How to Deal with the Emotions of Caregiving

Here are six ways on how to handle your emotions throughout the course of caring for a loved one.

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- Posted on Sep 25, 2019

A caregiver talking to his diverse group of friends.

Caregiving for an elderly parent comes with many challenges. Not just the physical and financial, but the emotional as well. Even if you have a good relationship with your aging mother or father, you may find yourself suddenly experiencing every emotion under the sun. 

Those feelings have a lot to do with the drastic change in the parent-child dynamic that caregiving brings, says Jane S. Daly, a Christian speaker and author of The Caregiving Season. Daly experienced an emotional journey herself when she and her husband became caretakers—for a period of eight years—for her elderly mother, who passed away at the age of 94. 

“All of a sudden you’re changing positions with your parent and you’re the one saying, ‘No you can’t eat that,’” Daly told Guideposts.org. “There’s a constant tension in that transition.”

That tension can often lead to feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, guilt, loneliness, fear and sadness. While it may be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. What you’re going through is quite common and there are a number of strategies you can employ to cope. 

Here are just a few ways to handle the many emotions of caregiving. 

1. Get it all out. 

Try not to cover up what you’re feeling. Acknowledge your emotions and your limitations, too. After all, “God knows our hearts and knows what we’re feeling, whether we admit it or not,” Daly says. “There’s no perfect caregiver except Jesus. You do what you can, as much as you can. Maybe your limit is less than someone else’s, but that’s okay.” 

And don’t underestimate the power of a good venting session with a person who understands and won’t judge. “It’s important to find somebody to talk to, whether that’s a spouse, sibling, counselor or online support group,” Daly says. “Otherwise you’re going to bottle those feelings up.” 

2. Set boundaries. 

Carve out moments every day or week when you’re not in the role of the caregiver. And be sure that everyone knows that’s your scheduled “me time,” no ifs, ands or buts. 

Daly would devote the first 30 minutes after she came home from work to alone time in her room so that she could decompress. She also made a rule that she and her husband would take two nights a week off from their caregiving duties. “When I first told my mom that we needed two nights to ourselves, she got extremely upset and started to cry—she thought we didn’t want to be with her,” Daly says. “I was honest, but gentle in saying, ‘We’re happy to take care of you. We don’t mind. But there are certain times we need to be by ourselves.’”

3. Say “yes” to help. 

Friends, family, or members of your religious community may from time to time ask if they can help out. Your first inclination might be to say no, but consider taking them up on it. “Accepting help was something I had to get used to—at first I thought I was ‘super daughter,’ who could do it all,” Daly recalls. Eventually, though, she said yes to friends who offered to visit Daly’s mom for lunch. “It turned out to be not only nice for me, but for my mom too,” Daly says. “It gave her somebody else to talk to.”

4. Laugh about it. 

Daly’s mom knew how to push buttons, and would sometimes make comments like, “Why are you eating that? I thought you were on a diet?” Instead of getting upset, Daly and her husband often tried to approach the situation with a sense of humor. “Being able to laugh about it and say, ‘Yeah, I know I’m on a diet but this is just another cheat day!’ and rely on the Holy Spirit to temper feelings was important,” she says. 

Whenever she and her husband did laugh something off, though, they’d hug Daly’s mom and tell her they loved her so it was clear there were no hard feelings. 

5. Try journaling. 

Writing down what you’re going through can be immensely healing and a great way to communicate with God when you’re feeling stuck. You can also try painting, singing, or other artistic modes of expression. “For me, journaling helped get my anger and frustration out, and my prayers,” Daly says. 

It also gave her perspective. “A couple days after writing something down, I’d go back and read what I wrote,” Daly says. “And I’d realize, ‘You know that wasn’t really such a big deal.’”

6. Find the joy. 

The biggest spiritual lesson Daly learned from caregiving? “You will find the grace you need to do what God has asked you to do,” she says. “He will give you the strength to not only endure, but to find joy.” 

Whenever Daly got frustrated, she tried to put herself in her mom’s shoes and also to be more loving and forgiving to everyone involved—including herself. “It was a long educational process of being in God’s Grace University!” Daly remembers. “My husband and I constantly reminded each other that what we were doing was God’s grace—caring for somebody who could be difficult at times and stepping outside of ourselves.” 

Now, looking back, Daly remembers the joy more than anything else. “I really made my mom happy, especially the last few months,” she says. “Knowing that my husband and I were there to offer her comfort was huge. I have no regrets.” 

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