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The Stress of Caregiving

Six tips for caregivers.

Key points

  • Caregivers can experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety.
  • Caregiving can bring up negative feelings involving family dynamics, which a therapist can help with.
  • Changing one's outlook and letting go of attachment can be healing for caregivers.

It is commonly understood that caregiving can be overwhelmingly stressful. It is perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions in response to this. It's an experience that can produce sadness, anger, confusion, guilt, and anxiety about having those feelings.

It can feel shameful to admit this, and yet normalizing these feelings is important so people can feel less alone and more able to communicate what they are going through to gain support. Here are some key tips for caregivers:

1. Therapy helps.

Consider seeing a therapist to discuss what this is bringing up for you. It is normal to feel burdened and to feel fear, anger, resentment, and anxiety. And it is also normal to then worry about your own life and your own fate.

Given how complicated family life can be, it is also perfectly normal for people to navigate complex family dynamics as they are expected to provide caregiving for a parent, spouse, etc. Perhaps, you love the other person, yet don't like how he or she treated you growing up or over the years. You likely want to be in a position where you're not feeling guilt or resentment, where you can show care in a pure way yet while also honoring your own needs and your own right to be respected.

2. Gather the troops.

Consider joining a support group for caregivers; some are now offered virtually as well. You might ask your own physician or your loved one's medical team for suggestions, or contact your local hospital, caregiving alliance, or in the case of dementia and Alzheimer's, the Alzheimer's Association.

3. Self-care is crucial.

As you go about finding the best agencies and resources to help care for your loved one, be sure to explore ways to take good care of yourself—through healthy eating, vigorous exercise, rest, social activities, talking with a therapist, meditating, writing, yoga, etc.

4. Rethink your outlook.

It is all too easy to fall into the scarcity trap and fixate on all that has changed and all that has been lost. Just the other day, I was on the phone with an 87-year-old friend who told me she felt better than she ever did—yet this same woman had multiple recent surgeries and says she can't walk longer than about five minutes. She had always been an avid exerciser and loved to take long walks. "That's not who I am anymore," she explained. And then with much more zest and self-acceptance than I think I could muster, she exclaimed, "This is the new me." Talking with her reminded me that an outlook of abundance and gratitude can help.

Here is another example for rethinking outlook: Alzheimer's and dementia-related diseases force caregivers to rethink time and memory and to consider that the present moment is all we ever have. The most important thing is to learn how to create new experiences with your loved one and to make new memories now.

5. Rethink your expectations.

Do not attempt to correct your loved one about specific information if s/he suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's. I learned this when caring for my father with dementia who was living in a facility in Cleveland, a journey I document in my recent memoir, Welcome to Wherever We Are. I came to realize—and I am glad I did—what difference does it really make if he thought it was Wednesday and he was on vacation in Hawaii when in fact it was Friday and we were on the phone long distance? I heard the great joy my dad was experiencing in talking about his adventures in Hawaii, the lushness and the flowers, and thought, I have to let him have it. He was wherever he was and no relentless challenging of that would change the reality.

Letting go of my attachment to the qualities of sharpness and precision I knew my father always possessed was not easy for me. Neither was hanging on tightly to something that was long gone. I went with letting go, and it was healing.

6. Journal.

Write about what is happening and how you are feeling. It can be very helpful months and years later to reflect on where you were and the growth that has happened.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.