with others. Sometimes the best “time out” is time spent with other members of the family. This gives you, and them, a sense of unity. Withdrawal, on the other hand, can increase your feelings of isolation and increase the risk of depression.
6. Focusing on the Positive
It is possible to think your way to new feelings. Here are 3 steps for doing this. You can use your journal to help with this.
- Ask yourself how or what you are feeling -- mad, sad, frustrated, etc.
- Who or what is truly responsible for this feeling?
- What are you telling yourself? "Listen" to what you are saying to yourself, and write down those self-statements.
A tendency to make statements to oneself that label a situation as “terrible” or “horrible” will certainly cause feelings of sadness, frustration, and/or anger. Ask yourself if your self-statements are really accurate. In addition, decide what you can do now about the current situation, as well as what you can do the next time it comes up. In this way, you are trying to form a plan for a solution, or to recognize that the situation is one that you have no control over and just has to be tolerated. If it’s the latter, then recognizing that there’s nothing to be done is the first step in accepting the situation as it is.
7. Make a Personal Declaration
Think about the following self-statements and decide to make them a part of your daily life:
- Taking care of myself is necessary if I am to give care to others.
- I know my own limitations and strengths. I seek help when I need it
- I have the right to feel what I feel and to express those feelings in a calm manner.
- I maintain the right to my own life outside of care giving.
- I take pride in my accomplishments and in the courage it takes to perform these tasks.
- I realize that I cannot control the happiness of another person. I cannot fulfill all of his or her needs. No one person can.
- I have the right of choice, to decide what I will or will not do. This includes the right not to be manipulated by anger, fear, or guilt of my loved one.
8. Learn to Relax
Here are some tips for relaxation:
- Keep a journal.
- Put on a favorite piece of music or listen to a CD or tape of nature sounds.
- Meditate. (Tip: Focus on your breathing. As you inhale, silently say to yourself, “I breathe in” and as you exhale, silently say to yourself, “I feel peaceful.” Continue for 10 minutes.)
- Think back to when you were a child. What were you interested in? Get books v on the subject from the library or bookstore and study the subject.
- Start a new hobby (such as, painting, drawing, playing an instrument, listening to music, putting together puzzles, etc.).
- Exercise. (A walk in nature for a half hour can dramatically shift your perspective.)
- Read a good book.
- Indulge in any activity you can do by yourself that calms your spirit.
- Find a volunteer to spend several hours with your loved one or hire someone.
- Take a vacation.
- Utilize respite services.
The Importance of Being Proactive
Being proactive means taking action BEFORE it becomes a necessity. Here are some tips to possibly prevent some of those “bad” days before they happen. Llardo and Rothman (1999) refer to these tips as the “Caregiver’s STOP Sign.”
S = Seek out opportunities for support
For example, a caregivers group can provide both practical guidance and emotional support.
T = Take time for the things you enjoy
Although you may not have time for an elaborate project, you can find the time to do something you like. For example, if you can’t go to a concert, you can listen to a CD of your favorite music. If you can’t go to the movies, you can rent a video. Avoid saying, "I can’t do anything!" just because you no longer can do it the way that you used to.
O = Opt for help whenever you can
Learn to say yes to help that is offered to you.
P = Prioritize your needs
Since you can’t do everything you’d like to do, you need to choose what’s most important to you. If exercise means more to you than meeting a friend for coffee, then forget the coffee and go exercise.
Llardo, J. & Rothman, C. R. (1999). I’ll Take Care of You: A Practical Guide for Family Caregivers. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland, CA.
Williams, G. B. & Kay, P. (1995). The Caregiver’s Manual: A Guide to Helping the Elderly and Infirm. Carol Publishing Group: New York, NY.
From CORE Health Care. Used with permission.