An Emotional Melting Pot
Imagine you are friends with Jane who is a full-time caregiver for a loved one in her family. As Jane’s friend, you invite her to join you for coffee. Weeks of her not being able to make it come and go, but by some miracle she’s free today. Now, as you both settle in with latte and cappuccino, you might casually ask how she’s doing. It’s an innocent-enough question, right?
You watch as she simultaneously tightens her grip on the cup and shuts her eyes. Following a deep sigh, she’ll begin to tell you about caregiving—but not just generalized caregiving, no; specifically, she’s going to tell you about her personal caregiving experience.
She will begin by saying how much she loves the one she’s caring for and how happy she is to be there for them. Then her narrative will morph into a darker account of the other feelings she’s experiencing: how even though she’s devastated to see her loved one like this, she’s also frustrated because she never gets a break from the responsibility. She reveals how worried she is trying to figure out how to pay for in-home care. Then she will begin talking faster and faster as she goes into detail about how isolated she feels because no one in the family helps her, and she’s scared stiff to tell her boss that yet again she needs time off to take her loved one to another doctor’s appointment. She will get almost breathless as she talks about how guilty she feels because she got angry with her loved one’s incontinence. She will rub her eyes as she talks wearily about broken sleep because of her loved one’s frequent sundowning, and she will begin wiping tears away as she anticipates grief over the inevitable end of it all.
So let’s see: we have one caregiver who’s simultaneously experiencing feelings of love, happiness, devastation, frustration, worry, isolation, fear, guilt, anger and grief. The difficulty is that all these emotions constantly churning in the mind of the caregiver will eventually take their toll. The body reacts to stressful situations such as these by releasing hormones which make the brain more alert, the muscles tense and the pulse go higher. Living at that level for a long period of time is referred to as having chronic stress, and it can increase the risk of caregiver health problems including, but not limited to, high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.
Reducing the stress is a must in order for the caregiver to be healthy, strong and able to continue providing care to their loved one. These devastating emotions being experienced by caregivers must be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denied and ignored. But that can be profoundly harder than it sounds.
Consider What You Can Actually Do
Stress management requires us to prioritize our activities; it’s not always possible to meet every demand that’s put on us. Imagine you have a doctor’s appointment for your loved one in the morning and a dental appointment for yourself in the afternoon; also, there’s a check you need to put in the bank, as well as needing to run by the grocery so you can have milk for breakfast tomorrow. Realistically, which of these can wait? Can you move your dental appointment to a day next week, or take the check to the bank tomorrow instead of today? Let yourself slow down enough to identify what’s a priority and what can wait without causing harm.
Find Ways to be Active
Physical activity will make you feel better and help you handle the stressors you are presented with more efficiently. Walking, jogging, swimming or riding a bike are all excellent ways to get active. Even throwing a Frisbee in the back yard for your dog spends some energy and makes you smile. As a caregiver, it can also be helpful to your loved one if you include them in activities within their abilities. You might try taking them for a short walk in your neighborhood; you’re both moving while enjoying some time together.
Lean on Your Faith
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I cannot over emphasize the importance of time in God’s Word and in prayer. I speak from experience when I say Jesus is the anchor that has consistently held firm. Whether things have been fine or falling apart, He has been faithful and dependable; His Word has simultaneously strengthened and soothed. I appreciate knowing that He’s not called me to shoulder any burden without Him:
Psalm 91:2 “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,’”
Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God….”
Romans 8:26 “…the [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (New International Version)
As caregivers, it is imperative that we acknowledge the variety of emotions we experience. Our emotions are part of our make-up, and they’re built in to help us navigate life—not run our lives for us. Emotional well-being is as important as physical health; we can’t be effective caregivers without it.